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CL's 2014 primary election guide

Your one-stop for info about round one of metro Atlanta's congressional, state, and county races

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For the first time in years, Georgia voters will have the ability to drastically alter the state's political landscape. Democrats are fielding competitive candidates in key statewide races that were once thought to be easy victories for the GOP. Although Republicans still reign supreme in a red state, that could change if Democrats can sway enough voters. Closer to home, pivotal posts in Fulton and DeKalb counties are up for grabs.

In many races, next week's primary elections will determine which candidates land on the ticket come the general elections in November. Then there's a handful of key races that will be all-but-determined by primary ballot casters. To help you decide, we've laid out what's at stake in metro Atlanta's key races, including congressional and gubernatorial skirmishes all the way down to heated county kerfuffles. It's not an exahustive list, however. To find out your district, polling precincts, and what other races you will help decide, visit the Secretary of State's website at mvp.sos.state.ga.us. And don't forget to bring your ID.

Race: Governor, GOP nomination

Who can vote: Voters who request a Republican ballot

Why It Matters: For years, demographers and wonks have proclaimed Georgia was turning from a conservative red to a more moderate purple state — and that a majority of voters might soon select a Democrat to reclaim the Governor's Mansion. Whether that time is now or years away is uncertain. Regardless, Gov. Nathan Deal's four years in office give him a built-in advantage. To stay in office, he'll have to beat out state Sen. Jason Carter, the lone Democratic candidate in what could become one of the country's most closely watched (and heated) political battles.

But first, the incumbent has to best GOP challengers Georgia School Superintendent John Barge and former Dalton Mayor David Pennington on May 20. Barge has positioned himself as a moderate who is skeptical of Georgia's "guns everywhere" proposal and champions public education. Pennington has Tea Party zeal and says all issues basically boil down to "freedom and economics." Deal has greatly outraised his opponents and, despite his ethics issues, still enjoys strong party support. Election-year pandering during the most recent legislative session — i.e., teacher raises and improved state employee health care benefits — might have also helped his chances. However, a strong showing from Pennington or Barge could signal that there's a lack of confidence in the incumbent — something that could tilt the race in Carter's favor come November.

Race: U.S. Senate, GOP nomination

Who can vote: Voters who request a Republican ballot

Why It Matters: The race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss arguably remains the biggest toss-up of any 2014 election. Seven candidates are fighting to become the Republican nominee for the statewide seat. That includes — take a deep breath — U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta, and Jack Kingston of Savannah; former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, veteran business exec David Perdue, MARTA senior network engineer Derrick Grayson, and patent attorney Art Gardner.

Broun, Gingrey, and Kingston tour their respective congressional experiences and conservative track records. Perdue, cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, fancies himself as a political outsider with a strong business pedigree. Handel, who has the Tea Party's backing, is a pro-life, small government proponent who says she'll bring change to the U.S. Capitol. Grayson calls himself the "Minister of Truth" and Gardner, unlike other candidates, supports gay marriage.

The most recognizable candidates have made gaffes that range from creationist blunders (Broun) to elitist remarks about high school graduates (Perdue) to suggestions that poor children should sweep school cafeteria floors to earn subsidized lunches (Kingston). Dems would love for the far-right Broun to win, giving them better chances come November. Republicans ideally want the most level-headed candidate as the party nominee. Expect a runoff.

Race: U.S. Senate, Democratic nomination

Who can vote: Voters who request a Democratic ballot

Why It Matters: Four Democratic challengers have lined up to challenge the eventual GOP nominee. Veteran nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn, a political newcomer and the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, is running a well-funded campaign against Atlanta doctor Branko "Dr. Rad" Radulovacki, Columbus ROTC director Todd Robinson, and former state Sen. Steen Miles. Recent polls have shown that Nunn, a moderate Democrat running to "fix Washington," might have a rare shot at winning the statewide seat. Progressive voters may be disappointed by Nunn's centrist platform — she's been hesitant to embrace the Affordable Care Act — but she's running to win over moderates. The big question: Will she best represent liberals' interests?

Race: School Superintendent, GOP nomination

Who can vote: Voters who request a Republican ballot

Why It Matters: Think of the children! Georgia's woeful public education system still needs to be rescued. With School Superintendent John Barge running to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, the race for his replacement is wide open. On the GOP front, nine — yes, nine — candidates have qualified. The pack includes Quitman County Schools Superintendent Allen Fort, Barge's Chief of Staff Mike Buck, charter school graduate coach Kira Willis, college professor Mary Kay Bacallao, attorney and relatively recent Republican convert Ashley Bell, PTA leader Sharyl Dawes, educator Richard Woods, former military contractor Fitz Johnson, and education advocate Nancy Jester. Jester was one of several DeKalb County School Board members who were suspended by Deal when the system risked losing its accreditation. Nearly all the candidates are skeptical of Common Core and keen on expanding charter schools. If those sound like your kind of leaders, enjoy.

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