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Gwinnett to play role in primary runoff contests

David Perdue

David Perdue

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Jack Kingston

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Karen Handel

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Mike Collins

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Jody Hice

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Donna Sheldon

Gwinnett voters could be “important” in the upcoming Republican runoff for U.S. Senate and U.S. House, a political science professor said.

Once a Republican bastion, Gwinnett will be part of the battleground for the party nomination, which will run to July after last week’s primary narrowed down the field, said Charles Bullock of the University of Georgia.

But Bullock said you shouldn’t expect Congressman Jack Kingston or businessman David Perdue to set up camp in Lawrenceville or at the Mall of Georgia.

The runoff will require statewide politicking, especially for Kingston, who came in second on Tuesday.

“Kingston has to do much better in the Atlanta metro area than he did in primary,” Bullock said. “Kingston swept south Georgia but it accounts for a small proportion of the state’s electorate; most of the votes come from metro Atlanta. Kingston’s popularity in the areas he has represented in his 22 years in Congress may spur those voters back to the polls so that they account for a larger share of the turnout in the runoff — an election that will have markedly lower participation than the poor turnout this week.”

While Kingston made a concerted effort to gain Gwinnett’s votes prior to the primary, even setting up a campaign office in Duluth, the lead vote-getter here was Karen Handel, the former secretary of state who used to lead neighboring Fulton County’s commission.

Handel came in third, and Paul Broun, who currently represents part of the county in Congress, came in fifth so many pollsters are looking at where allegiances will shift for the primary.

“If Kingston makes inroads among Gwinnett voters, he will probably also be making gains among other Atlanta-area voters and that could bring him victory,” Bullock said. “Thus far the millions spent promoting his candidacy has not paid much of a dividend. Getting votes from Handel supporters would be a major boost to the Kingston effort.”

Turnout, though, is going to be the real name of the game, he pointed out.

“The first step to winning a runoff is getting those who supported you in the primary back to the polls,” the Richard B. Russell professor of political science saod. “If Kingston or Perdue could attract as many votes in July as he got in May, he would win in a landslide. A second objective is to win over voters who backed one of the candidates now eliminated. A number of these are people who consistently participate in GOP primaries and runoffs and so are likely to return. A third goal is to get people who abstained in May to come to the polls in July, but that is harder. Voters who did not vote in May when more candidates competed and more nominations were decided are even less likely to find motivation for the few contests remaining to be settled in July.”

Past the primary runoff, Bullock said Gwinnett will likely continue to be backdrop for the U.S. Senate contest, where Democrat Michelle Nunn has already secured a position on November ballots.

“Michelle Nunn will no doubt make an appearance in Gwinnett,” Bullock said. “She has the luxury of sending a positive message which will contrast nicely with the attacks likely to intensify between Perdue and Kingston.

“Gwinnett is becoming a competitive county,” he added. “Fifteen years ago no Democrats held office in Gwinnett; now several do and those numbers will grow as the county’s population becomes increasingly diverse. In the near future Gwinnett will have more Democratic than Republican voters.”

The same cannot be said for the 10th Congressional District, Broun’s district, which stretches from Dacula to Athens and then to the south and west, hitting 25 counties.

The winner of the GOP runoff there will almost assuredly go to Congress, despite a challenge from Democrat Ken Dious in November, Bullock said.

That gives even more important to July’s match-up between Walton County radio personality Jody Hice and business Mike Collins, the oldest son of former Congressman Mac Collins. With Gwinnett’s Donna Sheldon out of the race, the two will likely jockey for her votes.

“Jody Hice, who ran neck-and-neck with Donna Sheldon in Gwinnett, performed best in the area in which he ran against Rob Woodall four years ago,” Bullock noted, referring to the areas that have been redistricted to the 10th, including eastern Gwinnett, Barrow and Newton. “For (Hice) to win, he will need a strong turnout in Gwinnett but also expand his support in portions of the district further removed from Gwinnett. Mike Collins swept the southern half of the district and will be trying to pick up voters closer to Gwinnett now ‘orphaned’ since their first choice did not make it into the runoff. Whoever attracts Sheldon voters, will find those a major step toward a July victory.”

Statewide, both Republicans and Democrats have another choice to make to determine the nominees for state school superintendent. While generally these low-budget, low-interest races go to the first-place finisher in the primary, Bullock said the outcome is anybody’s guess in July.

Gwinnett voters will also have a second chance to consider the GOP nominee to become senator for State Senate District 9, where Don Balfour lost his first election in 22 years Tuesday. The race will pit former Gwinnett Commissioner Mike Beaudreau and former Lawrenceville Councilman P.K. Martin, with the winner going on to face Democrat Timothy Swiney in November.