PG A.M.: What to watch for today in Georgia’s runoff elections

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team
Former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Dugan (left) is battling Brian Jack (right) for a congressional seat.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Dugan (left) is battling Brian Jack (right) for a congressional seat.

It’s runoff day in Georgia and the ballot is dotted with fascinating primary election races.

A convicted Jan. 6 rioter is seeking congressional office. A former Donald Trump aide is battling a veteran Georgia legislator for a deep-red U.S. House seat. An up-and-comer in the General Assembly faces an anti-establishment challenger. And an ex-Republican could win a runoff to lead one of the state’s most important liberal bastions — by running as a Democrat.

Here’s a closer look at the top races:

Runoff elections are being held today in Georgia.

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District. Longtime Donald Trump staffer Brian Jack came within a few percentage points of scoring an outright win to capture the GOP nomination for the west Georgia-based House seat in May.

He was the top vote-getter in all but one of the district’s 15 counties due in part to a steady diet of ads featuring Trump’s endorsement. He’s facing former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, who is emphasizing his military background and record as a lawmaker in an uphill battle against Jack.

The race has been a fairly polite affair and both have made one thing clear: they don’t aim to be bomb throwers if elected to Congress.

Georgia’s 2nd. Neither Chuck Hand nor Wayne Johnson have much of a chance in November to defeat Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, a 16-term lawmaker whose dominant victory in 2022 scared away prominent challengers this cycle.

But the GOP runoff between the two rivals is one of the most bizarre races in Georgia, with Hand’s role as a convicted Jan. 6, 2021, rioter who served a brief federal prison sentence — and his wife’s criminal history — at center stage.

Johnson argues that he’s the more electable candidate while Hand, who memorably walked off an Atlanta Press Club debate stage last week, casts himself as a MAGA warrior.

State House District 180. Rep. Steven Sainz, R-St. Marys, was age 24 when he won his seat, defeating controversial Jason Spencer in a GOP primary. Two months later, Spencer resigned his post early following the airing of an episode of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who is America?” cable TV series in which Spencer dropped his pants and yelled racial slurs.

Sainz has kept a much lower profile than his predecessor in his three terms but has become a favorite among Republicans at the Capitol. When he missed winning the May primary outright by 20 votes, the GOP political machinery ramped up to support him, flooding Camden County residents with mailers attacking his opponent, retiree Glenn Cook.

Conservative-leaning political action committees are behind the negative campaign materials, which paint Cook as a liberal and attempt to tie him to Stacey Abrams, the Atlanta Democrat who has twice run for governor.

A yard sign in Rockdale County.

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

Rockdale County. Once a rising GOP star, JaNice VanNess is competing to lead the County Commission in a liberal pocket of the state. And she’s running as a Democrat.

VanNess bested three rivals in last month’s primary, forcing a runoff against Rockdale County Commission Chair Oz Nesbitt. The winner is guaranteed to capture the seat in November, which is why VanNess ran with a “D” by her name.

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Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall (left) is facing an election challenge from Moraima "Mo" Ivory.

Credit: ArLuther Lee

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Credit: ArLuther Lee

HALL V. HALL. Endorsements rarely sway votes, but they can sometimes turn heads. That was certainly the case over the weekend when former Atlanta City Council member and former U.S. Rep. Kwanza Hall endorsed Mo Ivory for the Fulton County Commission’s District 4 seat in today’s runoff.

That’s more notable when you consider that Ivory is challenging incumbent Commissioner Natalie Hall, who was once married to Kwanza Hall.

Ivory included #VoteIntegrity and #EthicalLeadership on her social media post about the endorsement, a likely reference to earlier headlines about Commissioner Hall, whose male chief of staff filed a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against her alleging sexual harassment. The EEOC awarded Hall’s staffer more than $900,000, with a judge ruling she stalked and harassed him. Fulton taxpayers covered the bill.

