GOP battle for U.S. House seat in Georgia boils down to voter turnout

Runoff races

Georgia voters will return to the polls July 26 for Democratic and Republican primary election runoffs.

Besides the GOP runoff in the 3rd Congressional District, these key races are being held in the Greater Atlanta area:

State Senate

District 43 (Democratic): Tonya Anderson vs. Dee Dawkins-Haigler

State House

District 73 (Republican): Karen Mathiak vs. John P. Yates (I)

District 80 (Republican): Alan Cole vs. Meagan Hanson

District 81 (Republican): Jim Duffie vs. Lane Flynn

District 91 (Democratic): Vernon Jones vs. Rhonda Taylor

Clayton County

County Commission, District 3: Eric Bell v. Felecia Franklin Warner

Superior Court: Robert Mack v. Leslie Miller Terry

Superior Court: Shana M. Rooks v. Jewel Scott

Cobb County

County Commission chairman (Republican): Mike Boyce vs. Tim Lee (I)

State Court: Kellie Hill vs. John Morgan

DeKalb County

County Commission, District 4: Steve Bradshaw vs. Sharon Barnes Sutton (I)

Tax commissioner: Irvin Johnson v. Susannah Scott

Fulton County

Sheriff (Democratic): Ted Jackson (I) vs. Richard Lankford

Solicitor general (Democratic) Keith Gammage v. Clint Rucker

Superior Court: Sterling Eaves vs. Belinda Edwards

Superior Court: Gary Alembik vs. Eric Dunaway.

I = incumbent

How to check your local ballot or voting location

Anyone can confirm his or her voter status online through the secretary of state’s online “My Voter Page” website ( www.mvp. You can use the same link to find a sample ballot or to request an absentee ballot.

If you want to cast an early ballot in person, check with your local elections office to see where to go (Early voting is only available at select locations through July 2,2 and your regular polling place is unlikely to be one of them).

Information about local elections and your “My Voter Page” can also be found on the state’s “GA Votes” mobile application. You can download the free app for both Apple and Android operating systems using either the iTunes app store for an iPhone or iPad, or Google Play for Android.

The two candidates tangling in the Republican runoff in Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District have spent much of their time stockpiling endorsements and trashing one another over their support of law enforcement in the aftermath of the Dallas shootings.

The tone has grown increasingly testy between state Sen. Mike Crane and former West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson in recent weeks, but that comes as no surprise; the race is a virtual tossup given that the pair essentially tied in the May primary for the open seat, with just a 93-vote difference between the two.

But Ferguson’s and Crane’s differences in personality and policy — most prominently on no-knock warrants — as well as dueling lists of endorsements from prominent local and national GOP figures, will likely mean relatively little for their head-to-head battle on July 26. Virtually the only thing that will make a difference is each candidate’s ability to get his supporters to the polls.

Congressional primaries are low-turnout affairs, and runoffs generally draw substantially less interest.

Thomas Hunter, a political science professor at the University of West Georgia, said runoffs typically attract about one-half to two-thirds of the initial primary turnout. Since fewer than 58,000 GOP ballots were cast in the seven-man 3rd District GOP contest this spring, there could be very little that separates the winner from the loser in this month's runoff, he said.

“It is the end of July — a lot of people are on vacation. There are really few county races in the counties of the 3rd District that would cause turnout to increase greatly,” Hunter said. “It could be as low as 35,000 or 40,000 people who are voting, which means that as long as you can get 20,000 of your supporters to the polls that you should be able to win.”

The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Angela Pendley in November, a Coweta County volunteer with a background in health care. But a victory in the GOP runoff is considered tantamount to getting elected in November in the deeply Republican 3rd District, which went for Mitt Romney for president in 2012 by a margin of 2-to-1.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock, who wrote a book about congressional runoffs, said history shows that typically the candidate who leads in the primary wins the runoff about 70 percent of the time. But because the initial matchup between Crane and Ferguson was so close, the race becomes much harder to call ahead of time.

This month’s contest will mainly come down to who can best turn out his base and potentially attract some of the supporters of their other primary opponents who have since dropped out of the race, Bullock said.

“The situation is such that if you can get the same number of people to come out and vote for you in the runoff as voted for you in the primary, you’d almost certainly win because of this drop in participation,” he said.

Ferguson is well-placed in that respect. He won the endorsements of all five of the other GOP opponents from the primary, as well as the nod of the outgoing incumbent, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland. But that’s still far from a guarantee that Ferguson will be able to drive actual turnout from those endorsements.

Ferguson is well-liked and posted strong fundraising numbers, but he’ll need to broaden his appeal beyond the southern half of the district to the more populated Atlanta exurbs.

Crane’s bastion of support in May was rooted in the denser Coweta and Carroll counties, and his main advantage moving forward lies in the fact that his base of evangelical, grass-roots and more socially conservative voters is typically more inclined to go to the polls in runoffs. He is also playing the same anti-establishment notes that served Donald Trump and Ted Cruz well during Georgia’s presidential primary. (He even scored an endorsement from the Texas U.S. senator.)

But Crane’s fiery brand of politicking has turned off some people, and he positioned himself against many in the business community earlier this year by vocally supporting “religious liberty” legislation in the state Legislature. Despite having far and away the most name recognition going into the race, he barely squeaked out a win against Ferguson.

The two are ramping up their television presences in the final two weeks before the race. While the seven GOP candidates in the primary had a hard time differentiating themselves given the large scope of the field, Ferguson and Crane have been able to stake out more ground in recent months. Their starkest fault line so far has been over Crane's resistance to police no-knock warrants.

A pair of county GOP leaders contacted this week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offered differing assessments of how much interest the race has generated so far.

“It’s kind of a ho-hum affair right now,” said John Knop, the party’s chairman in Harris County. “In my circle, people are aware because I’m the chairman of the county, but probably not (more widely), which is indicative of the whole country. People just don’t care.”

Meanwhile, a Republican leader in Pike County who declined to be identified by name, said people in his area are paying close attention to the race, as well as a district attorney race in Griffin. It’s one of only a handful of other local races set to be decided across the district on July 26.

The 3rd Congressional District stretches along the middle part of Georgia’s western border and includes portions of both the Atlanta and Columbus suburbs. Early voting began last week.