Politics

In Race For Ga. Secretary Of State, Name Recognition May Be Key

There's a lot at stake, especially given the controversy around Georgia's election security. But it may come down to who has gotten to know the voters best.
There's a lot at stake, especially given the controversy around Georgia's election security. But it may come down to who has gotten to know the voters best.
Credit Andrew Harnik / Associated Press

There have been two debates between the candidates running for Georgia secretary of state this week, including one at WABE on Wednesday.

There’s a lot at stake, especially given the controversy around Georgia’s election security. But it may come down to who has gotten to know the voters best.

When Republican Brad Raffensperger decided to run for secretary of state more than a year ago, his campaign made a very visible decision.

“We wanted to have signs up, on every road leading to Athens, Georgia, before the first football game,” he said. “It didn’t matter where they were coming from, but if they were coming to Athens, we wanted to make sure they drove by and they saw these signs that say Raffensperger for secretary of state.”

Those signs spread across the state, and, according to Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia, they paid off.

From left, Democrat John Barrow, Republican Brad Raffensperger and Libertarian Smythe DuVal are candidates in the Georgia secretary of state race.
From left, Democrat John Barrow, Republican Brad Raffensperger and Libertarian Smythe DuVal are candidates in the Georgia secretary of state race. (Emilia Brock/WABE)

“[Raffensperger] came up out of nowhere in a sense to get that nomination,” Bullock said. “I think the way he did it was he had a person planting his signs widely across the state. So he’s got that kind of name recognition.”

Raffensperger has been in the General Assembly for a few years and owns a contracting and engineering design company, experiences he said best qualify him for the job.

The Democratic candidate, John Barrow, also has a name many Georgians have gotten to know, but that’s not necessarily his fault.

Barrow calls himself the most redistricted member of Congress ever.

During his 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Georgia’s Republican leadership changed the boundaries of his district three times.

“It’s kind of like everything they did bad to John has come back to haunt the Republicans,” said DuBose Porter, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party. “Because he’s represented probably a third of the geography of the state and a fourth of the population.”

Barrow sees the irony.

“I happen to have the benefit of introducing myself to more folks across the state over a longer, sustained period of time than anybody who’s ever run for statewide office before,” he said. “It may be ironic, but whatever helps, helps.”

Barrow said keeping his changing constituency happy as a congressman caused him to work across the aisle a lot. He argued that experience best qualifies him to be secretary of state, since he said the office should be nonpartisan.

Chuck Clay is the former head of the Georgia Republican Party.

“I think the Democrats are putting a lot of efforts and high hopes that this is one they could actually shear off from that Republican hold on constitutional and statewide offices,” he said. “Republicans see it as an absolute one they cannot afford to give up because that office does, in some form or fashion, impact everybody in the state. It’s a high visibility position.”

“I think this is a contest where generally most people don’t give a whole lot of thought to who they will vote for secretary of state,” Bullock said. “They probably would have a hard time describing what the secretary of state does, but it’s one where I think the Democrat has the potential to be able to pull an upset.”

Both parties are seeing this as a “bellwether race,” Clay said. “So it’ll be an interesting one to watch.”