SUBSCRIBER CONTENT: March 25, 2016
There was a time when Republicans could not scare up enough candidates to even fill up a slate for all of the Congressional seats in Georgia. Those days are long gone. When qualifying ended this year, 37 Republicans had signed up to run for one of Georgia’s 14 Congressional seats and its U.S. Senate seat.
Even Georgia’s senior U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson drew opposition from two fellow Republicans — Derrick Grayson from Redan and Dr. Mary Kay Bacallao from Fayetteville. Should Isakson win, he would then still have to face Democratic opposition in the general election on Nov. 8.
Some of the candidates do not appear to have much of a chance (although in this election cycle it seems as though almost anything can happen). Admittedly, Third District Congressman Lynn Westmoreland’s decision to retire did leave an enticing opportunity that attracted seven Republicans (and two Democrats) to the field of Congressional candidates.
Congressman Westmoreland was first elected to the Congress in 2004. Since then, he has been a steady, solid conservative voice for six terms. Most pundits consider the Third Congressional District to be safely Republican. But, so much of these predictions depend strongly on who the actual candidates are as opposed to just how a Congressional district is drawn.
Rumors continue to circulate regarding whether or not Congressman Westmoreland will make a run for governor when term-limited Gov. Nathan Deal leaves office in 2018. In years past, he made no secret of his desire to be the governor of Georgia one day. Yet, at 65, Congressman Westmoreland insists that he is just ready to spend more time at home with his family. Only time will tell.
One thing is certain: there will be a new congressman in the Third Congressional District come 2017. Of the seven Republicans running for the seat, four are from Newnan — Samuel Anders, Mike Crane, Richard Mix, and Arnall “Rod” Thomas. The three others include Chip Flanegan from Jonesboro, Drew Ferguson from West Point, and Jim Pace from Peachtree City.
But a bigger story than Congressman Westmoreland’s retirement is just how many incumbent Republican congressmen have primary opposition. Notably, only three incumbent Republican congressmen escaped qualifying without primary opposition: First District Congressman Buddy Carter, Seventh District Congressman Robert Woodall, and Tenth District Congressman Jody Hice.
Contrast those three fortunate ones with the six incumbent Republican congressmen who have drawn opposition in the Republican primary: Sixth District Congressman Tom Price; Eighth District Congressman Austin Scott; Ninth District Congressman Doug Collins; Eleventh District Congressman Barry Loudermilk; Twelfth District Congressman Rick Allen; and Fourteenth District Congressman Tom Graves.
Make no mistake, many of the challengers are much more than disgruntled congressional wannabes or political newcomers. Take Congressman Doug Collins (from Hall County) as an example. He has four challengers, one of whom is former Congressman Paul Broun who has already proven he can win a congressional election.
With five candidates in the race, Congressman Collins could be facing not just a primary election but a primary election runoff too. Primary election runoffs can be especially tricky business. The good news for Congressman Collins is that no Democrats qualified for the Ninth Congressional District.
Only one Democratic congressman was fortunate enough to avoid opposition in the General Election. Georgia Republicans fielded candidates for 13 of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts. The only congressional race without a Republican candidate was the Thirteenth Congressional District held by Democratic Congressman David Scott.
In contrast to the 34 Republican congressional candidates, Georgia Democrats fielded only 12 congressional candidates including their four incumbents. In contrast to the six Republican incumbents, none of the Democratic Congressional incumbents face primary opposition including Second District Congressman Sanford Bishop, Fourth District Congressman Hank Johnson, Fifth District Congressman John Lewis, and Thirteenth District Congressman Scott.
On the other hand, four Democratic candidates signed up to run against Senator Isakson — Cheryl Copeland, James Knox, Jim Barksdale, and John Coyne. The leadership of the Georgia Democratic Party has lined up behind businessman Jim Barksdale. Few expect it to be a real contest, but then again this is a most unusual year.
In many respects, the Georgia political landscape mimics the national landscape. In the presidential race, Republicans initially fielded 17 candidates with three still in the contest: businessman Donald Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. On the other hand, Democrats fielded only four with only two remaining — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
And, like the presidential race, it is the outsiders making all the noise in the Republican contest while Democrats largely appear content with who they have. It is a year like no other.
All the discontent might lead an objective observer to think that all these Republican candidates are reacting to Democratic control of Congress and 31 governorships. But, in reality, it is the Republicans reacting to Republicans who are in control. By every objective measure, however, it is Republicans who appear to be the most restless and eager for change.
Of course, there is still a ways to go in both the GOP presidential nomination process and in the upcoming Georgia Republican primaries. Things could settle down. But for now, Republicans in high places cannot help feeling a little anxious in a year that they thought could be the final step in their trek to firm control. Instead, many will now have to fight for just their own party’s nomination and then wait for the uncertainties that lie ahead in the fall and the presidential election.