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Barrow faces uphill fight with Raffensperger
Statewide runoffs rare and GOP usually wins them
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Republican Brad Raffensperger, right, won the statewide runoff for Georgia secretary of state over John Barrow Tuesday night.

If the history of runoffs in Georgia is any clue, Democratic candidate John Barrow faces an uphill battle in the Dec. 4 runoff with Republican candidate Brad Raffensperger to be the Georgia’s next secretary of state.

Unless affected by court decisions lingering from the dispute over the governor’s race, in-person early voting will be available Nov. 26-30 in the general election runoff. A runoff for a seat on the Public Service Commission will also appear on the statewide ballot.

“We haven’t had many statewide general election runoffs,” said University of Georgia Political Science Professor Charles S. Bullock III, Ph.D. “But there were two for the U.S. Senate and two or three for the Public Service Commission, and one consistency has been that Republicans won every one of those.”

Bullock has studied elections, especially elections in the South, for decades. Among 30 books he has authored or co-authored was 1992’s “Runoff Elections in the United States.” The sixth edition of “The New Politics of the Old South,” which he co-edits with Mark J. Rozell, was published this year.

In Georgia’s statewide general election runoffs, the Republican has consistently won, whether initially in the lead or in second place, Bullock said.

“So what that tells you is that, at least in the past, Republicans have been more successful in getting their voters to come back for that second vote,” Bullock said.

 

1992 and 2008

The earliest basis for his observation was the 1992 U.S. Senate runoff in which Republican challenger Paul Coverdell won an upset victory over Democratic incumbent Sen. Wyche Fowler. Fowler led by about 35,000 votes in the general election but lost the runoff by more than 16,000 votes. Senator Coverdell then served from January 1993 until his death in July 2000.

Georgia’s 2008 U.S. Senate runoff went more as expected. T hen-Sen. Saxby Chambliss, already very close to a majority with 49.8 percent of the votes in general election, increased his lead and won with 57.4 percent of the runoff votes against challenger Jim Martin. But again, Chambliss was the Republican. Martin was the Democrat.

The 2008 general election was also when President Barack Obama was elected the first time, coinciding with the original, close Chambliss-Martin result with a Libertarian candidate for senator in third place. Martin’s support then plummeted from 1.75 million votes in the general election to fewer than 910,000 in the runoff.

“The thought was that an awful lot of African-Americans who had turned out in November to vote for Obama didn’t have as much incentive to come back in December for this Senate contest,” Bullock said.

If Democratic, and African-American, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams did not manage to get into a runoff, something similar is likely to happen with the Dec. 4 runoff, Bullock speculated Thursday.

Republicans’ traditional “as a whole better educated, a bit more affluent” voter demographics have been “two strong correlates of voting” participation, Bullock said.

Barrow, in a phone interview Friday, observed that the 2018 election season has been markedly different than those that produced statewide runoffs in the past.

“I think there are so many differences between this climate right now and what happened in 2008 and what happened in 1992, I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Barrow said. “But I know this. This is an equal-opportunity challenge for both sides in this race, and there are lots of problems that need to be fixed and there is only one candidate running in this race that has promised to fix these problems in a bipartisan manner.”

 

Close first round

As of election night, Nov. 6, Raffensperger led with 1,906,564 votes statewide, or 49.1 percent of the total, to 1,890,211 votes, or 48.7 percent, for Barrow. The Libertarian candidate, Smyth Duval, captured 86,694 votes, or 2.2 percent.

Barrow, an attorney, represented Georgia’s 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for 10 years. He lost the seat in the 2014 election to Rick Allen, the Republican who won re-election Nov. 6 to a third two-year term.

Raffensperger, a structural engineer and licensed contractor, owns Tendon Systems LLC, which employs about 150 people and operates specialty-steel manufacturing plants in Forsyth County and in Columbus. He has represented Johns Creek in north Fulton County in the Georgia House of Representatives the past four years and served on Johns Creek City Council for three years before that.

 

Voting an issue

“I want to make sure that only American citizens vote and I want to make sure that we keep voter ID, and that’s where we differentiate ourselves between myself and John Barrow,” Raffensperger said in brief Nov. 2 interview in Statesboro. “John Barrow voted against the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006, and the cornerstone of that piece of legislation was photo ID, and he voted against it.”

That was during a campaign stop by Brian Kemp, now the governor-elect, and other state and congressional GOP candidates the Friday before the general election. Raffensperger did not speak to the crowd, and the Statesboro Herald’s story immediately after focused only on Kemp.

But Barrow emphatically opposes letting noncitizens vote and supports the use of photo identification. He did vote against the bill in Congress 12 years ago that Raffensperger referred to, but Barrow voted the same day for a different bill that also would have created photo ID requirements for federal elections, he said Friday. Neither bill passed. The version he voted against was a “gotcha” bill with provisions he could have been blamed for voting for or against, he said.

Problems in the way Georgia conducts elections, including an accumulation of usually minor flaws long ignored during “blowout elections” but made obvious by 2018’s close race for governor, should be addressed by the next secretary of state working with other officials in both parties, Barrow asserts. He exhibited bipartisan cooperation during his time in Congress and has advocated it throughout his political career, he said.

“The only way it can be fixed is in a bipartisan manner, if it’s truly going to be fixed so that folks on both sides will have confidence in the outcome of our elections, whether it’s a blowout or it’s a close call,” Barrow said.

 

Disagree and agree

In the earlier interview, Raffensperger noted his stance on the professional licensing and corporate registration functions of the Secretary of State’s Office, as well as elections.

“I support photo ID because it’s another tool in the toolbox to help fight voter fraud,” Raffensperger said. “Also I want to make sure we keep the voter rolls updated, and as a licensed engineer and a licensed contractor I want to make sure we streamline licensing and also streamline corporations.”

He noted that he has been endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses and said the NFIB gave him a 100 percent rating on its issues, compared to a 60 percent rating for Barrow.

Both candidates advocate replacing Georgia’s aging touchscreen voting machines with new electronic equipment that will produce paper ballots for later reference and improve cybersecurity.

“The voting machines are 16 years old, and we need to update with something with a verifiable paper audit trail,” Raffensperger said. “We need to make sure that we have a paper ballot trail and give people that confidence.”

 

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.