Georgia legislative races in limbo as primary results trickle in

Smyrna residents cast their votes at the Smyrna Community Center during the Georgia primary elections, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Smyrna residents cast their votes at the Smyrna Community Center during the Georgia primary elections, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Despite very few legislative primary results trickling in late Tuesday, it appeared a few incumbent lawmakers were headed toward defeat.

Many precincts reported problems with voting machines early in the day, especially in the metro-Atlanta area, causing the tallying of votes to drag into Wednesday's early morning hours.

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In other parts of the state, two incumbent lawmakers appeared to be behind in the polls with at least two-thirds of the votes in their districts tallied, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Long-time state Sen. Ed Harbison, a Columbus Democrat, was trailing Teddy Reese shortly after midnight. Harbison, the longest-serving member of the Georgia Senate, was first elected in 1992. There is no Republican in the race, so whomever wins the primary will be the district's state senator.

In Brunswick, former state Rep. Buddy DeLoach appeared poised to beat incumbent state Rep. Jeff Jones in the Republican primary. House Speaker David Ralston called and congratulated DeLoach on his win, according to a Twitter post from the speaker's spokesman. DeLoach served from 1995 to 2005.

Jones was elected in 2015. Again, the primary winner in the race will head to the statehouse, since no Democrat is running for the seat.

Closer to Atlanta, the Associated Press declared incumbent Republican state Rep. Philip Singleton defeated Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison in a rematch of last year's special election for a Newnan-area seat. Singleton will face Democrat Jill Prouty, who finished third in the special election last fall.

Rural state Rep. Mack Jackson, the only Democrat who supported last year’s anti-abortion legislation, was well ahead of his primary challenger Daniel Thomas with a little less than half of the votes tallied for the Sandersville-based seat. No Republican is running.

After trailing early in the counting process, House Minority Leader Bob Trammell defeated entrepreneur Frederick Manley in the Democratic primary, according to the Associated Press.

Trammell will face David Jenkins, a U.S. Army veteran, who defeated Gene King in the Republican primary, according to the Associated Press.

Trammell is one of the Legislature’s few remaining rural Democrats, and Republicans in Georgia and nationally have zeroed in on the Luthersville-based district as a chance for the party to gain a seat.

Members of both parties have set their sights on several House races in the northern Atlanta suburbs, where Democrats have chipped away at Republican strongholds.

For years, legislative contests have been decided during the primary election due to districts being drawn in ways that make most of them solidly Republican or solidly Democrat.

But this year, more than half – 120 – of the legislative races are being contested in the general election, up from about 100 two-party races in 2018 and a marked jump from 2016, when voters in only about 50 districts had a choice after the primary.

Democrats picked up 11 seats in the House and two in the Senate in 2018 — the biggest gains by the party in about 20 years — mostly in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. In 2016, Democrats won both Cobb and Gwinnett counties in the presidential election for the first time since Jimmy Carter was on the ballot.

And this year’s election is important for both parties, especially for Democrats, who want a strong say as lawmakers draw new voting districts after the 2020 census. If Republicans succeed in maintaining control of both chambers, Democrats could face another decade struggling to gain ground in the Legislature.

Republicans have controlled both legislative chambers since 2005, but Democrats are battling to flip at least 16 of the House’s 180 seats to gain control. It’s a tougher fight for Democrats in the Senate, where they would need to pick up eight of the chamber’s 56 seats to become the majority party.

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