CL’s 2014 primary election guide

Your one-stop for info about round one of metro Atlanta’s congressional, state, and county races

For the first time in years, Georgia voters will have the ability to drastically alter the state’s political landscape. Democrats are fielding competitive candidates in key statewide races that were once thought to be easy victories for the GOP. Although Republicans still reign supreme in a red state, that could change if Democrats can sway enough voters. Closer to home, pivotal posts in Fulton and DeKalb counties are up for grabs.

In many races, next week’s primary elections will determine which candidates land on the ticket come the general elections in November. Then there’s a handful of key races that will be all-but-determined by primary ballot casters. To help you decide, we’ve laid out what’s at stake in metro Atlanta’s key races, including congressional and gubernatorial skirmishes all the way down to heated county kerfuffles. It’s not an exahustive list, however. To find out your district, polling precincts, and what other races you will help decide, visit the Secretary of State’s website at And don’t forget to bring your ID.

Race: Governor, GOP nomination

Who can vote: Voters who request a Republican ballot

Why It Matters: For years, demographers and wonks have proclaimed Georgia was turning from a conservative red to a more moderate purple state — and that a majority of voters might soon select a Democrat to reclaim the Governor’s Mansion. Whether that time is now or years away is uncertain. Regardless, Gov. Nathan Deal’s four years in office give him a built-in advantage. To stay in office, he’ll have to beat out state Sen. Jason Carter, the lone Democratic candidate in what could become one of the country’s most closely watched (and heated) political battles.

But first, the incumbent has to best GOP challengers Georgia School Superintendent John Barge and former Dalton Mayor David Pennington on May 20. Barge has positioned himself as a moderate who is skeptical of Georgia’s “guns everywhere” proposal and champions public education. Pennington has Tea Party zeal and says all issues basically boil down to “freedom and economics.” Deal has greatly outraised his opponents and, despite his ethics issues, still enjoys strong party support. Election-year pandering during the most recent legislative session — i.e., teacher raises and improved state employee health care benefits — might have also helped his chances. However, a strong showing from Pennington or Barge could signal that there’s a lack of confidence in the incumbent — something that could tilt the race in Carter’s favor come November.

Race: U.S. Senate, GOP nomination

Who can vote: Voters who request a Republican ballot

Why It Matters: The race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss arguably remains the biggest toss-up of any 2014 election. Seven candidates are fighting to become the Republican nominee for the statewide seat. That includes — take a deep breath — U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta, and Jack Kingston of Savannah; former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, veteran business exec David Perdue, MARTA senior network engineer Derrick Grayson, and patent attorney Art Gardner.

Broun, Gingrey, and Kingston tour their respective congressional experiences and conservative track records. Perdue, cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, fancies himself as a political outsider with a strong business pedigree. Handel, who has the Tea Party’s backing, is a pro-life, small government proponent who says she’ll bring change to the U.S. Capitol. Grayson calls himself the “Minister of Truth” and Gardner, unlike other candidates, supports gay marriage.

The most recognizable candidates have made gaffes that range from creationist blunders (Broun) to elitist remarks about high school graduates (Perdue) to suggestions that poor children should sweep school cafeteria floors to earn subsidized lunches (Kingston). Dems would love for the far-right Broun to win, giving them better chances come November. Republicans ideally want the most level-headed candidate as the party nominee. Expect a runoff.

Race: U.S. Senate, Democratic nomination

Who can vote: Voters who request a Democratic ballot

Why It Matters: Four Democratic challengers have lined up to challenge the eventual GOP nominee. Veteran nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn, a political newcomer and the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, is running a well-funded campaign against Atlanta doctor Branko “Dr. Rad” Radulovacki, Columbus ROTC director Todd Robinson, and former state Sen. Steen Miles. Recent polls have shown that Nunn, a moderate Democrat running to “fix Washington,” might have a rare shot at winning the statewide seat. Progressive voters may be disappointed by Nunn’s centrist platform — she’s been hesitant to embrace the Affordable Care Act — but she’s running to win over moderates. The big question: Will she best represent liberals’ interests?

