Georgia’s love-hate relationship with third-party candidates

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Bob Andres,

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Bob Andres,

Let’s suppose that, one fine Agatha Christie morning, Republican Johnny Isakson and Democrat Jim Barksdale escort Libertarian Allen Buckley to the very edge of those tall, white cliffs of Dover.

Around lunch time, the Democrat and Republican return, famished and all by themselves. In the ensuing investigation, Miss Marple would be hard put to say which candidate most wanted to see Mr. Buckley disappear into the abyss.

On Nov. 9, the Libertarian could be responsible for pushing Georgia’s race for U.S. Senate into the state’s first nine-week, general election runoff, forcing two candidates to campaign through Thanksgiving, the SEC football championship, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day, and the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.

The prospect cuts to the very root of Georgia’s love-hate relationship with the insurrections promised by third-party candidates.

This week, Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein had fallen 1,575 petition signatures short of the 7,500 to have her name placed on the November ballot.

Many Georgia Democrats cried crocodile tears at the news. The plurality required to win the state’s 16 electoral votes is within Hillary Clinton’s reach. Even nominal, liberal competition could deprive Clinton of the percentage point she might need to gain a plurality victory over Donald Trump in Georgia.

My Journal-Constitution colleague Kyle Wingfield has even marveled that the usually nimble Georgia GOP neglected to make sure Stein didn’t get those extra signatures she needed.

Libertarian Allen Buckley. AJC file

Libertarian Allen Buckley. AJC file

Likewise, some Republicans now bemoan the presence of Libertarian Gary Johnson on the Georgia presidential ballot. Johnson has given anti-Trump but GOP voters a place to shelter – creating the underpinnings for a potential Clinton victory here.

Georgia Democrats, needless to say, are very happy to have Johnson on the ballot.

But such bipartisan vacillation over third-party candidates stops when you drop to Georgia’s race for the U.S. Senate. The hostility is mutual, shared by both Republicans and Democrats. But it is entirely unspoken.

“The strength of Jim Barksdale’s outsider message is resonating with Georgians and we will be well positioned to win on Nov. 8 or Jan. 10 in the event of a runoff,” insisted Barksdale campaign manager Dave Hoffman.

From Isakson himself: “We just keep moving the ball down the field every day, and elections have a way of rewarding the best team with the most votes.”

The political reality can be found in a Barksdale overture to Isakson, made earlier this month, for six one-on-one debates on the economy. Buckley, the Libertarian, was not included. Initial talks between the Barksdale and Isakson campaigns could come as early as this week. (At least two three-candidate debates are in the offing this fall, though not certain.)

The Democratic and Republican preference for a two-party race requires a brief history lesson.

The 1990s gave Georgia two exceedingly tight U.S. Senate races that still resonate. Libertarians were involved in each.

In 1992, Democratic incumbent Wyche Fowler finished with 49.23 percent of the November vote, less than the state-mandated majority. Three weeks later, in the resulting runoff, Republican Paul Coverdell took the seat with 50.6 percent of the vote.

Noting the role of the third-party candidate in that contest, the 1994 state Legislature, then in Democratic hands, decided that, in the future, a plurality (above 45 percent) was good enough to win a general election.

The change worked. In 1996, Democrat Max Cleland won Sam Nunn’s open seat with 48.9 percent of the November vote. There was no runoff. The Libertarian had been negated.

Then came the GOP wave in Georgia. In 2005, as Gov. Sonny Perdue geared up for re-election, Republicans realized that runoffs were their friends.

Older voters in Georgia tend to be disproportionately white. They are also the most reliable voters in low-turnout runoffs. So the majority rule was restored to November elections.

U.S Senate Democratic candidate Jim Barksdale. Brant Sanderlin,

U.S Senate Democratic candidate Jim Barksdale. Brant Sanderlin,

As it turned out, Perdue had no need of it in 2006. But obeying the law of unintended consequences, the renewed standard tripped up Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss (he had defeated Cleland six years earlier) in the 2008 U.S. Senate race.

Chambliss’ 49.8 percent performance pushed him into a five-week runoff with Democrat Jim Martin. On the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Chambliss won the runoff with 57.4 percent of the vote.

Fast-forward to 2013. The U.S. Justice Department insisted that Georgia extend its runoff periods, in both primaries and the general election, to permit the casting of overseas ballots. Not three, not five, but nine-week follow-up campaigns became the agreed-upon standard.

