Tom Graves has Nathan Deal to thank for his seat in Congress. Deal might have Graves to thank if he ends up in the governor’s mansion.
That’s my first, early (very early) thought about the results of last night’s primary, in which Deal and Karen Handel advanced to a runoff for the GOP nomination.
A runoff is in no small part about motivation and turnout. Whose supporters will show up at the polls again, just three weeks after the last time and less than three months before the general election?
Both Handel and Deal have momentum on their side. For months, simply reaching the runoff — presumably against John Oxendine — was the goal. Now both of them have done that, riding a swell of support over the past couple of weeks.
Now that they’re there, the campaigns will be tempted to turn this into a referendum on whose mud, when slung, sticks the best. These people flat don’t like one another, and more negative campaigning is likely. But at this point, can either campaign effectively motivate voters to go vote against someone else? And won’t the state Republican Party beseech both candidates to keep things even a teensy bit civil, given that Democratic nominee Roy Barnes has three weeks to rest and raise money while Handel and Deal duke it out?
Enter Tom Graves.
Come August, Graves will be on the ballot in Georgia’s 9th Congressional District — the district Deal represented for 17 years, until he resigned this spring to focus on his gubernatorial campaign — for the fourth time in three months. He won a plurality in a May 11 special election to fill the rest of Deal’s unexpired term, then won the seat in a June runoff against Lee Hawkins.
Last night, Graves fell 419 votes short of the majority he needed to keep the seat in 2011-12. He’ll face Hawkins in another runoff on Aug. 10.
While North Georgia voters may be tired of voting at this point, the congressional race will surely make them more likely to turn out for the runoff. And given Deal’s residual strength up north, any additional turnout there will surely help him (it also doesn’t hurt that he and Hawkins, who is trying to make the fourth time a charm against Graves, both hail from Hall County).
There will of course be any number of other factors in the race: What will be the effect of a runoff in the attorney general’s race? Where will third-place finisher Eric Johnson throw his support? After falling so far so fast, can frontrunner-turned-fourth-place John Oxendine still throw any weight around with his supporters?
But don’t underestimate the importance of those 419 votes Tom Graves didn’t get Tuesday.