Georgia Primary Election Update

May 27, 2022

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Rematch in Georgia

On May 24, 2022, Georgia voters went to the polls to select their respective party nominees ahead of November’s general election. Voter participation this year was up significantly from the 2018 state primary. On its face, Republicans appeared to be the largest beneficiary with more than 1 million votes cast in their party primary compared to approximately 725,000 in the Democratic primary. However, a closer look at the numbers shows that a noticeable number of traditionally Democratic voters crossed over in this year’s primary to vote for Republican candidates. Speculation suggests that those voters may have crossed over to vote against a Trump-endorsed slate of candidates. One thing is clear however, if those voters return to Democratic candidates in November, then races up and down the ballot will be much closer than these primary results suggest.

Almost twice as many Republicans voters went to the polls than did in the 2018 primary. This surge in Republican voters was a boon to Gov. Brian Kemp, who cruised to an overwhelming victory over former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who had the backing of former President Donald Trump. While the official results are still to be finalized, Kemp appears to have garnered almost 74% of the Republican vote. With this victory under his belt, he now faces the challenge of uniting the Georgia GOP in hopes of securing a second term in November.

In November, Kemp will again face former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who he narrowly defeated in the 2018 governor’s race. Although Abrams was unopposed as her party’s top gubernatorial contender, Democratic participation was up 28% over the 2018 primaries. 

Sen. Raphael Warnock handily defeated a Democratic challenger in his quest to win his first full term in the U.S. Senate. In November, he will face former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker, who is heavily backed by Trump and easily emerged from a primary field of six Republican candidates.

Overall, the quick analysis suggests that it was a very good night to be an incumbent. There were few upsets anywhere on the ballot, while Trump-backed candidates were a mixed bag. When the former President attempted to challenge an incumbent, almost all of his candidates suffered decisive defeats, with the governor’s race serving as the most high-profile example. However, in open seats, his candidates typically carried the night. Looking toward November, Republicans will take comfort in what looks to be a rebound in its enthusiastic base. Combined with the current low poll numbers of President Biden, the GOP looks to be in solid shape to retain power in most of the state; although it may still be closer than it currently appears. Democrats will hope that Trump continues to be a thorn in the side of some Republicans and that Abrams can electrify and mobilize her base to continue to push the state bluer. Additionally, November will be the first major test for the state’s amended, and much-discussed, election laws as well as offering newly redrawn Congressional and state legislative districts crafted to favor the Republican majority. One major change for this year’s elections is the shortening of the runoff period. The June 21 runoffs come just four weeks after the primaries, compared to the nine-week runoff campaigns in previous years.

Down Ballot

The flipping of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats last year coupled with Trump inserting himself in so many of the GOP contests resulted in many of the state’s constitutional offices drawing more candidates that usual.

Lieutenant Governor

In the wake of Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s decision to not seek another term in office, both the Republican and Democratic primaries drew an active list of candidates seeking to fill his vacancy. Although a small portion of votes are still being counted, the Democratic race appears to be headed for a runoff between the short-term Congressman Kwanza Hall, who was the top vote-getter with roughly 30% of the vote, and Charlie Bailey, who garnered a little more than 17%. While a handful of votes continue to trickle in, it looks like Trump-favorite, state Sen. Burt Jones has narrowly avoided a runoff against fellow state Sen. Butch Miller. At the time of this publication, Jones’ tally sits at just over 50% of the vote. Any outstanding votes could shrink his lead below the 50% plus 1 margin needed to avoid a runoff; however, many of those outstanding votes appear to be in Democratic counties, giving Jones’ campaign confidence that his lead will hold. 

Whatever happens in this race, it is sure to have a sizeable impact on the leadership in the state Senate during next year’s legislative session. A Jones victory in November would almost certainly push the chamber further to the right, while a Democratic victory in the governor or lieutenant governor races would be minimized by the chamber’s Republican majority.

Secretary of State

Incumbent Republican Brad Raffensperger, one of the most renowned Secretaries of State in Georgia history, was another example of Trump’s inability to control the GOP. Raffensperger defeated three other Republicans to win renomination with 52% of the vote. One of the biggest surprises of the night was that Raffensperger was able to advance without a runoff. Although, he will have to wait to find out who his November opponent will be. The Democratic race appears to be headed for a runoff between state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who received roughly 44 % of the vote, and former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, who earned almost 19% of the vote despite having previously been unsuccessful in this race.

