Nov 8, 2017
Two Democrats have moved on to a runoff in the race to replace Republican state Sen. Hunter Hill: north Atlanta attorney Jen Jordan and Vinings pediatric dentist Jaha Howard.
Jordan received a total of 5,860 votes across the Senate district, good for 24.4 percent, and Howard took 5,398 votes, or 22.5 percent, according to unofficial results from Cobb elections.
Since neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held Dec. 5 between Howard and Jordan, the top two finishers in Tuesday’s special election. The winner will finish the balance of Hill’s term, which expires at the end of 2018.
Hill’s seat is now assured to be filled by a Democrat, which means Cobb will have three Democrats and three Republicans representing it in the state Senate.
The other candidates who campaigned to replace Hill, who resigned to join next year’s race for governor, included small business owner Leah Aldridge, attorney Matt Bentley, business executive Kathy Eichenblatt, real estate businessman Charlie Fiveash and consultant Leo Smith, all Republicans, as well as nonprofit president Taos Wynn, a Democrat.
Aldridge finished third with 4,427 votes (18.5 percent), followed by Fiveash with 4,022 votes (16.8 percent), Bentley with 2,692 votes (11.2 percent). Eichenblatt, Smith and Wynn did not receive more than 4 percent of the vote.
Kerwin Swint, chair of the department of political science and international affairs at Kennesaw State University, said several factors led to Tuesday night’s outcome, including a surge of Democratic enthusiasm across the country as seen in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.
“One way to look at it was it was a big night for Democrats virtually everywhere — Virginia, New Jersey, parts of Georgia,” Swint said. “And so I think the Democratic base was really more motivated to turn out than the Republican base.”
Other factors include the changing face of Cobb County, Swint said. Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won Cobb County in last year’s election, and Tuesday’s election might be further evidence of Cobb turning “purple,” Swint said.
Howard took about 43.4 percent of the vote in the Cobb portion of District 6 on Tuesday while Jordan received about 21.8 percent of the vote. The closest Republican to Howard and Jordan in terms of Cobb’s vote was Bentley, who took about 14.9 percent of the 8,040 votes cast in Cobb.
“This might be something we see more often from here on out: Democrats running competitively where they didn’t before and being able to win some of these races,” Swint said.
COMPARISONS TO LAST YEAR’S ELECTION
Hill and Howard squared off for the District 6 seat last year. Hill won with about 51.9 percent of the vote to Howard’s 48.1 percent.
When the votes for all Republicans and Democrats are totaled from this year’s election, the percentages are nearly identical. The five GOP candidates received 51 percent of the total votes across the district, 12,166 votes, and the Democrats received 49 percent, 11,818 votes.
Jason Shepherd, chair of the Cobb Republican Party, said he was encouraged by his party receiving the most total votes, especially during an election that saw high Democratic enthusiasm and success in several other races nationwide, but the number of candidates in the race made it harder for a leader to emerge.
“We had too many great candidates,” Shepherd said. “It was hard for the voters to differentiate one and pick one as a frontrunner. And the result of that is the Republicans split up the vote more than the Democrats did and got eliminated that way. We basically cannibalized our own selves.”
Swint said Shepherd’s reasoning is a possible explanation for the results, but also pointed to the inevitable backlash the party in power sees during off-year elections.
“Whenever you have that many candidates running, you’re going to have a split vote scenario like that,” Swint said. “It’s harder for one candidate to get momentum and consensus of the community. But I also think a lot of what we are seeing is the inevitable off-year elections where the majority party loses seats (and) doesn’t do as well. We see that in the Congressional elections, we see it in other big off-year elections. We saw this back with Obama. After Obama was elected, Republicans did well in a couple of key special elections the next year, and of course they did very well in the 2010 midterms. So there’s a normal back-and-forth seesaw effect between the majority and minority parties in off-year elections. I think it’s got to be partly that.”
Shepherd said Tuesday’s election demonstrates the need to reform Georgia’s special election process because a majority Republican district will not have a Republican representing them in the state Legislature. However, the results lead Shepherd to believe District 6 will be one of the most targeted races when it returns to the ballot in November 2018.
“I expect that Democrats will fight very strongly to hold onto it, and we’ll fight equally strong to take it back,” he said.
While the overall percentages are similar, Democrats improved their percentages in both Cobb and Fulton.
In 2016, Howard took about 60.6 percent of the vote in Cobb. In 2017, Democratic candidates received a total of 67.8 percent. Fulton County heavily favored Hill last year, giving him about 63.9 percent of the vote compared to Howard’s 36. This year, Fulton broke 60-40 in favor of the Republicans.
Michael Owens, chair of the Cobb Democratic Party, said Tuesday’s result was a natural extension of having two strong candidates, Howard from the Cobb side and Jordan from Fulton.
“I absolutely thought it was possible,” Owens said. “It wasn’t surprising to me. You had one candidate in Jaha Howard who came extremely close to winning this election outright last year … and then we came back this year with him and Jen Jordan, who really came on strong (and) was able to pull different demographics than Jaha could, namely on the Fulton County side. … What you basically saw was two strong candidates working on both sides of the Chattahoochee.”
Owens also poured cold water on the “Democratic wave” effect, saying most voters he talks to want to get away from the high-level rhetoric of national politics and instead focus on local issues — like education, transportation and health care — that matter most to voters.
While pleased with the outcome, Owens lamented the low turnout in Tuesday’s race, which saw about 15.2 percent of registered voters in District 6 cast a ballot.
“Overall, the turnout just wasn’t good,” he said. “I’m not thrilled about that. I think there’s still work to be done. It’s somewhat to be expected in special elections and off-years, but collectively, we have to do better.”