Race: School Superintendent, GOP nomination

Who can vote: Voters who request a Republican ballot

Why It Matters: Think of the children! Georgia’s woeful public education system still needs to be rescued. With School Superintendent John Barge running to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, the race for his replacement is wide open. On the GOP front, nine — yes, nine — candidates have qualified. The pack includes Quitman County Schools Superintendent Allen Fort, Barge’s Chief of Staff Mike Buck, charter school graduate coach Kira Willis, college professor Mary Kay Bacallao, attorney and relatively recent Republican convert Ashley Bell, PTA leader Sharyl Dawes, educator Richard Woods, former military contractor Fitz Johnson, and education advocate Nancy Jester. Jester was one of several DeKalb County School Board members who were suspended by Deal when the system risked losing its accreditation. Nearly all the candidates are skeptical of Common Core and keen on expanding charter schools. If those sound like your kind of leaders, enjoy.

Race: School Superintendent, Democratic nomination

Who Can Vote: Voters who request a Democratic ballot

Why It Matters: Six female Democrat challengers are competing for the chance to face the GOP nominee in November. Leading the pack in funding are Valarie Wilson, a former Decatur City Schools board member and Atlanta Beltline Partnership executive director, and state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Marietta, one of the Democratic Party’s biggest advocates under the Gold Dome for charter schools. They’re each running against Atlanta Public Schools instructor Tarnisha Dent, consultant Denise Freeman, educator Jurita Forehand Mays, and public school teacher Rita Robinzine. Unlike their GOP counterparts, the Dems aren’t opposed to using federal cash tied to Common Core standards.

Race: U.S. Congress, 4th District

Who can vote: Most voters in DeKalb and Rockdale counties, plus some Gwinnett residents

Why It Matters: Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson has represented much of DeKalb and Rockdale counties since 2007. But former DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, who earned the ire of Occupy Our Homes Atlanta for some evictions, has outraised the longtime incumbent most recently known for wacky comments about Guam tipping over and how helium shortages might pose a major threat. Johnson has garnered major endorsements from the likes of President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, but his foe says those connections haven’t translated into tangible results for the heavily blue district. No Republican challenger qualified for the post, so whoever wins the primary wins the election.

Race: U.S. Congress, 11th District

Who can vote: Voters who live in Marietta, Kennesaw, and Woodstock

Why It Matters: Georgia’s next 11th District Congressperson will be a Republican. And it’s likely the winner will continue the area’s tradition of staunch opposition to Democratic policies. Former Congressman and one-time Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr is attempting yet another comeback after he grabbed national headlines earlier this year for demanding President Barack Obama’s impeachment. He’s pitted against former state Reps. Ed Lindsey of Buckhead, a longtime conservative leader and one-time voice of GOP reason under the Gold Dome, and state Sen. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville, the Bible-beatin’ Tea Party favorite in this race. Then there’s Marietta entrepreneur and Deal ally Tricia Pridemore; retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Mrozinski; and Kennesaw IT specialist Allan Levene, who’s running long shot congressional races in two states. You read that right. Given the large number of candidates and no Democratic candidate, it’s likely voters will pick incumbent Phil Gingrey’s replacement in a runoff this summer.

Race: DeKalb County Sheriff

Who can vote: Law-abiding DeKalb voters

Why It Matters: The man who used to run the DeKalb County lockup, serve warrants, and police the courthouse left the job to run for Congress, and eight people want to take his place. They’re all Democrats, but because this is a special election, everybody gets to cast ballots. DeKalb Sheriff deputy Dale Collins, retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officer Ted Golden, public safety veteran Tony Hughes, former Georgia Piedmont Technical College Assistant Police Chief Melody Maddox, interim DeKalb Sheriff Jeff Mann, and APD veteran Melvin Mitchell want the gig. And let’s not forget former DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones. Whoever’s elected will manage a roughly $80 million budget and be tasked with clearing a backlog of about 17,000 unserved warrants. In the IT department, there’s the database of sex offenders to keep updated and another to notify crime victims when their perp-of-interest is about to be released. Running a range of programs from jailhouse GED classes to participation in public service works like the Police Athletic League rounds out the job description.

Race: State Senate, 42nd District

Who can vote: Voters in Decatur, Candler Park, Lake Claire, and other left-leaning hamlets

Why It Matters: State Sen. Jason Carter’s decision leave the Gold Dome to mount a gubernatorial campaign against Deal led to one of the May primary’s most heated races. Elena Parent, a former state rep and Georgia Watch executive director, goes head-to-head against trial attorney Kyle Williams, who would become the upper chamber’s lone openly gay male senator if elected. Both candidates are trying to appeal to voters as the more progressive candidate. They align on most issues but differ in their political styles. Parent has touted her ability to work with the majority party to strike a compromise on issues. Williams, on the other hand, seems keen not to budge on certain progressive ideals. The primary victor is favored to ultimately win this true-blue district in November against Republican mortgage banker Greg Williams.

