By the numbers: How Kingston beat Handel for 2nd place

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.

A quick note: for the rest of this post I’m going to use this page at Politico, which has slightly higher totals than this page at the Secretary of State’s office.

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.

Second guessing:

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?

Looking ahead:

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?


  1. blakeage80 says:

    Having spent a lot of time in South Georgia since marrying a girls from Jeff Davis County, I might be of some assistance. The short answer to your question of how could Handel (or anyone else for that matter) have done better in So Ga is that they couldn’t. Their only hope there was for turnout to be low in those counties. Folks in that part of the state believe Jack Kingston has done a solid job and they have been voting for him and hearing about him for a large portion of their voting eligible lives. They also feel like Jack Kingston gives So Ga a voice in Washington. They often feel very underrepresented in state politics and have big reservations about voting for any one from Atlanta. (translate that as anywhere north of Macon) In order to get any traction in So Ga, Handel would have had to spend way more time there and probably lost more votes in Fulton than she would have gained south of The Gnat Line.

    My prediction is that most Broun/Handel/Gingrey votes go to Kingston. I think most people are starting to smell a rat with David Perdue. For the record, I was a Broun voter and will be voting for Kingston in July.

  2. South Fulton Guy says:

    RE: “how many of them will just stay home?” If they do I don’t want to hear Republicans complaining about US Senator Michelle Nunn…

  3. northside101 says:

    Kingston got a rock solid 75 percent in his home congressional district, CD 1 (runs from Savannah southwest to Valdosta). He benefited from 21 years+ representing most of southeast Georgia—at one time or another, he has represented an area going from Savannah to Moultrie to Warner Robins (Houston County), Vidalia and Statesboro (he has run for Congress under 5 different maps, the 1992 redistricting map, 1995 federal court map, 2002 redistricting map, 2005 adjusted map and 2012 redistricting map—giving him wide name ID in southeast Georgia).

    One thing that helped Kingston also in southeast Georgia was that Jeff Chapman ran for the GOP nomination in CD 1 (and of course lost). How did that help Kingston? Well, Chapman is from Glynn County (St Simons/Brunswick), and Glynn is the second most important county in CD 1 in a GOP primary. In the 2010 primary for governor, Chapman rolled up some numbers in Glynn, with Eric Johnson, the Savannah resident who ran for the GOP nod for governor, held to just 1,201 votes in Glynn County—one reason he fell just short of Nathan Deal for second in that contest. Last Tuesday, Kingston rolled up over 5,000 votes in Glynn County. (Chapman interestingly may have cost John McCollum a runoff spot with Buddy Carter in CD 1, but that is a story for another time.) Gave Kingston more of a cushion over Handel. Kingston also ran up about 2,000 more votes in Chatham than did Johnson four years ago.

    Ironically, though Handel once worked for Perdue (Sonny, not David), the Perdue name helped to sink her in metro Atlanta, relatively speaking. In Tom Price’s 6th CD (east Cobb, north Fulton and north DeKalb), Handel rolled up about 35,000 votes four years ago in the 2010 GOP primary for governor (about 54 percent of the vote), Two days ago, she only got a bit over 20,000 (precise number hard to calculate because of split precincts in Cobb—precincts that are divided between CD 6 and CD 11). Her Fulton County base seriously eroded in Buckhead and Sandy Springs. In House District 54 (Ed Lindsey’s State House seat), which includes the majority of Buckhead, Handel actually finished in third (22%) behind Kingston (23%) and Perdue (44%). Some Sandy Springs precincts favored Perdue over Handel by a wide margin. Her strongest part remained Fulton north of the Chattahoochee, but even there the margins were not what they were four years ago. Think she ended up with about 100,000 votes less statewide than in 2010.

    Perhaps to fend off charges she was “too moderate”, she then got Palin and culture warrior Rick Santorum to do robocalls for her. Probably some more moderate GOP voters in Fulton took notice of that. Rick Santorum not exactly a sell in Fulton (or east Cobb and north DeKalb)—he got a mere 8% for instance in Ed Lindsey’s State House district in the 2012 presidential primary. I guess with minimal money for TV ads, she had to resort to robocalls….

    Kingston basically benefited from a divided metro Atlanta vote—some voters here and there for Handel, Perdue, Kingston, even Broun and Gingrey. But he’ll need better numbers in metro Atlanta in the runoff with Perdue. Of course, given the mere 600,000 or so who voted in the GOP runoff two days ago, may be a struggle just to get 500,000 in the dead of July heat. Runoff turnout in Georgia almost always drops—the unknown of course is by how much? In 2010, turnout dropped from about 680,000 in the first round of the GOP race for governor to 580,000. Kingston should be helped by runoff in CD 1 GOP primary.

