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Can an election be too small to foul up? August runoff will tell us

By Tom Baxter

Every election, even those as small as the handful of runoffs that will be decided Aug. 11, tells us something. Each once sets the stage for whatever’s next.

For one thing, the vote in a few weeks will be an easy-peasy test of how challenged the state’s new voting machine system really is. It didn’t fare well in the June 9 primary, and everybody expects the November election to be difficult. There shouldn’t be any problems in an election as small as the runoff, with four congressional races and a scattering of local races being decided around the state. But if there are, we’ll have a forewarning of just how bad November is going to be.

There are two Democratic and two Republican runoffs in congressional races. In the First District, Democrats Lisa Ring and Joyce Marie Griggs are competing to run against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter.

Both parties are in runoffs for the Ninth District seat held by Senate hopeful Doug Collins. Brooke Siskin and Devin Pandy are opposed in the Democratic Primary, with State Rep. Matt Gurtler in the Republican runoff against Andrew Clyde. In the open 14th District, Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and John Cowan are in the runoff.

Because of the slowness of the count after the June 9 primary, it was three days before U.S. Rep. David Scott was assured he had avoided a runoff with Keisha Sean Waites in the 13th Distict, and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux had some nailbiting before locking down a clear majority in the 7th District.

If Scott, an incumbent, had failed to win his district outright, it probably would have been the big story of the runoffs. Instead, the focus will be on the two North Georgia Republican races. The two Democratic runoffs are in solidly Republican districts, making it unlikely to matter which Democrat wins. But the winners of the two Republican races are likely to go to Congress, where they would be on the far right side of the Republican Caucus.

Greene finished first in the 14 District primary with 41 percent of the vote. If she defeats Cowan, a Rome neurosurgeon who shoots a model of the COVID-19 virus with an assault rifle in his first campaign ad,  she will join Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert as the first open supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory to represent their party.

Greene and those of like mind believe there is, in her words, a “global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles,” including Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats. Much of what is known about this cabal is said to come from Q, an anonymous source burrowed deep within the deep state who periodically sends out bulletins about what’s really going on beneath the false surface of perception, in the style of “The Matrix” or the Gnostic Gospels.

If the guy who shoots the plastic COVID model pulls off a giant upset, many mainstream Republicans will breathe a sign of relief. The question is whether candidates like Greene and Boebert are oddities of this particular campaign year, or the first wave of a movement. That’s what Chester Doles, a white supremacist and skinhead who’s been linked to Greene in the 14th District race and Gurtler in the Ninth District race, called it recently.

The Atlanta Press Club’s Loudermilk Young Debate Series is hosting debates for all these races which will be livestreamed and broadcast on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The runoff election for district attorney in Fulton County has so many local issues wired up in it that it hardly needs to be about anything bigger than itself, but that may be what is happening.

Howard, who trailed Fani Willis by seven percent in the June primary, is attacking his challenger and former associate as a tool of the Atlanta police union. That strategy was announced last week. In the wake of the spate of gun violence which rocked the city over the Fourth of July weekend, it looks a lot riskier. In any case it has teed up this race to be a debate about all the issues currently consuming the national debate.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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