Attorney General

With only two candidates in each primary, the race for attorney general is set to avoid any runoff. Incumbent Republican Chris Carr fended off a Trump-endorsed candidate to cruise to victory with almost 74% of the vote. He will face a strong Democratic challenger in state Sen. Jen Jordan, who won her primary with more than 77% of the vote.

Insurance Commissioner

The incumbent Republican John King won his first state-wide race since being appointed to the position three years ago by Kemp. He defeated a Trump-backed opponent, winning 70% of the vote. In the Democratic primary, Janice Laws Robinson currently holds a near majority lead over the other contenders. Unless the final vote tally enables her to surmount the 50% threshold, she will face Raphael Baker, who earned roughly 33% of the vote, in a runoff. The winner will face King in November.

Labor Commissioner

A slate of candidates from both parties sought to replace outgoing Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. State Sen. Bruce Thompson easily won the GOP nod with almost 63%, while state Rep. William Boddie and Rep. Nicole Horn are moving on to a Democratic runoff next month.

Commissioner of Agriculture

After receiving more than one million votes, Republican state Sen. Tyler Harper has the distinction of being one of the largest vote-getters of the night. Harper, who was one of only two constitutional officer candidates to avoid a primary opponent, will face Democrat Nakita Hemingway in November.

Superintendent of Schools

Coming on the heels of a high-profile election in Virginia where education issues were front and center, Georgia followed suit in the 2022 legislative session with a host of measures designed to increase parent autonomy over everything from masking to curriculum to public comment in board meetings. The incumbent Republican Superintendent Richard Woods was heavily involved in all of these legislative initiatives and has maintained a close partnership with Kemp over the past four years. This served him well in his bid for a third reelection, and he easily defeated former State Superintendent John Barge by a margin of 73% to 27%. In November, he will face Democratic challenger and former State Rep. Alisha Thomas Searcy, who ran unsuccessfully for the same office in 2008 and has since served in various capacities within the school choice movement.

State Legislature

If there was any theme that carried the night, it was incumbency. Although many sitting legislators drew challengers, the lack of upsets or surprises demonstrated resounding approval for incumbent members in the House and Senate by party voters across the state.

The only incumbents to lose their seats so far are those drawn into districts with each other during reapportionment. Notably, the Majority Caucus Chair and former Reapportionment Chair Rep. Bonnie Rich lost her bid for re-nomination to fellow sitting Republican David Clark. Other incumbents competing against each other include Democratic Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, who defeated Rep. Rebecca Mitchell and Republican Rep. Danny Mathis, who defeated Rep. Robert Pruitt.

Two legislators appear to be headed to a runoff: Republican Rep. Sheri Gilligan will face Carter Barrett, after earning just shy of 50%; and Democratic Rep. Roger Bruce will need to defeat Rashaun Kemp in a runoff to retain his seat.

A larger than usual number of retirements and open seats in the Georgia House this year will certainly shakeup the chamber’s chairmanships in the next legislative biennial. 

U.S. Congress

All incumbents cruised to re-election except for one-term Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in the metro-Atlanta 7th congressional district. Current 6th district Rep. Lucy McBath, who decided to run in the newly redrawn 7th, easily defeated her Democratic colleague with more than 63% of the vote. Although she will face a Republican opponent in November, the new district is widely expected to be retained by Democrats.

In McBath’s old 6th district, nine Republican contenders vied to represent the now more Republican-leaning district. Ultimately, Dr. Rich McCormick received 43% of the vote and will face Trump-endorsed Jake Evans, who earned 23%, in a run-off. The winner will face a Democratic opponent in November, but Republicans are expected to easily flip the seat.

Trump continued to show his somewhat mixed influence in the open 10th district contest. Former Democrat turned Republican Vernon Jones earned more than 21% of the vote and will face the top vote-getter Mike Collins (25%) in a run-off for the Republican nomination. Notably, Jones initially intended to run against Kemp for the Republican gubernatorial nomination but was persuaded by Trump to clear that field for Perdue in exchange for his support in this race.

All other congressional incumbents were either unopposed in a primary or easily defeated their intraparty challengers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in the 14th district.

Looking Ahead to November

As Georgia remains a battleground state, it is a foregone conclusion that both Democrats and Republicans will pump millions of dollars into the November contest. The 2018 rematch of Kemp versus Abrams will be a major attraction, both locally and nationally. Perhaps more importantly, all eyes will once again be on the U.S. Senate race, which will likely decide control of that chamber and the fate of the post-midterm Biden presidency.