Battle for D.A. the most closely watched race in Chatham County

November 5, 2012 8:44 am

by Bill Dawers · 4 comments

According to reports in the Savannah Morning News, Chatham County Republican candidates, including District Attorney hopeful Meg Daly Heap, have had strong fundraising numbers.

Heap is challenging one-term incumbent Democrat Larry Chisolm, who was elected in 2008 to the position vacated by longtime D.A. Spencer Lawton.

Even Chisolm supporters would have to acknowledge that he’s had a rocky four years. A recent Savannah Morning News article detailed the high staff turnover, employee complaints of harassment and retaliation (one resulted in a $270,000 judgement against Chisolm), and concerns over prosecution of major cases. In particular, there was considerable outrage when a judge dismissed murder charges against Bobby Buckner in the 2003 slaying of 12-year old Ashleigh Moore because his right to a speedy trial had been violated. There are more details at the link above; Buckner remains in jail on other charges and the D.A.’s office has appealed that decision.

On the surface, things look bad for Chisolm, but there’s a counter-narrative out there that shouldn’t be completely dismissed.

It goes something like this: Well, of course there would be significant turnover when a new D.A. replaced Spencer Lawton, who had served 28 years. And the Buckner case was troubled before Chisolm was even elected: the suspect wasn’t indicted for almost five years after the horrific crime. Despite the lawsuits from staff members, the office has obviously handled many cases just fine.

Many local voters aren’t buying those lines of argument, however. The Savannah Morning News gave a ringing endorsement of Heap, whose high-energy campaign has been pretty upbeat.

As I noted in a post last week, thousands of voters here in Chatham County are going to be splitting their tickets this year. Chisolm got 54.3 percent of the vote in 2008 against a less compelling component. Given the complexities, Heap would seem to have the edge in this race, even though Obama will likely carry the county as he did four years ago.

drjay November 5, 2012 at 11:10 am

david lock may have been lots of things, but “less than compelling” doesn’t seem like one of them, he was lawton’s chief ada, he was whole heartedly endorsed by the retiring d.a., he had a couple of decades of experience as a prosecutor…’08 was a great dem year, in a dem leaning county, with record african american turnout…the fact that you don’t mention race here, i think grossly underplays the fact that it is a more signifigant factor in an election like this than we all wish were the case…

Bill Dawers November 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I mentioned race prominently in the post about splitting tickets. Race is a big factor, for sure, but Chatham County is about 55% white. There will be thousands of voters tomorrow who will be splitting tickets based both on party ID and on race.

Nothing against David Lock — and I agree that he was obviously qualified. But qualified candidates come along all the time who aren’t able to energize supporters like Heap seems to be doing this year.

drjay November 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm

as i recall, i was not really on board with you on that post either–but i may be misremembering…the main “ticket split” in 08 was the chairman race and was not a white black ting, it was b/c lots of gops voted for him over mcmasters who had so ticked off rank and file gop that there wer people trying to figure a way to remove him from the ballot (also pete is the sort of figure that really transcends political parties b/c of his personality) the d.a. race in 08 is probably the benchmark of how thing shake out, all things being equal (those numbers most closely mirror the prez race, it was an open seat) the dem sheriff candidate was grossly unqualified in ’08 and still almost pulled off a win, the power of incumbency and a core of otherwise dem voters that were willing to vote fore competence won the day–my guess is that if meg does win it will be along the lines of the sheriffs race in 08…

ghall November 5, 2012 at 10:02 pm

@drjay agreed. I also think that the SMN was going to endorse anyone who was running against the current DA. They have been campaigning against Larry since he was elected. The race to watch in Chatham County as far as cross over race voting is going to be Al Scott. The question is not going to be if black voters can/will cross over to vote for a white candidate in local elections (they have already shown they will). The question is will white voters cross over for a black candidate.

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