Georgia lt. governor’s race between Trump-, Abrams-backed hopefuls

This year’s race for lieutenant governor presents a stark contrast between a Donald Trump-backed Republican state senator and a former prosecutor endorsed by Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Republican Burt Jones, a 10-year state senator from Jackson, has campaigned on eliminating the state income tax and increasing “election integrity,” although the GOP-led General Assembly just passed a law in 2021 that it said would solve Georgia’s election issues.

Democrat Charlie Bailey, an Atlanta attorney who ran for attorney general in 2018, has focused his campaign on improving school safety and expanding Medicaid, the public health program that provides care to the poor and disabled.

A third candidate, Libertarian Ryan Graham, an information technology project manager living in Atlanta who ran for the Georgia Public Service Commission in 2018, said his focus is on “education freedom, criminal justice reform and election reform.”

Graham, 37, said he is hoping his run as a Libertarian will force the election into a runoff. Georgia requires candidates to receive more than 50% of the vote to win outright.

Neither Bailey nor Graham has held public office before.

All three candidates are hoping to succeed outgoing Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who chose not to run for reelection after criticizing Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

The lieutenant governor serves as president of the Georgia Senate and has a role in assigning senators to the chamber’s committees.

A recent poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Jones received support from more than 43% of those polled. Bailey had the backing of about 33%. Graham was favored by almost 8%.

About 16% of respondents said they were undecided.

The poll of likely voters was conducted Sept. 5-16 by the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. It has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

As soon as Bailey, 39, emerged from the crowded nine-way Democratic primary, he began taking swipes at Jones. He’s made it a mainstay of his campaign fundraising efforts and stump speech to point out that Jones was part of a ”phony” slate of GOP presidential electors designed to help Trump’s failed effort to overturn Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

“I actually believe in the rule of law. Burt doesn’t believe the rules apply to him,” Bailey said at a recent campaign stop.

Jones, 43, was previously identified as a target by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in an investigation into his role as a fake elector in trying to help Trump overturn the 2020 election. All 16 GOP electors were initially identified as targets in the investigation to determine whether Trump and his allies committed a crime in their unsuccessful attempt to reverse Biden’s victory.

Jones successfully petitioned the court to block Willis, who hosted a campaign fundraiser for Bailey in June, and her office from investigating him. Another set of prosecutors will determine whether to subpoena Jones, whether to categorize him as a target of the investigation or whether any charges should ultimately be brought against him.

Jones has left talk of the 2020 election out of his recent public stump speeches.

Jones refuses to even mention Bailey’s name at campaign events.

“I will say this about him — he is an angry little guy,” Jones said of Bailey. “Whenever I see him, he’s always very, very hostile and very agitated. So everybody’s like, ‘Are you going to debate him?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. I’m going to debate him, but I’d rather pray for him.’ There’s no reason he should go through life that angry.”

Bailey grew up on a farm in Harris County that’s been in his family for 100 years. He moved to the Atlanta area about 12 years ago.

Bailey previously served as an assistant district attorney in Fulton County and now works as a partner at a private law firm. He initially planned to make a second attempt for the attorney general’s office but said he was was persuaded by senior Democrats in January to switch to the lieutenant governor race.

“I’ve spent my career fighting for justice for folks, whether that’s in the criminal justice system or the civil justice system,” Bailey said. “I think that we need somebody like that in the lieutenant governor’s office fighting for the people that don’t have the money to hire the well-heeled lobbyist.”

Jones was a University of Georgia co-captain on the 2002 squad that won the SEC football championship. He is a sixth-generation Jackson native and still lives there with his wife and two children, Stella, 13, and Banks, 10.

Jones works for his family’s fuel company, Jones Petroleum, as well as with JP Capital Insurance, which he founded. He was first elected to the Senate in 2012.

“I have that reputation of doing exactly what I tell people I’m going to do,” Jones said. “Sometimes that means you’ve got to tell somebody no. And it’s a reputation I’m proud to have.”

Graham, who until recently served as the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, has lived in the state most of his life. He and his wife live in Atlanta with their 6-year-old daughter. Graham recently filed a lawsuit against the state challenging a law that allows a few candidates to raise unlimited campaign contributions through leadership committees, saying it puts hopefuls who are not Republicans or Democrats at a disadvantage. The lawsuit is pending.

Often half of Libertarian positions on policy align with Republicans and half align with Democrats, but Graham said there are stark differences.

“I think Republicans typically will say that they’re small government in their rhetoric, but in practice they basically lie,” Graham said. “When I talk to some progressives, we agree with a lot of the problems but they see a place for government to fix things and we see government as problematic in that way.”

Jones had greatly outraised his Democratic and Libertarian opponents as of June 30, the most recent campaign reporting deadline. Jones had raised about $2.7 million since announcing his campaign last summer and loaned himself a total of $4 million.

Bailey reported raising about $65,000 during the most recent filing period, totaling about $1.1 million in contributions since announcing his campaign in January. Graham reported raising about $6,000 for his campaign.