Kay Kirkpatrick participates in a debate for the open state Senate seat that was held by Judson Hill at the East Cobb Library on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, in Marietta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Kirkpatrick wins runoff for Georgia’s Senate District 32

Georgia’s attention has been focused on the 6th Congressional District, but a state legislative race is buoying Republican hopes a month before that nationally watched June 20 runoff.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Republican Kay Kirkpatrick won the duel with Democrat Christine Triebsch in a runoff election to represent parts of Cobb and Fulton counties in the state Senate.

Turnout came in above 20 percent among eligible voters. The outcome confirmed Kirkpatrick’s belief that dedicated GOP supporters would show up at the polls and Republicans will see it as an encouraging sign for the 6th District race.

State Senate District 32 seat has been held by a Republican since 1995, and the GOP establishment wanted it to stay that way.

“This is a fairly good indicator for Karen Handel that Cobb County’s Republican base is still energized to vote for Republicans,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican strategist and former aide to Gov. Nathan Deal, referring to his party’s congressional candidate who has been locked in a battle with Democrat Jon Ossoff. “As I said to Republican leaders in this state, I wasn’t concerned that Dr. Kirkpatrick wouldn’t win. I was concerned that an overly close showing would really throw gas on the fire for Ossoff. But this wasn’t competitive.”

Christine Triebsch participates in a debate for the open state Senate seat that was held by Judson Hill at the East Cobb Library on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, in Marietta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Kirkpatrick said she focused on running a positive campaign based on issues.

“We have done every single thing we could possibly do to win this election,” said Kirkpatrick, who Tuesday night hosted a watch party at her house for staff, volunteers and friends. She said her campaign had been a tribute to her father, a World War II veteran who turned 98 in Kentucky on Tuesday and whose tenacity and determination inspired her.

Triebsch, meanwhile, had gathered with supporters at a local restaurant to celebrate raising attention to issues she felt were important. She said she was proud of the campaign she had run, indicating it had lit a fire under her regardless of the outcome.

“No matter what happens tonight, this is just the beginning,” Triebsch said. “We are moving forward.”

The race had appeared surprisingly competitive, after it was Triebsch who topped an eight-candidate field in the April 18 special election. The finish seemed to surprise even Triebsch, who led the field with 24.2 percent of the vote, narrowly edging Kirkpatrick, who came in at 21.1 percent.

A family and juvenile attorney, Triebsch had tried to latch onto Ossoff’s push to “flip” the solidly Republican 6th District. She embraced the grassroots energy among liberals that followed the election of President Donald Trump, saying she would never have run had she not been so deeply affected by his views and actions.

But she wasn’t able to harness much of the Ossoff campaign’s energy or fund-raising prowess. She raised about $5,000 and borrowed $5,000 more to keep her campaign going.

Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, ran a far more traditional campaign that steered clear of Trump and instead focused on issues including the Fair Tax and the repeal and replacement of the federal Affordable Care Act. A recently retired orthopedic surgeon, Kirkpatrick in her practice had worked side-by-side with Tom Price — now Trump’s U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary — and his support network helped her raise more than $300,000.

She also had the backing of a slew of state GOP lawmakers, including those in the Senate’s GOP leadership. If she had failed, Republicans would have lost a supermajority in the 56-seat chamber that allowed easier passage of key legislation.

Longtime state Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, who held the seat since 2005, resigned earlier this year to run for Congress. He came in fourth in the 6th District vote on April 18, missing the June runoff.

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