ATLANTA – Every Georgia Republican member of Congress easily defeated primary challengers Tuesday, including U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who crushed two long-shot challengers to earn a bid for a third term. Jim Barksdale, the Democrat favored by top party members, prevailed in a three-way primary to face Isakson in November.
Isakson, a staple of Georgia politics since the late 1970s, reported nearly $6 million in cash by early May. Barksdale, an investment manager, loaned more than $1 million to his campaign.
In House races, Reps. Doug Collins of the 9th District and Barry Loudermilk of the 11th District handily defeated four Republican challengers each. Collins virtually ensured he will return to Congress, with no Democrat running in November. Incumbent Reps. Austin Scott, Rick Allen and Tom Graves also cruised to GOP primary victories on Tuesday.
Coastal Georgia's freshman congressman, Rep. Buddy Carter, has drawn no opposition, either in this week's primary or in November's general election.
Isakson easily defeated Democratic challengers in his last two Senate bids. Those contests also indicated Isakson has support among independent voters and some Democrats, said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor. He is skeptical Isakson's bid will be affected by presidential politics.
"Georgia is still a red state," Bullock said. "That's not going to change in 2016."
Georgia Democrats, though, hope presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will become a drag for down-ticket candidates. The party also has announced a new field program to turn out its base, including minority voters who back the party's presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in strong numbers.
Because of Georgia's incredibly diverse and growing electorate, and a strong state party infrastructure, the rest of the country is paying attention to what we've already known: Georgia is a battleground state," said Michael Smith, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.
Isakson said Tuesday night that his re-election campaign will highlight the work he has done to secure funding to expand the Port of Savannah, to eliminate or defeat regulations he considers oppressive, and to improve national security. But he recognizes voters are angry and feel "a malaise around the country right now."
"We're not taking anything for granted," Isakson said. "We're going to work hard."
Some voters who cast Democratic ballots on Tuesday said whoever represents the party in November needs to be more aggressive against Isakson than during the primary. Robin Sherman, a 64-year-old freelance publication designer who voted in downtown Savannah, said he read up on the Democratic primary contests and came prepared for all races but one: the Senate campaign. He said he hadn't seen a single news story or campaign commercial about the three Democrats running.
"These candidates don't have a chance if they don't do any campaigning that you know about," Sherman said, noting that Georgia Democrats failed to win an open Senate seat two years ago when their candidate was the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn. "If Michelle Nunn can't win in Georgia, what makes these jokers think they can?"
Libertarian Allen Buckley, a Smyrna attorney and accountant, also will appear on the ballot in November. Buckley previously ran for U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2004 and 2008. In his last race, he received about 3.4 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin. Chambliss, the incumbent, ultimately kept the seat.
Isakson built a sizable campaign war chest to scare off any well-known Republican challengers, and several prominent Democrats also backed away after publicly contemplating a Senate run. In early May, Isakson reported nearly $6 million in cash on hand.
Jennifer Cash, an elementary school teacher who voted for Isakson on Tuesday in Marietta, said he's stayed "very visible" while in office. Cash, 52, said she thinks that will protect Isakson from any "anti-incumbent" sentiment in November.
"He's served Georgia well," Cash said. "He hasn't lost touch with home."
Southeast Georgia races
Voters in Brantley, Charlton, Clinch and Ware counties voted on sheriff, and most counties in southeast Georgia will choose candidates for judge, court clerk coroner, county commissions and boards of education.
Republican voters in Brandley County defeated incumbent Sheriff Jack Whisenant, who came in fourth in a five-man primary race. The GOP sheriff candidate will be decided in a July 26 runoff between Len Davis and Robert Thomas.
Brantley County voters also defeated an incumbent clerk of court and county commissioner and sent Coronor Richard Rowell and a second county commissioner into runoffs to keep their jobs.
In Glynn County, Superior Court Clerk James Jones came in fifth in a five-candidate race, voted out a board of education member and sent a county commissioner into a runoff.