There is always an interesting dynamic the morning after votes are counted when that same morning is the first day of the runoff. Expectations have to be recalibrated. There is precious little time to absorb, analyze, and accept what just happened, while simultaneously launch an entirely new campaign. And make no mistake, a runoff is a separate and brand new campaign.
In GA-9, there are two teams planning to move ahead on the fast track, with a runoff on June 8th scheduled. Others are having to analyze if it makes personal and political sense to continue a campaign toward a July primary date. While others may take this opportunity to do so, I will not call for, nor recommend, anyone drop out of this race. It’s up to each candidate to decide what is best for them, their campaign team, and the 9th District of Georgia. I’ll trust each candidate to make their own decision here.
For those two candidates who are looking for a June decision, there are decidedly different moods between the camps. Team Graves, of whom I am a supporter and contributor, is cautiously optimistic this morning. The results from last night were near if not slightly ahead of expectations. Moreover, Graves proved that his support extends across the entire congressional district. Winning Forsyth county by a more than 2 to 1 margin over perceived favorite Hawkins in that county was Graves’ significant trophy of the evening.
Team Hawkins, however, is having to adjust to some new realities today. They are no longer the perceived front runner in this race. Quite the contrary, they are a distinct underdog. And there are quite a few reasons why.
Hawkins has never made a compelling case why he needs to be the Congressman from the 9th. Most of the arguments for Lee Hawkins to date have involved not his compelling record, but his compelling geography. He hails from the population center of the district, and his supporters tend to start with this argument when soliciting his support. I’m not a fan of the “you need to support him because he will win” argument. If I was, we would probably all be supporting Mike Evans.
So moving beyond inevitability, we have a very mixed message that has been delivered by the Hawkins team. Early support to try to claim stimulus dollars as evidence of Hawkins ability to bring jobs to the 9th opened him up to questions of his ability to reduce spending once in Washington. Further adding to the mixed message was when Hawkins decided to call Graves’ jobs bill a “sham”, despite having supported an earlier version and the bill’s eventual passage by a near unanimous General Assembly.
The mixed message of Hawkins’ conservatism pulled Club For Growth into the race strong behind Graves. Hawkins then played the “victim of carpetbaggers” card, claiming the Club For Growth was flooding the 9th with outsider special interest money. Problem is, Hawkins was for special interest money before he was getting beaten by it.
Early in the campaign, Hawkins was dogged by online critics for contributing to “liberal democrats” like Max Cleland. At the time, I didn’t see it as a fairly serious line of attack, as Hawkins was the head of the Georgia Dental Association. But a man that once headed a large association with a political arm, and used that group as a primary fundraising base, seems to be a little bit pregnant when he then attacks other groups for trying to enter his race. Creative Loafing may have an early nominee for next year’s “It’s not hypocrisy if I do it” award.
As the campaign entered the home stretch, there was the last minute direct mail. Hawkins has already tried to play fast and loose with his mail earlier by stating that his grandchildren knew what it was like to attend dangerous underperforming schools. In reality, Hawkins’ oldest grandchild attends a private Christian pre-school.
But a last minute attempt to turn an old dismissed lawsuit into an active mailer against Tom Graves appears to have backfired, and has cost Hawkins both credibility and respect. A man who started the race trying to distance himself from Max Cleland ended it by invoking a Clintonesque discussion of the correct spelling of the word judgment. It’s wasn’t quite was the definition of “is” is, but it wasn’t a strong close of selling conservative values, either.
The weeks between now and the runoff promise more of the same, but the tone will be set by Hawkins. Hawkins is in a hole, and he must stop digging. Doubling down on contrived negative attacks will not help his cause, nor will trying to claim Graves is a faux conservative. It’s time for Lee Hawkins to talk about Lee Hawkins. It’s a brand new election, and that is the only way – though mostly a long shot at this point – that he will be called “Congressman” this January.