With the ultimate outsider Donald J. Trump turning the Republican presidential nomination process upside down, Georgia Republicans anxiously waited to see how it would translate in down ballot state races. And, when qualifying ended and many of the most prominent Republicans from the U.S. Senate to county commissioner had primary opposition, those anxieties were only increased.
At the national level, the message for both Republicans and Democrats had become clear. Voters viewed Washington, D.C., as the problem, not part of the solution. As a result, virtually every Washington, D.C., insider had been eliminated from the Republican presidential field by the middle of March. In the end, the field dwindled to really two candidates — Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the two furthest outsiders in the race.
Georgia Republican incumbents had more to worry about than the national anti-insider sentiment sweeping through the GOP presidential nomination process. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed two pieces of legislation — the religious liberty bill and the campus concealed carry bill — that were important, indeed very important, to key constituencies in the Republican base.
Just how much those vetoes opened the possibilities of intra party challenges was reflected in uncomplimentary resolutions passed by various local and district Republican parties at their county and district conventions. Consequently, primary challengers emerged from the woodwork in the Republican primary election — in some cases with multiple challengers in a single race.
Of course, in the first primary election of the year, the 2016 Presidential Preference Primary on March 1, Donald Trump dominated among Georgia voters even against a still large number of primary challengers. All of these dynamics pointed toward some possible surprises on May 24 when Georgia Republican primary voters returned to the polls to decide their nominees for the fall general election.
At a minimum, many expected Georgia’s incumbent GOP congressmen to face some stiff competition. After all, the Party’s nominee had run his entire campaign against the Washington, D.C., establishment including the Congress controlled by the Republicans. In addition, things between Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan were not exactly warm and cozy. Indeed, Speaker Ryan withheld his support (and endorsement) from the GOP presumptive nominee.
Congress’ approval ratings provided no comfort. Still stuck at stunningly low levels, very few people in the country, including Georgians, approve of the way Congress is doing its job. These results were consistent with the view of approximately two-thirds of Americans that the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Indeed, every political prognosticator (still in a state of bewilderment from Donald Trump’s rise) was reticent to make any prediction about what might happen on May 24. Georgia’s constitutional officers, not up for re-election for another two years, mostly stayed far and away from the primary challenges.
On primary election day, only three incumbent Republican congressmen had no primary opposition: First District Congressman Buddy Carter, Seventh District Congressman Robert Woodall, and Tenth District Congressman Jody Hice. Six incumbent Republican congressmen had 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.
On May 24, Georgia voters cast their votes in the 2016 primary election and non-partisan election (for judges) and the strangest thing happened. Nothing like what had happened on the national level in both parties had happened in Georgia’s state primary election for its U.S. senator, its congressmen, or even its Georgia General Assembly members. Instead, virtually the opposite happened.
Congressman Doug Collins, facing five primary challengers including former Congressman Paul Broun, won without a runoff. Congressman Barry Loudermilk, also facing multiple challengers, won without a runoff. Every incumbent Republican congressman won. So much for the theory that Georgia voters believe their Republican congressmen are part of the problem.
The trend continued down the ballot with Georgia Republicans re-electing Republicans with a myriad of political woes ranging from DUI arrests to legal woes. The message was pretty loud and very clear. Georgia Republicans appear quite content with their Republican incumbents in both Washington, D.C., and those serving under the Gold Dome in Atlanta.
The only notable exception to the trend occurred in Cobb County. Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who brought the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County, came in second place in his re-election bid. In fact, he barely made the runoff. Mike Boyce, the top vote-getter in that race, came within just a few hundred votes of winning the Cobb County chairmanship outright with over 49 percent of the vote. Cobb County voters will decide between the two on July 26 in the primary runoff election.
Thirty-four Republican congressional aspirants lined up to feed off of the anti-establishment sentiment fueling the Trump train to the Republican presidential nomination. None forced an incumbent GOP congressmen into a runoff. Only the Republican nominee to fill the vacancy left by retiring Congressman Lynn Westmoreland in the Third Congressional District remains left to be decided. State Senator Mike Crane will face dentist Drew Ferguson in the runoff. Both finished the primary in a virtual tie with each receiving almost 27 percent of the vote.