    Kingston also got about the same number of votes (155,000 or so) that Nathan Deal got in the 2010 primary to each get a runoff spot. Not a whole lot of votes one needed either time to get second place in a state with 5 million or so registered voters.

    Probably the biggest shock of the Senate primary—Phil Gingrey finishing third in Cobb County, not even carrying his congressional district. Any Cobb folks care to comment on that? I wasn’t expacting him necessarily to win East Cobb, or even get a majority in Cobb, but not to even win a plurality in your home county……..

    • griftdrift says:

      “Perhaps to fend off charges she was “too moderate”, she then got Palin and culture warrior Rick Santorum to do robocalls for her. Probably some more moderate GOP voters in Fulton took notice of that.”

      • Michael Silver says:

        I got both the Palin call and Sonny Perdue’s endorsement of his TARP loving cousin.

        The Palin call was HORRID. Gov. Palin sounded alot like a whinny 14 year old teenage girl talking on a crappy cell phone at the side of the highway. It was barely intelligible and and the tone of voices was extremely grating. When I first heard it, I called my 14 yo daughter over because I thought the message was for her.

        Around the same time, I got a call from Sonny Perdue endorsing his cousin. The tone, content, and clarity was top notch.

        In my view, the professionalism of those calls made a huge difference in the outcome.

        For the record, I voted for Karen

    • Jon Richards says:

      Northside, I spoke to someone highly knowledgeable in Savannah / District 1 politics yesterday, and he also blamed Chapman for John McCallum’s loss.

  4. analogkid says:

    The other thing that’s striking is the difference in turnout by region:

    Atlanta / North/ South
    186k/ 303k/ 190k (2010)
    143k/ 260k/ 195k (2014)

    Note that the turnout in the southern counties was almost identical from 2010 to 2014, but dropped by 43,000 votes in both the Atlanta counties and the northern counties

    • Bill Dawers says:

      Of course, voters were angrier in 2010, but that’s a huge dropoff in any case — especially that 20+ percent decline in Atlanta. That weak interest in the race could have ramifications in the fall; Kingston or Perdue will have to generate more enthusiasm than that.

  5. northside101 says:

    Some comparison with the 2010 primary for governor and Tuesday’s Senate primary:

    Handel 2010 Handel 2014
    Cherokee 8,198 6,894
    Cobb 24,799 14,682 (decline of 10,117 votes)
    DeKalb 10,854 5,697
    Forsyth 7,479 6,762
    Fulton 26,345 14,221 (decline of 12,124 votes)
    Gwinnett 22,752 14,625 (decline of 8,127 votes)

    Notice the Fulton decline alone was responsible for about half of Handel’s 23,000-vote deficit vs a vs Kingston this past Tuesday (she trailed him by slightly over 23,000 statewide in latest count)

    And lets look at Eric Johnson 2010 and Kingston
    METRO ATLANTA: Johnson Kingston
    Cherokee 4,862 2,881
    Cobb 12,492 6,320
    DeKalb 5,048 2,759
    Forsyth 2,868 3,005
    Fulton 6,339 5,482
    Gwinnett 10,811 5,792

    Bryan 1,630 1,884
    Chatham 11,878 13,988
    Effingham 2,080 3,227
    Glynn 1,201 5,655

    Eric Johnson got 41% in 2010 in the current CD 1, Kingston 75%, But Kingston of course is better known than Johnson was (Johnson’s district basically being suburban Savannah most of his career). On the other hand, Kingston ran behind Johnson’s totals in much of metro Atlanta.

    For the record, in the 2010 primary for governor, Handel got 231,990 votes for first, Nathan Deal 155,946 for second and Johnson 136,792 votes for third. In latest SOS count, Perdue has 183,423 votes, Kingston 154,794 and Handel 131,393. So in latest count, Handel got 100,597 fewer statewide votes than she did four years ago, while Kingston outpaced Johnson by 18,002 votes.

    Worth noting that in a runoff, it is more about getting your people back than picking up votes from the ones who did not make the runoff. Those who did not vote in “Round 1” two days ago are not likely to return for “Round 2” two months from today.

  6. Lawton Sack says:

    Jack Kingston won Bulloch County over Karen Handel by 3000 votes. As mentioned by Northside, Jack Kingston once was the Congressman for Bulloch County. In fact, he is considered by many Republicans in Bulloch County to still be their congressman, including myself.

    I believe that Jack was aided by having contested races in GA-12 and GA-1. I think he will again be aided by a runoff in GA-1, but it is going to hurt somewhat by not having a runoff in GA-12. Perdue should be aided by the runoff in GA-11. GA-11 had about 4000 more votes than GA-1. A wild card seems to be the GA-10 runoff. No earthly what Broun voters may do.

    Kingston has a huge volunteer team, which is vital for a runoff. The 15,000 phone calls made for Kingston on Monday cannot be ignored.

