Runoff likely after special election for suburban SW Atlanta House seat

Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison and Philip Singleton are headed to an Oct. 1 runoff, besting two other candidates for a state House seat that represents Coweta and Fayette counties. The candidates are shown at an August forum. Jonathan Grant/Brambleman

Jill Prouty remembers when the debut of the children’s book Captain Underpants – which features a superhero clad in only a cape and tighty-whities – prompted complaints at the Peachtree City library just a couple decades ago.

So she was pleasantly surprised when library staff set up its first ever LGBTQ pride display this year and not a soul objected.

The librarian-turned-politician said she sees that as more than just coincidence.

“It’s changed,” Prouty said of the area less than an hour southwest of downtown Atlanta. “It’s still very red, but it’s a lot different than it used to be.”

There are other signs of change, such as the emergence of a new Coweta County group for women Democrats that formed in the wake of a controversial state measure that outlaws most abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy.

So when state Rep. David Stover announced this summer that he would be stepping down, Prouty said she thought a special election and a divided local GOP might create a narrow opening for a Democrat in one of the state’s more reliably conservative enclaves.

And then she decided to become that long-shot candidate. The political newcomer is the lone Democrat in a four-way contest to replace Stover, who has easily held the office since 2013. The Newnan Republican last won reelection last year with a solid 74% of the vote.

“I think we’re going to surprise people,” Prouty said in an interview this week.

The Republican candidates in the race include Nina Blackwelder, who is a nonprofit founder, Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison, who is a private school teacher and the daughter of former Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, and Philip Singleton, a pilot and veteran.

A bellwether?

Tuesday’s special election has so far only attracted a smattering of voters in a district that falls mostly in Coweta County but spills over some into Fayette County.

As of Thursday, only 1,482 people had voted in person and 142 by mail in Coweta County, where most of the district’s voters reside. That’s less than 4% turnout. Early voting ends Friday.

The single-race election takes place as much of the focus has already shifted to next year, when the fall ballot in Georgia will feature President Donald Trump’s name and now two U.S. Senate races – including an open seat after Sen. Johnny Isakson unexpectedly announced his retirement Wednesday.

But what might the outcome of this quiet little race in a southwest Atlanta suburb say about what’s to come next year in what’s expected to be a costly battle to control the Georgia House of Representatives?

Probably not much.

The short time period, the limited geographic reach and the absence of a primary process are among the factors that make it difficult draw meaning from a one-off special election, said Kaleb McMichen, who works as communications director for the Republican speaker of the House. He is speaking for himself here, though.

“Given how much money will pour into Georgia from across the political spectrum and the national media attention which will follow, no one has ever seen anything like what 2020 will be in Georgia,” McMichen said. “Trying to use a special House race this year as an indicator for such a scenario just doesn’t hold water in my opinion.”

Blackwelder, one of the Republican candidates, said the race may give clues about the future, but not in the context of 2020 clash between parties. The district is far too staunchly conservative for that kind of talk, she said.

“It’s not a bellwether in the right-left argument,” she said. “It’s a bellwether for what kind of Republican people want to move forward with in the future. A Republican is going to win this race.”

For her part, Blackwelder describes herself as a “liberty” Republican who favors limited government and gun rights. She is opposed to “red flag” gun laws and supports Georgia’s anti-abortion heartbeat measure – as the other Republican candidates do – but wants to see more done to help children who wind up in state custody.

Attempts to reach Sakrison by phone and Singleton by Twitter were unsuccessful Thursday.

Moving the needle

The race appears to be headed to a runoff, with a mid-August poll showing Sakrison leading with about 30% of the vote and Singleton trailing with about 22%. Prouty was a close third with about 20%, and Blackwelder was last with about 10%. About 18% of respondents said they were undecided.

Sakrison has also attracted the biggest haul of donations with about $57,000, and she counts key establishment Republicans like House Speaker David Ralston and other high-profile elected GOP leaders among her donors. Singleton has attracted about $33,000. Blackwelder has raised about $8,000.

Ralston’s $2,800 donation to Sakrison is particularly notable, considering Stover was part of a small group of Republicans who called on the speaker to resign this year.

Prouty, meanwhile, reported collecting about $13,000 in donations, including money from House Minority Leader Bob Trammell and the House Democratic caucus.

Prouty said Wednesday that she feels good about her chances of making it into a runoff. Beyond that? She said she knows the odds are against her, but she hasn’t let that discourage her from knocking on every door she can.

“I think that we’re definitely going to see, no matter what, that we’ve moved that needle,” she said. “It’s just a matter of how far we’ve moved it.”

Prouty, who is also part-owner of a Jersey Mike’s Subs sandwich shop, said she once considered herself a Republican. The Sharpsburg resident said Trump’s election in 2016 was a “lightning bolt moment” for her.

She now labels herself as a moderate Democrat, pointing to her views on measured government deregulation and opposition to a mandatory $15 statewide minimum wage. She is opposed to Georgia’s anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill and supports fully expanding Medicaid.

“I think in a runoff, anything could happen,” Prouty said. “Anything could happen.”

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