Georgia On Your Mind

Some down south reading in the lead-up to the Peach State primaries

Georgians head to the polls tomorrow for senate, gubernatorial, and house primaries. Most eyes will be on the Republican primary for governor, in which the frontrunners are former congressman Nathan Deal, state insurance commissioner John Oxendine, and former secretary of state Karen Handel. All three are given the the edge over the likely Democratic opponent for November, former Governor Roy Barnes.

Looking at the national coverage, one thing is apparent: Sarah Palin was here. The Georgia primary drew mass attention last Monday when Palin took to what might be the world’s most Midas-like Facebook account and deemed Handel her choice for the Republican nomination. Politico reported on the endorsement:

“Though considered an underdog candidate (more power to her!), this pro-life, pro-Constitutionalist with a can-do attitude and a record of fighting for ethics in government is ready to serve in the Governor’s Office,” Palin wrote online. “She’ll balance budgets and help spur Georgia’s economy. Her plan will contribute to America’s roadmap which can benefit all of us.”

The dynamics of the race shifted almost immediately, with Handel breaking away from the pack—a Mason-Dixon Polling and Research poll Sunday showed 29 percent of the 400 likely Republican voters surveyed would vote with Handel, 22 percent with Oxendine, and 20 percent with Deal. A poll from Thursday had Handel and Deal even at 25 percent, with Oxendine trailing. (A Magellan Strategies poll released today has Handel pulling in as much as 38 percent of the vote). In Georgia, candidates must nab 50 percent or more of the vote for outright victory; with no candidate looking likely to do so, it’s predicted the vote will go to a runoff on August 10.

Though she may not win outright, the shift in Handel’s fortunes was enough to make a nifty lede for a New York Times story Saturday on Palin’s strategy and influence in primaries across the country. It also made for some nice Palin-causes-surge-type headlines.

But one of the more interesting reports out of Georgia leading up to the primaries concerned a different poll by Mason-Dixon, this one focusing not on who leads the horse race but the issues which are driving it. Not surprisingly, the economy dominated, as if it too had been endorsed by Palin.

From Aaron Gould Sheinin and Susan McCord’s report for the Georgia Newspaper Partnership:

Heading into Tuesday’s primary elections for governor, Rob Hainer is looking for the answer to just one question: Who is going to bring jobs to Georgia?

Candidates who focus on immigration, gay rights or anything else will lose his vote. “That’s not important to me,” said Hainer, 39, who lives in Hiram and works for his brother’s construction company. “Everything falls in line if you get the jobs.”

A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research for The Augusta Chronicle and 12 other members of the Georgia Newspaper Partnership found that across party, gender and racial lines Georgians head into the primaries worried about their economic futures and unhappy with the performance of their political leaders and institutions.

The poll found that nearly three of four Georgians are concerned about their household finances and job security, a sentiment that is casting a shadow over the state elections. The poll also found deep dissatisfaction with governmental leaders in Washington and Atlanta.

For those looking for day-by-day, issue-by-issue local takes on the race, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Georgia Elections Central blog has a nice archive of posts linking to stories that have been shaping the election. It also includes detailed profiles of gubernatorial candidates on both sides. Here’s Handel’s, Oxendine’s, and Deal’s.

And check out the Journal Constitution’s Jim Galloway’s Political Insider blog for fanatic coverage of local chatter surrounding the vote.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.