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HARRIS HERE. Showing just how high Georgia is on the President Joe Biden campaign’s list of priorities for the November election, Vice President Kamala Harris is back in the state today for an event on gun violence with recording artist Quavo. Later, Harris will attend a Juneteenth celebration.

The Atlanta visit marks her second Georgia stop in five days. And it comes after a weekend of gun violence that included a mass shooting at a children’s splash pad in Michigan.

Former Harris adviser (and Morehouse man) Jamal Simmons joins the “Politically Georgia” radio show and podcast later today to give insight into the Biden campaign’s Georgia focus, as well as the vice president’s role in getting Biden and Harris back to the White House for four more years.

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GEORGIA 2026. Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler took a swipe at Attorney General Chris Carr for not joining a court filing signed by other GOP AGs challenging a ruling in former President Donald Trump’s Florida documents case.

It isn’t the first shot fired in Georgia’s 2026 race for top offices, especially if you count all the digs against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

But it quickly reverberated in political circles. And it could be a sign of what’s to come in a 2026 race for governor that could be dominated by a new Trump-driven divide.

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U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., held a news conference last month at the USPS Atlanta Regional Processing and Distribution Center.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

MAIL TIMES. The United States Postal Service continues to improve its on-time mail delivery performance in the metro Atlanta area, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy reported in a letter to U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff dated Monday. Slow delivery from the USPS center in Palmetto has drawn the ire of Ossoff, an Atlanta Democrat, for months now. Ossoff’s request for an update on June 11 prompted DeJoy’s written report.

Of the mail passing through the Palmetto Center between June 1 and June 7, 80% arrived on-time and 91% within a day of expected delivery. That’s up from 64.5% on-time in mid-May and 35.82% in mid-March.

“For months I have sustained relentless pressure on USPS management to fully resolve disastrous performance failures impacting my constituents in Georgia,” Ossoff said after receiving DeJoy’s letter. I’m still hearing from Georgia families and businesses about the difficulty they continue to face sending and receiving their mail. I will not rest until my constituents are well and fully served by the U.S. Postal Service.”

In the letter, DeJoy offered his own rebuke of Ossoff and lawmakers for allowing the infrastructure and work environment at the Atlanta USPS facility to “deteriorate to an embarrassing and unworkable condition.” Added DeJoy: “It is unfortunate you could not afford the time to visit these operations to gain a more detailed understanding of the worthwhile initiative my team and I are undertaking to solve for this.”

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IMMIGRATION. A coalition of Georgia civil rights groups is backing the Biden administration’s plan to protect undocumented spouses of American citizens from deportation.

The “parole in place” program, which Biden would establish by executive order, would also make it easier for some of the estimated 500,000 spouses to get a green card.

“These protections would allow those already bolstering the U.S. economy to continue to do so permanently and without fear of deportation,” reads the letter, signed by FWD.us, the Latin American Association and other groups.

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, filed an ethics complaint earlier this year against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

GREENE V. WILLIS. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Monday got in a $625 dig at Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, our ethics commission watchdog James Salzer reports.

Greene, the Rome Republican who is one of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters, filed an ethics complaint earlier this year against Willis, who is prosecuting the former president on election interference charges.

Under state law, candidates and elected officials have to file annual disclosures about their finances, and in 2021, Willis didn’t do so. The disclosures are designed to give the public some idea of what businesses candidates and elected officials are in and what property they own.

The state Ethics Commission on Monday accepted a consent order from Willis in which she agreed to pay a $125 late fee and a $500 penalty.

Willis said she has hired a consultant to help her keep her filings up to date.

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A Georgia state prison inmate shot and killed a food service employee Sunday at Smith State Prison in Glennville.

Credit: Lewis Levine

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Credit: Lewis Levine

PRISON REVIEW. Gov. Brian Kemp has called for an in-depth review of Georgia’s troubled Department of Corrections to identify ways to improve the prison system, our colleagues Carrie Teegardin and Danny Robbins write.

