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Court ruling forces overtime in state qualifying

ATLANTA - The deadline to qualify for statewide, congressional and legislative offices in Georgia came and went Friday with less finality than usual.

While candidates for most seats had until noon to sign up to run, qualifying for legislative posts in portions of Northeast Georgia was extended through next week by a federal court ruling in a redistricting case.

"We'd love for it to be over today,'' said Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, who drew no opposition this week to a second term representing House District 108 in Barrow County but will have to wait an extra week to see if a challenger surfaces.

"If we have to hang around for another five days, we will,'' he said as word of the court order circulated around the Capitol. "It's one of those unfortunate things in politics.''

The last-day uncertainty affecting England and other incumbents in three state Senate districts and 13 House districts came at the end of a qualifying week that otherwise played out as expected.

The week began with Gov. Sonny Perdue holding a rally in the Capitol Rotunda after he formally launched his re-election bid by qualifying for the July 18 Republican primary.

Georgia's two leading Democrats, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox, followed suit on Thursday, officially beginning a battle for their party's nomination that they've been waging for months.

With Taylor and Cox leaving statewide posts they have held for eight years, the contests to fill those power vacuums filled up quickly.

Five Democrats qualified to run for lieutenant governor. Only two Republicans signed up, but the primary fight between state Sen. Casey Cagle of Gainesville and political consultant Ralph Reed of Duluth promises to be nearly as closely watched as the Cox-Taylor showdown.

Six Democrats and four Republicans are in the running for secretary of state.

The court case involves a challenge filed by Democratic Rep. Jane Kidd of Athens after the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation this year that redraws three Senate districts.

Kidd is seeking the 46th District Senate seat being vacated by Athens Republican Brian Kemp, and the changes have made the district tougher sledding for the Democrats.

To allow time for a three-judge panel to consider the case, U.S. District Judge Beverly Martin extended for one week the qualifying deadline for the three redrawn Senate districts and the 13 House districts located within those Senate boundaries.

Besides the 46th, the ruling also affects the 47th Senate District - where Sen. Ralph Hudgens, R-Comer, is seeking re-election - and the 49th District, which Cagle is vacating to run for lieutenant governor.

Geographically, the affected districts take in a huge swath of northeast Georgia stretching from the House district of Rep. Len Walker, R-Loganville, on the west to Elbert County on the South Carolina line, and from White County on the north to the House district of Rep. Mickey Channell, R-Greensboro, on the south.

Not surprisingly, Democrats were happy with the court ruling because it gives Kidd a shot at winning her case.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the extra week of qualifying also will give him a chance to find an opponent for Channell, one of four veteran House Democrats to turn Republican since the legislative session ended last month.

"It's still open to recruit, which will help us,'' said Smyre, D-Columbus.

During qualifying week, Democrats were able to come up with challengers for two of the party switchers.

Jennifer Harris and Robert Phillips will square off in the Democratic primary for the right to take on Rep. Johnny Floyd, R-Cordele, and Corey Wimberly will oppose Rep. Richard Royal, R-Camilla.

State Democratic Chairman Bobby Kahn noted that Democrats also fielded a candidate in all 13 of Georgia's congressional districts, something they were unable to do two years ago.

Two Democratic challengers completed the list on Friday, when Mike McGraw of Newnan signed up to oppose freshman U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Grantville, and Patrick Pillion of Carrollton qualified to take on Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta.