U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson is leading his Democratic challenger by single digits with less than 14 weeks until Election Day, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Friday.
The poll of 847 registered voters was conducted by Abt SRBI between Monday and Thursday. With a margin of error of 4.29 percent, it determined that Isakson, the Republican incumbent who is seeking a third Senate term in November, holds a 6 percentage-point lead over Jim Barksdale, the Atlanta investment manager and political rookie who’s self-funding much of his campaign.
When including the respondents who are undecided but leaning toward one of the candidates, Isakson earned 48 percent support, compared with Barksdale’s 42 percent, with 1 percent saying they would select neither.
Libertarian Allen Buckley is also in the race.
While the poll shows Isakson with a lead at a time when some worry that Donald Trump’s polarizing presidential campaign could drag down the Republican ticket, the numbers may prove to be too close for comfort for the longtime Republican lawmaker. He still sits below the 50 percent support mark, an unofficial benchmark for many campaigns.
Isakson did better among men — winning the category by 18 percentage points — whites and voters 40 and older. He also won over the state’s independents, who broke for the incumbent 45 percent to Barksdale’s 35 percent.
“I’m proud of my record of service to Georgia, and being ahead in any poll is humbling,” Isakson said in a statement. “Our campaign is taking nothing for granted and will be working for every vote until the polls close on Election Day.”
Barksdale, a wealthy businessman who was virtually unknown before he became the Georgia Democratic Party’s pick to challenge Isakson, was the overwhelming winner among black voters, netting 72 percent of respondents in that category. His bastion of support centered on metro Atlanta. He also won young voters, age 39 and under, by 6 percentage points.
“Multiple polls this week show that Georgia’s U.S. Senate race is at single digits, and it’s because of the appeal of Jim Barksdale’s outsider candidacy,” said Dave Hoffman, Barksdale’s campaign manager. “Voters want somebody to stand up to Washington; somebody with the know-how to address the many failures of Congress.”
Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their odds in Georgia this year given changing demographics and Trump’s candidacy. But the state has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in more than a decade. Michelle Nunn, the party’s candidate for the Senate in 2014, lost by nearly 8 percentage points despite significant investment from the party.
Cobb County network manager Michael Porter, a 40-year-old registered independent, said he knows little about Barksdale as an individual but that he’s leaning toward supporting the Democrat because of the party’s stances on issues such as trade, race and immigration.
“I haven’t kept up too much on that, but I just feel that for the most part, especially with the current climate right now, what the Democrats are trying to do is more in line with (where) the country needs to go,” he said.
Tadd Franke, a 65-year-old software engineer from Peachtree Corners, is a former Republican turned supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He said he’ll support Barksdale because “he’s not Isakson.”
Isakson is “an excellent person, but he’s sold his soul to the new Republicans,” Franke said.
“I don’t know anything about Barksdale,” he said. “I just know he’s not Isakson, and that Isakson has betrayed who he once was.”
Melton Callahan, a retired educator in Blairsville, said he’s supporting Isakson because “he’s a friend of education.”
“He’s done some nice things while in office for education,” he said.
Isakson has notably picked up support recently from a trio of prominent elected Democrats: U.S. Rep. David Scott of Atlanta, who said he would vote for his “friend” and “partner”; and former Gov. Roy Barnes and ex-U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, who both quietly donated to the Republican’s campaign.
Thomas Soyars, a 55-year-old accountant from Cobb County, said Isakson “has been a good senator for the most part.”
“There’s no real reason to vote against him,” said Soyars, who added that he’d also consider Buckley.
Buckley in a recent interview said he’s confident that with more media exposure and the chance to debate Isakson and Barksdale he has the chance to drive up his numbers.
“We’re not at the point where we can afford just putting in nice guys,” said Buckley, who also ran for the Senate in 2004 and 2008. “We’re going to start seeing more people turn to third-party candidates from now on.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Staff writers Greg Bluestein and Aaron Gould Sheinin contributed to this article from Atlanta.