Before delving into a few details about Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary, it’s worth noting that polling of the state proved, in aggregate, pretty good. If you compare Real Clear Politics’ final polling average with the final vote and proportionately allocate the undecideds, it looks like David Perdue got a slightly smaller percentage than he could reasonably have expected and like Karen Handel over-performed slightly. Jack Kingston over-performed even more.
There was a lot of talk about metro Atlanta voters in this election cycle, but Kingston largely owes second place and a spot in the runoff to overwhelming support in south Georgia.
Kingston racked up 78.3 percent of the vote here in his home county, Chatham. That’s no surprise. He ultimately beat Handel by 23,277 votes statewide; slightly more than half that margin came from Chatham County, where Kingston beat Handel by 12,756 votes.
But consider Pierce County. Savannah isn’t all that far from Pierce County, but I couldn’t have found it on a map.
Pierce County is northeast of Waycross. The county seat is Blackshear. The county’s population was less than 19,000 in the 2010 census.
There were 2,703 votes cast in the Republican Senate primary in Pierce County on Tuesday. Jack Kingston took 2,121. Paul Broun was second with 189, David Perdue third with 167, and Karen Handel fourth with 132.
So little Pierce County accounted for 1,989 votes of Kingston’s cushion.
Karen Handel pretty well trounced Kingston in the metro Atlanta area. In Fulton, she beat Kingston 14221 to 5482; in Gwinnett, 14623 to 5791; in Cobb, 14682 to 6320.
But in small counties across the southern part of the state, many of which Jack Kingston has represented over the years, the veteran Congressman racked up stunning margins of victory like he did in Pierce County.
I haven’t obsessively run the numbers on all of Georgia’s counties, but scanning the list, there appear to be about two dozen counties where Kingston outpolled Handel by more than 10-to-1. Of course, Kingston was outpolling his other contenders by dramatic margins too. In Wayne County, Kingston took 2,865 of 3,651 votes; in Ware, 2,579 of 3,319; in Tattnall, 1,159 of 1,442; in Appling, 1709 of 2,364; and so on.
I didn’t follow any of these campaigns closely enough to provide good answers to anything here, but there are some obvious questions:
- Clearly, Kingston has the respect and support of huge numbers of Republican voters in south Georgia, but was it inevitable that he would win so many smallish counties by such overwhelming margins?
- Would more ads have helped Handel? What about more time in the region?
- What would have happened if someone had turned more negative?
Perdue beat Kingston by nearly 5 percentage points in the primary, even though he was also beaten badly in south Georgia — just not quite as badly as Handel. Perdue could largely concede the southern part of the state and concentrate more of his time and energy over the next two months on the northern half of the state and try to woo Handel, Broun, and Gingrey voters.
On the other hand, a more aggressive strategy for Perdue in south Georgia could have huge upside potential and minimal downside risk.
Kingston obviously needs to get the south Georgia vote out again in July, but he will also have to do better in the northern half the state, where he was far behind Perdue in most counties.
Where will the Handel, Gingrey, and Broun voters go from here? And how many of them will just stay home?