Consultants with Guidehouse Inc. will visit prisons, interview stakeholders and GDC personnel and conduct research over the next 12 months before coming up with recommendations.

The announcement comes amid record violence and a series of disturbing murders in state prisons, including the fatal shooting of a kitchen worker by an inmate at Smith State Prison over the weekend. It also comes as the state awaits the outcome of a federal investigation of prison violence in Georgia. The lawmaker behind that prison investigation — Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff.

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PRESIDENTIAL VISIT. Gov. Brian Kemp met with South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday during the governor’s 10-day trade mission to the Asian country.

Yoon asked Kemp specifically for continued support of Korea’s electric vehicle and EV battery manufacturing businesses in the state. Hyundai is nearing completion of an EV assembly plant near Savannah and Kia is building EVs at its factory in West Point. Another Korean company, SK, manufactures batteries in Georgia.

The request comes as EVs and clean energy initiatives have become a flashpoint in the presidential election race between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Biden champions EVs and has passed laws that provide incentives to manufacturers and buyers of the autos while Trump has vowed to roll back such legislation if elected.

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AD BLITZ. The Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, an environmental advocacy organization, is launching two ads in Georgia today crediting President Joe Biden with creating 14,000 clean energy jobs.

The group expects to spend $750,000 over the next two weeks on cable TV and digital ads touting “$18 billion invested in Georgia’s economy.”

The “14,000 Jobs” spot will be accompanied by a second ad, “Stood Up,” that highlights Georgia as a leader in the creation of jobs related to the manufacturing of electric vehicles.

“Plants started opening all across the state,” the narrator states. “The big oil companies are trying to roll that back, But new policies signed by President Biden stopped that.”

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AJC government reporter Mark Niesse (left) is a guest today on the "Politically Georgia" show.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

LISTEN UP. Today on “Politically Georgia,” AJC statehouse reporter Mark Niesse previews the races to watch in today’s runoff elections. Then Jamal Simmons, a former aide to Vice President Kamala Harris, talks about her visit to Atlanta planned for later today.

Listen live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 or follow “Politically Georgia” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Monday’s show featured WRBL-TV’s Chuck Williams, the Associated Press’ Meg Kinnard and Georgia State University professor Tammy Greer. They reacted to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump’s recent campaign moves and previewed today’s runoff elections.

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Clayton County Commissioner Felicia Franklin is stepping down from her post.

Credit: Chris Day

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Credit: Chris Day

CLAYTON COMMISSIONER RESIGNS. Clayton County Commissioner Felicia Franklin is stepping down, meaning Gov. Brian Kemp will likely have to appoint someone to fill the remainder of her term, the AJC’s Leon Stafford reported Monday.

Franklin last month came in third place in a race to replace Jeff Turner as chairman of the Clayton Commission.

One of the commission’s most vocal members, the second-term lawmaker made headlines last year after she was found on the ground outside a bar at Southlake Mall. She subsequently alleged that someone at the establishment spiked her drink, but Morrow Police said video showed Franklin drinking heavily that night.

Her colleagues responded by stripping her of the title of vice chairwoman.

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden mark the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy with an event at the White House. The federal policy allows children who immigrated to the U.S. unlawfully with their families to avoid deportation. In the evening, the president attends a campaign fundraiser in the Washington suburbs.
  • The Senate has more confirmation votes lined up, and Democrats may also try to pass legislation banning bump stocks by unanimous consent.
  • Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun testifies before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations regarding safety issues surrounding the 737 MAX airliners.
  • The House is on recess until June 25.

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A scene from last year's Juneteenth Parade in Atlanta.

Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

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Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

HAPPY JUNETEENTH. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, and the state of Georgia followed through the following year in honoring the date that Texas became the final state where enslaved people learned they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.

Celebrations began last weekend and continue through this week, although the official holiday is Wednesday. As a result, we’ll be taking a break from the newsletter. We’ll be back on Thursday.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.