ATLANTA - The Democratic candidates vying to take on Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia in November face off in a primary election Tuesday after weeks of delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But the state’s chief election officer has warned that voters could face long lines and results may be slow to be reported, as poll closures and virus restrictions complicate in-person voting and counties work to process a huge increase in paper ballots received by mail.
Top Democrats in the Senate primary include former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and former candidate for lieutenant governor Sarah Riggs Amico.
Perdue, a close ally of President Donald Trump, is seeking a second term in November as Republicans look to hold the White House and Senate majority. He drew no GOP primary opposition.
The race has proven to be anything but predictable, with election day postponed and campaigns forced almost entirely online because of the coronavirus and the final days seeing widespread protests and civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Criticism of the Trump administration’s response on both fronts has added fuel to Democrats’ ambitions of winning in Georgia, where Republicans still dominate statewide elections, but Democrats are increasingly making gains.
If no candidate receives more than 50% of votes, the top two finishers will advance to an Aug. 11 primary runoff. Other Democrats in the race include former ACLU of Georgia head Maya Dillard Smith, Air Force veteran James Knox and another hopeful, Marckeith DeJesus.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that voters should expect to face longer lines. He also said his office won’t begin to release partial results until “the last precinct has closed” and predicted that the winners may not be known for days thereafter.
“To get a good concept of where we are with the election — who won, who lost, or who’s in the runoff, things like that — I would think that could take upward of a couple days in some of these really tightly contested elections,” Raffensperger said.
Voters will also select party nominees for U.S. House races and for state House and Senate. Other state and local races are on the ballot as well.
Ossoff entered the Senate race in September with the endorsement of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, as well as some built-in name recognition from his highly publicized 2017 special election loss to Republican Karen Handel for an Atlanta-area U.S. House seat. The young media executive has led in fundraising and has made fighting inequality and corruption a core part of his message.
Tomlinson, who was the first woman elected mayor of Columbus in 2010, has racked up a slate of endorsements of her own, including civil rights leader and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. She touts her experience in office, saying she’s “the only one in this race who has ever won an election and governed,” and says that experience can help her cut through dysfunction in Washington.
Amico previously served as an executive in her family’s car-hauling company. Best known for her 2018 run for lieutenant governor, which she lost to Republican Geoff Duncan, she often discusses the experience of helping to steer the company through bankruptcy, noting that executives fought to preserve jobs. Amico’s campaign has locked down the endorsement of several labor unions with a strongly pro-union pitch.
More than 1.2 million Georgians have already voted early, Raffensperger said Monday. A majority of those ballots were cast absentee by mail after the Republican elections chief sent absentee ballot applications to 6.9 million active registered voters, hoping to ease pressure on in-person poll operations.
Georgia postponed primary elections twice because of the pandemic. The state’s March 24 presidential primaries were first moved to May 19, when voters were set to choose party nominees for other 2020 races. As coronavirus infections and deaths mounted, election day was pushed back again to Tuesday.