Election night recap: Deal and Perdue lead night of unexpected Republican dominance, Clayton approves MARTA expansion

GOP cruises to victory with huge margins


  • Joeff Davis
  • Governor Deal being interviewed after his big victory last night

The battles to become Georgia’s next governor and U.S. Senator were expected to be close — and even head into two runoffs. But few people predicted that a Republican blowout down the entire ticket would happen.

But instead, GOP candidates swept the entire statewide ticket. U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue, Gov. Nathan Deal, and State School Superintendent nominee Richard Woods led Republicans in fending off a pending demographic shift favoring Democrats. In doing so, they sent a clear message the GOP wasn’t ready to concede to the return of Georgia Democrats.

In the race to replace retiring Georgia U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Republican corporate veteran David Perdue cruised past Michelle Nunn by a 53-45 percent margin. Libertarian paralegal Amanda Swafford, who was expected to force the race into a runoff, garnered less than 2 percent of the vote. Perdue’s victory helped Republicans retake control of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday night.

Perdue, who in recent weeks had backpedal in the face of accusations that he outsourced jobs, had promised to prosecute President Barack Obama’s policies. In doing so, he successfully convinced voters that Nunn would be a “rubber stamp” to the second-term Democratic president.

Speaking with reporters at the Intercontinental Buckhead last night, a victorious Perdue conveyed his respect to Nunn and her supporters before underscoring the importance of a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. That would force politicians to work in a more “bipartisan” fashion to fixed Washington’s “broken” politics.

“We took our message around the state and it resonated” he said. “This race was always bigger than me. It was always bigger than Georgia.”

Back at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown, Nunn, who conceded defeat just before the 11 p.m. news, said she offered Georgia residents a “true choice” in candidates during this election. The longtime nonprofit exact had polled closely against Perdue — even taking the lead at times over the past month — but could not snag Chambliss’ seat for the Democratics.

“At our best, we not only accept the electoral results, but we practice the art of bridge building and reconciliation, and so I offered David my strongest possible support as he works to unite Georgia and to build bridges across party lines,” she said.

The margin of the gubernatorial race was equally surprising. Republican incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal trumped state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, garnered 53 percent of the vote. Speaking afterward from the Georgia GOP election party at Downtown’s College Football Hall of Fame, Deal even expressed some shock at the margin of victory in the race. He told reporters that he plans to spend his second and final term reforming the state’s education funding formula. He said it would be a multi-year effort that could resemble the way he asked policymakers and experts to revamp the criminal justice system during his first term.

Political observers will debate what helped Deal win the election without an expected runoff — and by such a large margin — over the coming days and weeks. Greg Bluestein of the AJC, however, notes that GOP staffers saw an uptick in polls after the final debate. The governor, who benefitted from being an incumbent, announced a flurry of job-creation announcements and a subjective ranking by a trade publication declaring Georgia the no. 1 for business in days and weeks before Election Day. Right-leaning voters toyed with the idea of voting Libertarian, but opted to stick with the GOP. Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hunt capture more than 2 percent of the vote — a number far less than initially expected.

Around 11 p.m., Deal took the stage to deliver his victory speech, thanking voters for their choice, campaign staff for their work, and apologizing to his family for the personal toll the race might have taken on them. He dedicated the victory to Mack Burgess, an aide who died in a car accident in October. The governor stuck to a theme from the campaign: that Georgia, which charts the highest unemployment rate and ranks near the bottom on lists on education, transportation, and other metrics, was doing well. He promised to “continue to make Georgia the best place in the country for every possible thing you can imagine. Jobs, environment, family life. Best place to live. We have everything going for us and we’re going to keep it moving in that direction.”

Carter, appearing with his wife and two kids inside the Hyatt Regency, comforted supporters and argued that the race was not in vain, noting that the campaign was able to make education funding, the middle class, and other issues topics of debate.

“Don’t be discouraged out there in any way,” said Carter, who conceded defeated with his grandfather, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, beaming with pride standing next to the stage. “I certainly am not. We’ve accomplished something real. Our state is a better place.”

