OEDEL: Primary preview

April 20, 2014 

May 20, 2014, should be the most interesting, unpredictable Bibb County election overall since voters approved consolidation July 31, 2012.

The drama won’t be at the ticket’s top, though. Gov. Nathan Deal should win his Republican primary. Democratic challenger state Sen. Jason Carter has scant opposition in his primary. Michelle Nunn, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Saxby Chambliss’ retirement, will win her primary.

More interesting will be to learn who emerges from the crowded field vying for the Republicans’ U.S. Senate nomination, including Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Karen Handel, Jack Kingston and David Perdue. Kingston, a congressman with a measured record, is an experienced contender. But Perdue and Handel as Washington outsiders have converse advantages. Also, Perdue is the former governor’s cousin and can partially self-fund as a successful businessperson. Handel is the sole woman.

Only after a likely runoff will the last-standing Republican contender begin to counter the Democrats’ big backing of Nunn. With Democrats clearing the field for Nunn, national analysts are identifying Nunn as the Democrats’ best hope to pick up a U.S. Senate seat. Nunn’s biggest hurdle now isn’t the cluttered field of Republicans, but Nunn’s own links with Washington’s Democratic establishment and its unpopular products, Obamacare and executive overreach.

Another interesting matchup is for our state Senate’s District 18 seat being vacated by Cecil Staton. Spencer Price lost by less than 1 percent to incumbent Staton in 2012 despite Staton outspending Price more than 10 to one. This time, John Kennedy will run against Price, and Kennedy, well-liked in Macon, is no pushover. Kennedy should win Macon. Still, Price should win Thomaston and Fort Valley. It could come down to a fight for Roberta, Forsyth and rural voters. Similarly earnest and impressive, either candidate would serve well.

Incumbency usually rules, but not always. The other Bibb-involved Georgia Senate race is for District 26, in which Sen. David Lucas is a one-term incumbent. He took the seat last time from former one-term-incumbent Sen. Miriam Paris, who botched her own re-election for odd reasons that I’ve previously noted. Paris wants a rematch, but Lucas isn’t likely to botch his own incumbency. Lucas went to bat at the General Assembly for his rural constituents in order to avoid impending cuts to critical-care rural health facilities. Lucas didn’t get that legislation passed, but he did get an executive order from Gov. Deal granting at least the temporary survival of rural life-saver institutions, trading off for some step-down in their scale. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured a picture of Lucas and Deal shaking hands on that result. Such positive cross-aisle deal making won’t be lost on District 26 constituents in Jeffersonville, Irwinton, Sandersville and Sparta. Lucas should win.

James Beverly is an incumbent at risk. He presently holds the District 143 state House seat. Lonzy Edwards, a former Bibb County commissioner, is challenging Beverly. Both Beverly and Edwards occasionally have crossed racial lines politically, but Edwards has done so without losing credibility on either side. Edwards could prevail. Other challenged House incumbents, Allen Peake and Nikki Randall, will win going away.

Another local incumbent at some risk is Wanda West of Bibb’s board of education. West firmly supported former Bibb school Superintendent Romain Dallemand throughout his tenure. Challenger Darren Latch, a dogged Dallemand critic, offers voters a way to express retrospective disapproval of Dallemand oversight.

Macon Water Authority’s chair is open. Prime contestants are Sam Hart and Steve Rickman. Rickman is winning the sign wars, but Hart has the advantage of a well-earned reputation as the respected former Bibb County Commission chairman. This race slightly tips toward Hart.

There is also one open seat each on the Macon Water Authority board and BOE. Dwight Jones and Daryl Morton, respectively, are apparently working hardest for those seats. Hard work isn’t always enough, but it counts for a lot.

Another at-risk incumbent is Magistrate Court Judge Billy Randall, who faces former prosecutor Emory Christian. Her victory would signal voter disapproval of chronically questionable practices under Randall.

Two caveats: The campaigns aren’t over and predictions are just that. I’ll review results later.

David Oedel teaches at Mercer University law school.

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