Georgia Races To Watch: GOP State Senate

It’s a relatively active campaign year for Georgia’s Republican Senate caucus.  If my quick scan of the Secretary of State’s website is correct, there are 29 Senate races with an uncontested GOP candidate, three open competitive races, and NINE! with incumbents facing a primary challenge.  That’s not quite a quarter of the caucus facing primary challenges.

I don’t claim first hand knowledge of any of these races.  Just passing along the ones that interest me most.

Let’s start with the open seats:

To replace the retiring Senator Bill Jackson in the 24th District (Columbia County up to Lake Hartwell in East GA) we have a five person jump ball.  Former Rep and Congressional candidate Lee Anderson would like to again rebuild the state’s reserves. Joe Edge, Pat Goodwin, and Gregory Grzybowski are in.  But geographically undesirable Mayor Pete Gibbons is winning the hearts and mind of Columbia County that has about 60% of the vote.  Per the Augusta Chronicle:

Despite likewise running his campaign on a shoestring, and being from outside Columbia County where the bulk of District 24 voters are, Gibbons is catching on across the district. People have been approaching us to talk about how much they like him. One candidate for another office told us his wife liked Gibbons best, above the other four Republican candidates, at a recent forum.

Politically active Columbia Countians are finding out what Bowman voters figured out, and they’re sharing their support of Gibbons in gatherings, text messages and social media.

We love the buzz for Gibbons because it’s so organic. It’s not because of ad campaigns or big signs or bigger war chests. It’s because Gibbons is simply a superior candidate with tremendous upside.

Go Pete Go.

To replace retiring Senator Tommie Williams in district 19 (greater Statesboro/Lyons/Vidalia area) we have Blake Tillery, Delvis Dutton, and Kevin Parker. There’s bad blood between Tillery and Dutton, and it’s gotten quite personal. Dutton left the house two years ago to run for Congress, had announced a primary challenge of Bill Werkheiser for his former seat, then moved to the Senate race when Williams announced his retirement. Williams, meanwhile, is heavily backing Tillery. It’s gone from southern friendly to ugly. Ill feelings will linger well after the votes are counted here.

I’m expecting Matt Brass to win over Hayden Marlow in Newnan’s district 28 to replace Mike Crane, hopefully bringing a modicum of pragmatism to the long suffering district.

Then, there’s the “fun” stuff. Primaries.

I’m expecting relatively smooth sailing for Charlie Bethel, Steve Gooch, Frank Ginn, and John Wilkinson. I’ll also admit I know little about their opponents or the local politics affecting their districts. It’s the year of Trump, so…what is a “surprise”, again?

I’ll highlight five primary challenges more specifically. Senator Jeff Mullis from the Chattanooga suburbs faces a primary challenge from Lanny Thomas of Trion. Mullis, as Rules Chairman, holds the most powerful position in the State Senate. While voters from his corner of the state are known to have an independent streak, (Remember the time Dade County tried to secede?), I don’t think they’re going to trade #1 in for a Freshman. Mullis has always been able to handle the critics, and they’ve always made more noise than votes. Even in Trumperica, I would expect that to hold.

Similarly, Majority Leader Bill Cowsert faces a challenge from local activist Patricia Daugherty. I haven’t talked to anyone that thinks Cowsert is in real trouble. Most are watching just to gage the strength of the permanent opposition.

Closer to the Metro Area, Fran Millar’s opponent is Paul Maner. This race will tell us a lot about how much the urban GOP is changing. Three decades ago, the GA GOP was largely inside the perimeter “country club liberals”. We haven’t been the liberal party for ages, but this race may serve as a canary in the coal mine if any pragmatic legislators who refuse to serve red meat talking points and instead insist on talking substance have room in the party.

Jesse Stone
has a reputation of being popular and generally well liked. Last cycle, however, there was a flirtation with a potential judgeship that allowed opposition to get a long head start. Challenger Stephen Hammond of Sylvania may be one of the better organized challengers to an incumbent. Without that, I would have put Stone in that first category of honorable mentions.

Brandon Beach vs. Aaron Barlow. This one causes me pain, which I’m sure makes Barlow’s supporters gleeful. We’re playing “Lucy & the Football” with this district again, as a certain part of this district demands to be lied to with what they want to hear. Chip Rogers was one of the fathers of T-SPLOST, which was a compromise that came out of his Senate when he was Majority Leader. Two years later, he was one of its most vocal critics. Remember when he promised that if it was defeated, he would lead the charge for “something better”? He left, at taxpayer expense.

Here we go again with Aaron Barlow. He wants to use Beach’s work on transportation bills against him, while he was completely AWOL from the debate and solutions until he got off a plane from Chicago and someone told him there was a Senate Seat he could buy. He’s good at criticizing, and only can promise something undefined that will be better and cheaper, with no opportunity costs. You would have think the voters of Cherokee and North Fulton would have had their fill with the actual Chip Rogers, but now seem to want to elect his migrant proxy.


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