(Many Republicans think the state was being pressured to abandon runoffs altogether, in favor of plurality elections.)

The 2014 Republican primary runoff, pitting businessman David Perdue against then-congressman Jack Kingston, was the first subjected to the nine-week gauntlet, extending the race from May to July.

“You’re finishing off a long process. It should be a smaller, tighter race,” said Kingston, currently a Trump surrogate. “Politics does have somewhat of a season, almost like a sport.”

Kingston, of course, lost the primary runoff. But the general election that followed, featuring Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn, again raised the prospect of a nine-week extension.

“I thought nine weeks were better than four weeks,” said Jeff DiSantis, the Nunn campaign manager. “Significantly better, but still not great.” Voting habits of a reduced electorate would still greatly favor the Republican side.

Perdue’s eight-point victory ended the November 2014 contest.

Historically, Isakson has done better. In the last 24 years, only three U.S. Senate contests in Georgia have been won with double-digit margins. Isakson is responsible for two of those.

But many Republicans, here and in Washington, worry that the less-than-stellar performance of the Trump campaign in Georgia could push Isakson under 50 percent on Nov. 8.

If that happens, chances are that the outcome of the nine-week extension, after the spending of several millions of extra dollars and leaping over several holidays, would follow the pattern established in 1992.

However, Mr. Buckley, who was not pushed off a cliff on that Agatha Christie day, likes to think that he could break the mold and make it into a runoff with Isakson. “The odds are against it, but the odds are much better than in the past,” he said.

Reader Comments 0

Jay Smallwood
Jay Smallwood

Its time we ran both Democrats and Republicans out of this staye and treat them like the mob or streetgangs..until we do Georgia is just another pawn to these groups of thugs..time and again both parties will toss Georgia and its people under the bus to preserve the precious party...

Jeanette Vaughn Rogers
Jeanette Vaughn Rogers


Jlee Mares
Jlee Mares

Turn off Neal Boortz commentaries.

Dick James
Dick James

Instead of voting for the crook or the blowhard, I'm going to vote for Gary Johnson, the only adult with actual governing experience. As a successful governor of New Mexico (a blue state), he was re-elected to a second term.  He is currently polling in double digits, and if trends continue, he will be in the debates.  Last Monday, he raised almost $2,000,000, none of which came from government funds.

Johnson is not a crook, and he tells the truth.  It's refreshing, actually.


Johnny Isakson supports Trump as the republican candidate for President.  Yet, Donald Trump has not released copies of his tax returns as Hillary Clinton has done.  Trump has said he would release copies of his tax returns once the IRS audit is completed, regardless of the fact that the audit does not keep a candidate from releasing what he has filed.

Now Trump's campaign manager says she doesn't want his to release copies of his tax returns.

See:  "Trump campaign manager no longer wants him to release his tax returns"

By Jenna Johnson August 21, 2016, The Washington Post

The IRS normally does a one or two year audit.  Trumps lawyers have said all of his tax returns filed since 2009 are under audit.  That is a 6 year audit.

Trump is hiding some things from the American people, yet Johnny Isakson still supports Trump's candidacy.


The GOP, the republican party used to be the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Jerry Ford and similar real leaders people could look up to and trust. 

Trump and his Trumpism is just  another "ism." It personifies everything bad, evil, bigoted, racist, sexist, ignorant and lacking in any factual basis. Trumpism promises things it has no intention of keeping. Trumpism promises things that are utterly irrational, unsuitable and financially irresponsible. Trumpism promises economic achievements that can never be fulfilled. Trumpism promises huge benefits to the poor and middle class while actually designing those promises to only benefit the rich and 1%.  

This is the republican presidential candidate that Johnny Isakson is supporting.  Johnny doesn't care that he is supporting a con man who is utterly unqualified to be President as long as Johnny gets reelected.

With Johnny Isakson it is "me first."  It doesn't matter to him that the People of Georgia and America and the world would be put in severe danger if Trump were to be elected President.  Johnny should not be reelected to the Senate.


It's looking like Johnny will receive his early retirement sooner than expected - just another sign of a weak state GOP with leadership in disarray. If anyone out there is confused about this race and/or is on the fence about choosing between Johnny and Jim, the fact is that the state GOP is not looking out for your best interests. Support Jim Barksdale, someone with a great energy and desire to move Georgia in the right direction. 

Also, failed congressperson Jack Kingston has no idea what he's talking about when he attempts to analyze this Senate race or the presidential race.