Democrats hope to pick off conservative Dalton-based Georgia Senate seat

Former state Sen. Charlie Bethel's judgeship left vacant a north Georgia Senate seat.

Former state Sen. Charlie Bethel’s judgeship left vacant a north Georgia Senate seat.

The Dalton-based Senate seat up for grabs in a special election should be a safely conservative district. But Democrats are hoping an independent candidate can squeak by in a low-turnout vote.

Former Whitfield County GOP chairman Chuck Payne and Debby Peppers, an ex-county commissioner running without party affiliation, on Tuesday emerged as the two top vote-getters in the race to replace Charlie Bethel in the Senate. They both will square off in a Jan. 10 runoff.

Payne nabbed about 36 percent of the vote in the four-person race, while Peppers earned about 27 percent of the vote in part with help from local Democrats.

Bethel won a fourth term in November without opposition, but a day later Gov. Nathan Deal tapped him for a Court of Appeals judgeship. That left vacant the 54th District, which includes all of Whitfield and Murray counties and parts of Pickens and Gordon counties.

Many local GOP leaders quickly consolidated support around Payne, a retired juvenile court probation officer who worked as a Ben Carson campaign operative this year.

Democrats have quietly supported Peppers, who is on the county’s zoning board and served on the commission in the 1990s. She received national attention in the late 1990s for a lawsuit she brought against the Dalton Regional Youth Detention that exposed overcrowded conditions and healthcare problems.

During the monthlong campaign, Payne focused on his GOP  bona fides and work for conservative causes while Peppers said her decades-long record in Whitfield County “reflects the kind of leadership our community needs.”

Expect the divisions to sharpen now that the race is down to two.

Peppers thanked her supporters and urged them to “keep the momentum going” late Tuesday, while Payne adviser Justin Tomczak drew battle lines. He said the Republican is in a formidable position against a “life-long Democrat” who he tied to Michelle Nunn, Jason Carter and Hillary Clinton.

“Northwest Georgia has little in common with those liberal politicians,” Tomczak said.

Reader Comments 0

24 comments
Rob Danner
Rob Danner

The people in that district are too smart

Ronnie Garrison
Ronnie Garrison

wow - if they did it would reduce their minority role from 38 R 17D to 37 R 18 D - and this is from the same folks that made such good predictions in the governor and senator races in Georgia two years ago and the presidential race this year.

Sandra Lynn Conn Brookover
Sandra Lynn Conn Brookover

What no one understands....there is no war between dems or reps, while we argue, Russia takes over. We together make this union. I'm proud to be an American period. While the differences we have can have a win-win solution, we are a democracy. Do you want to change that? That is the question.

Sandra Lynn Conn Brookover
Sandra Lynn Conn Brookover

This country is great. Sure we have had growing pains and will continue to do so, ain't it GREAT to be an American? We can work it out. I remember Japan saying they would take us over without firing a shot. UNITED (with our differences) we STAND. Divided we will fall.

John Dunford
John Dunford

Yeah! What Joe Fincher said sums it up perfectly!

Joe Fincher
Joe Fincher

Seriously ajc? Dems can't even properly pick their nose. Their policies are not wanted here in bright red Georgia so hoping to win this seat is hopeless.

Chee Hill
Chee Hill

Joe why do all y'all republicans judge people all the time? Give it a rest and try to see other points of view sometimes. Don't say you're alarmed at how many believe fake news. Rather, ask for evidence. You may not know everything you think you know.

Chee Hill
Chee Hill

Marion Baker You do know that videos are used as terrorist media, right? You also must know about how art motivates attacks too, right? Talk to Charlie Hebdo attackers about that. Tell me what you know.

Chee Hill
Chee Hill

Um, it's purple. Y'all means all!

Joe Fincher
Joe Fincher

Georgia is bright red. Every statewide elected office is held by a Republican and there's not a shred of evidence to say anything changes in the near future.

Joe Fincher
Joe Fincher

No it's not. Georgia has easily been bright red for over a decade now. I'm alarmed at how many who actually believe the fake news the ajc pushes.

Rebecca Childs Daubler
Rebecca Childs Daubler

Joe Fincher one can hope and work toward a more progressive state. It's getting less red every year.

Joe Fincher
Joe Fincher

Judge people. How so? If you mean form an opinion then I'll agree. Kinda like you formed an opinion that I don't have evidence without presenting any of your own. My evidence is that Republicans hold every statewide elected office as well as overwhelming majority's in the both houses of the legislature. Hope you've formed a better opinion after reviewing the evidence....

Marion Baker
Marion Baker

You mean like the Fake news when the Dems were all over the Sunday Morning News claiming that a Video caused the Attacks in Benghazi ?

Joe Fincher
Joe Fincher

I agree Chee. I'm sure since our current president is so feckless the terrorists realize it and are more emboldened to carry out attacks for no fear of repercussions. I'm thinking it's better to be feared around the world than laughed at.

Ralph Grunz
Ralph Grunz

Democrats would be happy if they had any seats.. they are irrelevant

Chee Hill
Chee Hill

Bwahahaha! God bless Democrats!

Tom Alfred
Tom Alfred

GOP (Gods Own Party). Democrats need to remember that.

Jodi Mai
Jodi Mai

Tom Alfred, kind of like those "GOTT MIT UNS" belt buckles the German Army wore in WWII, right? Maybe Republicans need to remember THAT.