Georgia primary voters decide fate of challenged incumbents

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Staff and wire reports

While nobody named Trump or Clinton appears on the ballot this time around, Georgia voters still have some big decisions to make in primary elections Tuesday.

Nearly three months after Georgia held presidential primaries, voters return to the polls Tuesday, May 24, to determine whether the state’s senior U.S. senator gets a shot at keeping his job another six years and a successor to a retiring U.S. Congressman in a crowded race.

Here’s a look at statee primary races with local impact:

Westmoreland’s successor

In west Georgia, seven Republicans are competing for the party’s nomination to replace GOP Rep. Lynn Westmoreland as he retires from Congress.

The crowded GOP contest could easily go to a runoff July 26. The Republican contenders: state Sen. Mike Crane of Newnan, Air Force veteran Samuel Anders of Newnan, former West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson, Jonesboro business owner Chip Flanegan, Newnan film producer Richard Mix, Peachtree City businessman Jim Pace and Newnan educator Arnall “Rod” Thomas.

Two Democrats — Angela Pendley of Grantville and Newnan pastor Tamarkus Cook — are also seeking Westmoreland’s Republican-leaning House seat.

Keep Isakson, or rock the boat?

If he wants to return to Washington for a third term, Sen. Johnny Isakson first must overcome two fellow Republicans standing in his way.

Both of Isakson’s GOP challengers ran unsuccessful statewide campaigns in 2014. Derrick Grayson, an engineer from Redan, has questioned whether Isakson would complete another six-year term. Isakson announced last summer that he has Parkinson’s disease, but says he can still do the job.

Mary Kay Bacallao, a college professor from Fayetteville, is also running for the seat. She has criticized Isakson for voting with others to replace the federal education standards known as No Child Left Behind.

Three Democrats are running for Isakson’s seat. Investment manager Jim Barksdale of Atlanta has backing from top Georgia Democrats and loaned his campaign $1.1 million. Project manager Cheryl Copeland of Hira and Atlanta businessman John Coyne round out the Democratic field.

State Senate District 28

Matt Brass and Hayden Marlowe, both of Newnan, are facing off on the Republican primary ballot. With no other qualified candidates, the winner is a shoe-in for the seat left open by Mike Crane, now a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District seat.

During a forum in LaGrange, both candidates agreed on several topics: opposing medicaid expansion, and supporting in-state cultivation of medicinal cannibas, campus carry of handguns and state’s rights — particularly on education.

On education, Brass said partnering with private businesses and offering options on work-based learning is essential. Marlowe supported vouchers for charter schools for parents who feel their children’s needs aren’t being met in public schools.

Brass supported the religious liberty bill vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal, which Brass felt did not encourage discimination. Marlowe felt the bill was the wrong way to go because government has no right to tell businesses who to serve and those decisions should be left to the free market.

Voter turnout

Secretary of State Brian Kemp predicts solid turnout Tuesday based on early voting numbers.

Kemp’s office reported about 329,000 people cast or mailed in ballots by Friday, the last day for early voting before Tuesday’s primary.

That’s a 38 percent increase from early voting totals in the 2012 primary. But it’s still far behind the more than 417,000 who set an early voting record in Georgia before the March presidential primaries.

Editor’s note: Original report by Associated Press writer Russ Bynum with local information added.