Georgia Election Update: 2018 Candidate Qualifying

March 14, 2018

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March 5 marked the beginning of qualifying week in Georgia for the 2018General Election. Throughout the week, candidates officially threw theirhats in the ring ahead of the May 22 primary contests by filing thenecessary paperwork and qualifying fees with the secretary of state.

On the ballot this year are all eight statewide constitutional officers,all 14 U.S. House seats, all 56 state Senate seats and all 180 state Houseseats. While it’s not guaranteed that all candidates who qualified willremain in the race until May or November, it is guaranteed that this willbe a busy campaign season for politicians and voters alike. Candidatescurrently holding elected office cannot raise funds during the legislativesession, so it is equally certain that campaign season will be in fullswing shortly after the 2018 session adjourns on March 29.


Absent an incumbent, the 2018 governor’s race will be one of the mostcrowded and hotly contested races this year. Seven Republicans and twoDemocrats qualified to seek their respective party’s nomination to replacethe term-limited Nathan Deal. Among the notable Republican qualifiers arecurrent Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, current Secretary of State Brian Kemp,current state Sen. Michael Williams, former state Sen. Hunter Hill andfirst-time candidate Clay Tippins. Former state Reps. Stacey Abrams andStacey Evans will face off for the Democratic nomination. Hill, Abrams andEvans all resigned their seats in the General Assembly prior to the startof the 2018 legislative session.

Lieutenant Governor

For the first time since 2006, Republican voters will nominate a newcandidate for lieutenant governor. As current three-term Lt. Gov. CaseyCagle seeks higher office, former Rep. Geoff Duncan, former Sen. RickJeffares and former Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer will compete forthe chance to replace Cagle as the Republican nominee. Following theresignation of Duncan and Jeffares from their respective legislativeoffices, Shafer is the only candidate in the race who currently holdselected office. Democratic voters will choose from business executive SarahRiggs Amico and small business owner Triana Arnold James to compete inNovember’s general election.

Secretary of State

Four Republicans and three Democrats hope to become Georgia’s nextsecretary of state. Currently in his second full term, Brian Kemp leavesthis race without an incumbent as he competes to become the state’s nextgovernor. Vying to replace Kemp on the Republican side are current stateReps. Buzz Brockway and Brad Raffensperger, current state Sen. Josh McKoon,and Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. The Democratic candidates forsecretary of state are former Congressman John Barrow, former state Rep.Dee Dawkins-Haigler and former Rockdale Tax Commissioner RJ Hadley.

Other Constitutional Officers

Incumbent Attorney General Chris Carr, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Blackand Labor Commissioner Mark Butler did not draw primary challengers butwill all face Democratic opponents in the November General Election.First-term state school Superintendent Richard Woods will face twoRepublican challengers, including his immediate predecessor John Barge,before the primary winner moves on to face one of three Democraticcandidates in November. Additionally, three Republicans and two Democratshope to replace the retiring Ralph Hudgens as Georgia’s next insurancecommissioner.

Georgia General Assembly

Mirroring the trend in elections across the country, many incumbents in theGeorgia legislature will have to defend against primary and/or generalelection opponents to retain their seats for another term. Following theresignation of 14 members of the General Assembly since the last election,most of which were to seek higher office, five Senate and nine Houseincumbents look to win their first general election for a full term; 12 ofthe 14 have held office for less than six months after winning specialelections in November, January or February. While many of the candidateswho qualified have never before held elected office, several candidates arelooking to win back seats they previously lost or resigned.

House of Representatives

Of the 180 seats in the Georgia House of Representatives, 85 incumbentswill have to defend their titles against primary or general electionopponents. Fifteen of those incumbents, including Speaker of the HouseDavid Ralston, have drawn both primary and general election challengers.The anticipated 45 incumbent primary contests is a slight increase from the39 incumbents who saw intraparty challengers initially qualify for theprimaries in 2016, the state’s last general election. Fifty-five incumbentsare expected to meet opponents from their opposing party in November 2018,compared to only 34 who faced general election opponents in 2016. With 17open House seats in 2018, only 78 current representatives avoidedRepublican or Democratic challengers in this year’s race. In the lastgeneral election, 97 incumbents, more than half the chamber, werere-elected without major party challengers.

Five state representatives who were elected in 2016 will see their names onprimary ballots for statewide office in May. With three of those resigningtheir seats before the 2018 legislative session, and six other midtermresignations, the House is expected, at the time of qualifying, to haveonly 17 open seats in 2018, compared to the 19 open seats in the lastelection.


Half of Georgia’s 56 senators failed to draw major party challengers in2018, which is down from 30 senators with no qualifying primary or generalelection opponents in 2016. Eleven incumbents are expected to faceintraparty challengers in May, while 20 incumbents saw opposing partychallengers qualify for November’s general election. Six incumbents drewmajor party challengers in both the primary and general election, comparedto just one incumbent in 2016.

Like the House, five senators who were elected in the last generalelection, and the lieutenant governor who also serves as Senate president,will see their names on primary ballots for statewide office in May. Withtwo of those resigning their seats and three other post-electionresignations, all of which were filled by special election, the Senate isexpected to have only three open seats in 2018, the same number as in thelast general election.

U.S. House of Representatives

Longtime Congressman John Lewis is the sole member of Georgia’s 14-memberU.S. House delegation to avoid a major party challenger for re-election.Republican Austin Scott is the only other member of the delegation to avoidgeneral election opposition from a major party candidate. Republicans BuddyCarter, Karen Handel and Doug Collins will face the winners of the May 22Democratic primary, while Drew Ferguson, Rob Woodall, Jody Hice and RickAllen will have to win their own party primary before shifting focus toNovember Democratic challengers. Republicans Barry Loudermilk and TomGraves each drew one Democratic challenger. Democratic Congressmen SanfordBishop and David Scott will face Republican challengers in November’sgeneral election, while Hank Johnson first must defend against anintraparty challenge in the May primary.

For additional information, please contact Ashley Groome or a member ofMcGuireWoods Consulting’s Georgia State Government Relations Group.

Ashley S. Groome,Senior Vice President and Director

Robert L. Fortson,Senior Vice President

Lauren C. Greer,Assistant Vice President

Misty H. Holcomb,Senior Vice President

Danica R. Key,Assistant Vice President

Michael T. Shelnutt,Senior Vice President