There are no primaries in the presidential race today, with Wisconsin looming as the next critical contest for both parties on April 5th. However, there is a state legislative special election in southeastern Georgia – in State House District #162 in the Savannah area. Three Democrats (businessman Josey Sheppard, pastor and community leader Carl Gilliard, and civil rights activist Alicia Blakely) are vying to be the successor to the late Rep. Bob Bryant (D), who held this seat for five terms before he passed away in February.
In previous Georgia state legislative special elections, I reviewed the addresses of campaign finance reports to analyze where each candidate had dedicated and enthusiastic supporters who are so critical in low-turnout special elections. Unfortunately, in this race, none of the three campaigns has filed such a report, so that type of analysis is not possible.
There are two main components of Georgia HD #162, as can be seen in the map above. About two-thirds of the district is located within the city limits of Savannah. Those polling places (in the eastern part) are denoted with the green circles, the size of which reflects the relative number of registered voters in those locations. Just over one-third of the district’s registered voters live in Garden City, in the western half of HD #162, with similarly-marked precinct locations colored red.
So, here’s how this geography impacts each of the three candidates:
- Alicia Blakely ran for an at-large seat on the Savannah City Council in November. She finished 2nd out of 6 candidates to make a runoff held a month later, which she lost, 53%-47%, to Brian Foster. So she should be well known to voters in those polling locations noted with the green circles, given that she has been on the ballot twice there in the last six months. In fact, in those Savannah precincts within HD #162, she actually beat Mr. Foster in the December 1st runoff, 56%-44%. She did especially well in the four precincts in the northeastern part of the district, taking 82% of the vote there.
- Mr. Sheppard is from Savannah, and his business is located in the northeastern part of the district that supported Ms. Blakely so heavily in the municipal election last year. However, he has limited political experience and his campaign Facebook page has fewer than 100 likes. I would be surprised if many Savannah voters who heavily backed Ms. Blakely will switch their support to him in this area, despite his ties to that section of the community.
- Mr. Gilliard is the only one of the three candidates from Garden City, so the precincts noted with the red circles are ones in which he should do well. His campaign address is in the northwestern portion of the district, and he should generate large margins there.
- There are several vote-rich Savannah precincts in the southeast which don’t really represent a natural area of support for either of the three candidates. Ms. Blakely took some votes here, but the region backed Mr. Foster in the City Council runoff election four months ago.
I expect Ms. Blakely will win today’s special election, and the only question is whether she will exceed the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff. While Mr. Gilliard should run strong in Garden City, that is only 1/3 of the district, and I don’t see enough tangible signs that Mr. Sheppard’s campaign has engaged with enough voters to cut into Ms. Blakely’s margins in Savannah. Therefore, I predict she’ll achieve that 50% mark.
There is also a runoff being held here today county-wide for Sheriff between the top two finishers from a special election held on March 1st. That should increase turnout slightly above normal. Four weeks ago, in the presidential primary in the state, voter turnout in HD #162’s precincts was about 38%. I predict turnout will be under half of that today, at 15%, or about 3,300 votes.