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Runoff races for Georgia governor, etc. beckon voters back to polls

Georgia voters have unfinished business

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In Georgia, one of only a dozen states with some form of runoff election system, conventional political wisdom holds that a runoff isn't merely an extension of the primary or general-election contest, but a separate race entirely — requiring different campaign strategy, more fundraising and a new round of ads to further bludgeon voters.

After the Aug. 10 runoffs, Georgia voters will get a little breathing room as the battered nominees regroup. For now, however, it's time to hunker down and make runoff selections in the remaining undecided races:

Governor, Republican primary

Even though she leads the polls going into this Tuesday's runoffs, former Secretary of State Karen Handel has followed her strong showing in the July 20 primary by continuously blasting opponent Nathan Deal on allegations of corruption centered on his lucrative, no-bid state contract. When the Sarah Palin-endorsed candidate isn't sending out glossy mailers detailing the former congressman's "back room deals" and "secret meetings," Handel is subtly suggesting that Deal, who'll turn 68 later this month, is past his sell-by date (pun intended).

For his part, Deal is touting his experience — 17 years in Congress, 12 in the state Senate — and endorsements by fellow GOP congressmen, and suggesting that Handel's harsh attacks reveal her own lack of depth as a candidate. A former policy adviser to Gov. Sonny Perdue who never graduated from college, Handel served partial terms as Fulton Commission Chairman and Secretary of State, leaving both posts to seek higher office.

Because they're chasing GOP primary votes, both candidates have adopted similarly conservative stances on such hot-button issues as illegal immigration, gun rights and federal tax policy. But Deal has managed to land a few punches by questioning whether Handel hates gay people enough and is sufficiently anti-abortion.

Secretary of State, Democratic primary

Handel and Deal could learn some things from Gail Buckner and state Rep. Georgiana Sinkfield, the Democratic Party's contenders to win the office in charge of elections and overseeing incorporated businesses. Unlike the GOP candidates, the two south metro lawmakers have remained civil throughout the campaign.

Buckner, a 16-year Gold Dome veteran and former teacher, was the party's unsuccessful nominee for the position in 2006, while Sinkfield is the longest-serving female lawmaker in Georgia history with 28 years in the House.

Both candidates say they aim to streamline the office's operations, crack down on mortgage fraud and identity theft, and drop incumbent Brian Kemp's lawsuit against the federal government involving Georgia's voter registration system.

Attorney General, Republican primary

Polls indicate former Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens has the edge going into the GOP runoff against former state Sen. Preston Smith of Rome. Both are private-practice attorneys who haven't worked as prosecutors.

Smith's main claim to fame comes from his successful effort, as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to shepherd the controversial "tort-reform" legislation to approval. Although he's actively pushed his credentials as a social conservative, Smith has been hindered by revelations that an affair with a young campaign aide led to his divorce last year.

Olens has touted his consensus-building experience — on the Cobb Commission and as chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission — in dealing with such issues as water, traffic and infrastructure.

Both candidates say they want to streamline the execution process for death-penalty convictions and support an Arizona-like immigration law for Georgia.

Insurance Commissioner, Republican primary

Athens-area businessman and Gold Dome vet Ralph Hudgens is the front-runner in the race against attorney and former state insurance department lawyer Maria Sheffield.

Georgians who seek the second coming of John Oxendine — in other words, a far-right, Bible-beatin' insurance chief — have just the guy in Hudgens. In 2009, the state senator introduced a WTF bill inspired by the "Octomom" story that would've limited the number of embryos a doctor could implant in a woman's uterus. This year he pushed a bill that would restrict the state from requiring Georgians to participate in a health care plan, a clear knock at President Obama's controversial health care overhaul.

Sheffield also favors repealing the health care reform package, although Hudgens got caught on a live mic during a radio show break admitting that, as insurance commissioner, there's not much he could do.

Public Service Commission, District 2, Republican primary

With a few notable exceptions, Georgians have a long record of electing energy industry lapdogs to serve on the Public Service Commission, the state agency that decides how much you pay to turn on your lights and heat your oven. This year appears to be no different.

On the Republican side, nonprofit executive and conservative activist Tim Echols faces off against state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, to determine that party's nominee. Douglas, one of the Gold Dome's most notable sourpusses, appears more concerned in press reports about the "no call" list than finding ways to curb the state's voracious coal appetite.

Echols, who prior to announcing his candidacy was a policy adviser for John Oxendine's ill-fated gubernatorial campaign, has tried to cast himself as the second coming of Bobby Baker, the fair-minded commissioner he and Douglas hope to replace (and who'll be sorely missed.)

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