Race: State Senate, 36th District

Who can vote: Voters in parts of south Atlanta, College Park, and Hapeville

Why It Matters: Do you want an untested rookie or one of the Gold Dome’s most progressive lawmakers? Incumbent Nan Orrock has spent 27 years under the Gold Dome. During that time, the former foot soldier of the Civil Rights Movement has been at the front of the progressive pack on issues such as abortion, labor, and the environment. She squares off against non-profit director Angela Stovall, a community activist whose father — how’s this for a twist? — lost his Gold Dome seat to Orrock back in 1986. Thanks to the GOP’s revision of political maps, Orrock could face more of a challenge in the district to win another term in office.

Race: Fulton County commissioners

Who can vote: Fulton-ites only

Why It Matters: This year, the balance of power in beleaguered Fulton County shifts to its northern half, a conservative stronghold that has long argued the government is bloated. Voters of Georgia’s most populous county have plenty of reasons to pay attention. County commissioners help determine property taxes and funding for key programs including Grady Memorial Hospital, libraries, courts and jails, and the arts. Whoever’s elected will have to work with state lawmakers, who in past years have tried to force the commission to rein in spending.

District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann, who represents the northernmost parts of Fulton, is the lone unopposed candidate in a realigned county government. Due to recent redistricting, at least three current commissioners won’t keep their part-time positions. Current Commissioner Tom Lowe plans to retire and Joan Garner appears to be safe. Beyond that, however, 20 candidates are running for seven positions.

At the top of that list is the battle for the chairman’s seat between incumbent John Eaves and commissioner Robb Pitts. Eaves, who last week spent more time jousting with Mayor Kasim Reed over homelessness than his opponent, says he’d continue to advocate for health care services, well-funded cops and firefighters, and accountable government. Pitts claims that he’d be a better leader of a redistricted Fulton, and that his 20 years as an Atlanta City councilmember could help the county strengthen weak ties with City Hall and other Fulton cities.

One of the more interesting races due to redistricting pits longtime allied commissioners Emma Darnell and Bill Edwards against each other. The South Fulton duo have refused to battle each other and have opted to let voters decide based on their public records. Darnell is focusing on social services and Edwards points to his record of fighting for constituents in the county’s remaining unincorporated areas. The winner will face off against 29-year-old Republican entrepreneur Abraham Watson in November.

In District 5, recently ousted Atlanta Public Schools board member Brenda Muhammad is competing with four other Democrats: attorney Marvin Arrington, property manager Dell Byrd, program manager Johnnie Gordon, and attorney Kwame Thompson.

Meanwhile, GOP candidates will claim the remaining two seats with Milton insurance agent Bob Ellis and Roswell consultant Eric Broadwell vying for the District 2 post. Atlanta consultant Bernie Tokarz and Buckhead IT specialist Cory Ruth will duke it out against attorney and accountant (and former Atlanta city councilman) Lee Morris in District 3.

Race: Public Service Commission, District 4

Who can vote: Everyone in Georgia, only Republicans get a primary choice though.

Why It Matters: Stuff like electricity and land line phone service are offered by private companies, sure, but you know how you don’t always have a choice, or there’s weird regulatory charges on your bill? That’s because these companies are monopolies. For that reason, the state regulates them. The five-member Georgia Public Service Commission are those regulators. Because they oversee Georgia Power, they have a big say on energy and the environment. They have to figure out stuff like if the projected cost of nuclear is appropriate for electricity customers. Or if the company should throw solar panels into the energy mix. Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, the incumbent, has been the latter’s biggest champion in the past few years after being gung ho on whatever Georgia Power wanted. He faces off against attorney Doug Kidd and Craig Lutz. The primary winner battles Democratic sustainability consultant Daniel Blackman.

Race: State House, 38th District

Who can vote: Voters in parts of Midtown, Virginia-Highland, Old Fourth Ward, Capitol View, and Sylvan Hills

Why It Matters: Reynoldstown consultant Simone Bell, who five years ago became the first openly gay African-American state lawmaker, has fought to block anti-LGBT legislation under the Gold Dome. But she’ll have to fend off Sylvan Hills attorney Erica Long, wife of former state Rep. Ralph Long, who lost to Bell during the last election in the wake of redistricting — and who allegedly told Bell he’d primary her if she didn’t support his county commission race.