The GOP continued the same pattern all the way down the ticket. After the jump, a breakdown of some of the other key metro Atlanta races.

MARTA expands to Clayton: In a historic election, Clayton County voters overwhelmingly voted to join MARTA, becoming the first county to do so since the transit system was created decades ago. Roughly 73 percent of voters approved the measure — that’s more support than the 2010 non-binding referendum asking Clayton voters if they wanted to bring transit back to the county. The 1-percent sales tax will pay for bus service and eventually, MARTA officials say, commuter rail.

State School Superintendent: Heading into election night, Democratic candidate Valarie Wilson appeared to be the strongest favorite out of all her party’s members to claim a GOP-held seat, raising the most money in her race and even gaining some Republican support. But Irwin County school administrator Richard Woods handedly defeated her by a 55-45 percent margin. “With my election, Georgians have sent a clear message that they desire a diagnostic approach to standardized testing, a fair tool for evaluating our teachers, and the very best standards for our students,” Woods said in a statement. “I have been very clear on my positions and ideas for moving education forward in our state. Tonight, Georgians were clear that they fully support my child-focused and classroom-centered vision.”

Downticket statewide races: GOP incumbents including Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Attorney General Sam Olens, and Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens all won by wide margins against largely unfunded Democratic opposition. The outcomes in these races aren’t surprising. But it just means that we’ll have to deal with their antics for yet another term.

Fulton County Chairman: Fulton Chairman John Eaves won a second term as the head of the beleaguered county government. Facing off against Republican newcomer Earl Cooper, he cruised to a double-digit victory and will lead a reconfigured elected body for the next four years. He credited strong early voting figures in Fulton as the key to his easy win. “That momentum carried over to today” Eaves tells CL. “We demonstrated in past elections that this is a Democratic county. So I felt good as the Democratic nominee in this race.”

DeKalb County Commissioner: Retired state worker Holmes Pyles and former DeKalb Board of Education member Nancy Jester emerged as the frontrunners in a crowded five-person special election to fill the seat previously held by former DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who recently resigned from office and pled guilty to the misuse of public funds. A runoff is expected sometime later this month.

Ballot initiatives: Voters approved three referenda, including two constitutional amendments, by large margins. The first, a ploy to encourage GOP voter turnout, placed a cap on the state income tax. That push could come back to haunt lawmakers and citizens should the state find itself in dire financial straits. The second allows additional fees to be tacked on to reckless drivers’ fines to help drive cash to the state’s Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund. The last lets state college and university dorms to be privatized — and gives property tax exemptions to the companies that score the contracts.

State House, District 54: North Atlanta will be represented under the Gold Dome come January by Beth Beskin. The Buckhead attorney won 59 percent of the vote, edging out Democratic marketing professional Bob Gibeling, who garnered 29 percent. Retired IBM executive and ethics watchdog Bill Bozarth, who mounted a vigorous effort to get on the ballot as an independent candidate, won 11 percent of the vote.

State Senate, District 39: Longtime state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, pummeled Buckhead realtor Robert Tindall by a 83-16 percent margin to keep representing his diverse district that stretches from Buckhead to East Point. Expect to see his protest politics inside the Gold Dome for yet another term.

In other congressional races: Longtime Congressman John Barrow, the South’s last white Democrat in office, was finally ousted by a Republican opponent — Augusta businessman Rick Allen, in this case — after many attempts to run and redistrict him out of office. Barry Loudermilk, a far-right state senator from Carrollton, Ga., was elected to fill the seat held by Congressman Phil Gingrey, who lost his U.S. Senate bid in the GOP primary. No Democratic candidate challenged Loudermilk. And Jody Hice, a former talk radio host, handily defeated Athens civil rights lawyer Ken Dious. Hice, a creationist who thinks Islam isn’t a religion, will surely earn the title of Georgia’s nuttiest congressman from Paul Broun, the incumbent. Broun also lost a U.S. Senate bid in the GOP primary.