  7. northside101 says:

    Harry, that is not true about not being able to vote in runoff if you skipped the primary. You don’t have to have voted in Round 1 to participate in Round 2; however, you cannot cross to the other party’s runoff if you voted differently in the primary. For example, you cannot vote in the Democratic primary in Round 1 and then vote in the Republican runoff in Round 2. But if you did not vote at all in either party’s primary May 20, you can vote in either (but not both) party runoff July 22.

  8. Engineer says:

    I always love it when my home county of Pierce comes into discussion.

    Handel seems like a swell person, but I honestly don’t think she had any chance of winning southern Georgia. For the most part, Kingston has always done a satisfactory job for most folks in his district and has huge name recognition down here. From what I’ve heard from folks back home in Pierce County, most people there think very well of Kingston and I know of at least a few that mentioned they were put off by the various crying baby ads put out by the Perdue camp.

    • blakeage80 says:

      I know my in-laws in Jeff Davis wouldn’t even think twice about voting for anyone else.

      • AthensRepublican says:

        I assume your “in-laws” include your cousin-in-law as I know he would not consider voting for anyone else either. Kingston has a reputation of being very accessible and that goes a long way with us folks who come from south Georgia.

  9. saltycracker says:

    From the armchair I don’t see metro Atlanta Handel folks jumping all over Kingston, Perdue is the more likely benefactor. That said, now that the herd is thinned folks will be paying closer attention to the three left. Assuming the Nunn’s might have to say something along the way.

    Time to step up and be clearly heard. Expecting Perdue to shift to a higher gear but ? Which one will differentiate themselves, which one will talk half-truths (the public will see through) and which one will step in it ? Each has an equal shot at this.

    We have a race.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’m an Atlanta Handel ‘folk’ and I won’t be voting for either. Won’t be voting for Nunn though. I’ll be a ‘no vote’ in that race.

      I will, however, be voting for Jason Carter, then Republican down the rest of the ticket. Because to hell with Nathan Deal.

      • saltycracker says:

        Too soon to in this relationship to commit…..One of them will break your heart…, for Nunn because her Daddy delivered for Ga (few skeletons there the GOP best leave alone) or Perdue is a successful business man or Kingston has God is on his side shouldn’t cut it.

        One has to run on the big issues and what they are going to do about them or we will continue to vote and/or behave viscerally.

        • I’m going with my gut on Perdue plus candid feedback I’ve received from friends. If you read his biography (and truly read it as someone who’s seen plenty of Fortune 100 corporate politics and knows how to translate corporate speak), he don’t feel he’s a leader.

          Candidly, people that I know/trust (and who know Perdue personally) say he’s an arrogant d’bag. Media buys may help him, but I think personal interaction and word of mouth will send enough people towards Kingston in the runoff. And don’t you think it’ll be word of mouth insiders who go back to the polls for the runoff?

          Another commenter said that all three candidates are likeable. Maybe it’s just my circle, but I don’t know anyone who thinks Perdue is likeable unless they’re working for him. With an equal footing of white male against white male, Kingston wins…he’s much more likeable.

          Disclaimer: I’ve never met Perdue – but I always trust my gut and what I feel is true despite how things look.

          p.s. Notice that Michelle’s hair style has changed in the last couple of weeks. Prediction: You’ll see it straighter and grown to her shoulders in the coming weeks. Pearls, the staple of classic Southern women, will be worn in almost every appearance. She’s morphing into “Ann Taylor” from “Community Volunteer”… and I like it. Stay-at-home moms, business women, fresh college alumnae, and even retired lil old ladies ALL love and relate to “Ann Taylor”.

  10. Just Nasty and Mean says:

    I am curious why the voters in South Georgia feel comfortable with Jack Kingston.

    He’s a 20 year Washington establishment insider that has NOT ONE signature piece of legislation he can point to that he wrote and came to fruition. He hasn’t written ANYTHING that passed the house, much less signed into law.
    What does this say? He’s a pawn of the leadership. A Backbencher. Go-along-to-get-along! WEAK!! And surely you cannot tell me his candidacy style is anything to brag about–can you?

    What he has done is what democRats do: Being a member of Appropriations, he was king of earmarks–which is un-vetted spending.
    All this time in DC, and all he has to show is spending tags to bring home the pork…..

    Way to go South Georgia! You voted for a democRat!

    • Engineer says:

      He hasn’t remained in office that long for nothing, you know. Kingston has been pretty easy to get in contact with and is usually quick to talk and help constituents. He was the one that sponsored the bill in 1999 to expand the Savannah harbor. Plus he’s brought a lot of money for projects in southern GA. Long story short, he’s made his constituents happy, so he got re-elected, this isn’t rocket science.

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