ATLANTA – Georgia voters returned to the polls Tuesday to decide the Democratic nominee for Georgia's No. 2 job, candidates for several other statewide posts, and the political fate of U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney.
Georgia election officials expected only 10 percent to 13 percent of the state's 4.2 million registered voters to turn out for Tuesday's runoff elections — about half of the 22 percent in the July 18 primary. The runoffs feature the top two finishers in those primary races where no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote.
Turnout was expected to be highest in McKinney's district just, east of Atlanta, where the state's first black congresswoman faced a stiff challenge from fellow black Democrat Hank Johnson, a former DeKalb County Commissioner.
Ashley Holt, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office, said the state was seeing "light to moderate" voter turnout statewide before lunchtime Tuesday. DeKalb County was the only "hot spot," she said.
The secretary of state's office had not heard reports of problems with voting machines or polling places, she said.
After 10 years in Congress, the firebrand lawmaker lost the 2002 primary to political newcomer Denise Majette, who then vacated the seat two years later to run for the U.S. Senate. McKinney emerged from a crowded 2004 Democratic primary to easily reclaim the seat in the predominantly black, Democratic district.
After her return to Washington, McKinney kept a relatively low profile until March when she grabbed national headlines for a scuffle with a Capitol Hill police officer. Even though a grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing in the incident, the tiff seemed to energize Johnson's campaign, landing him within just 1,700 of McKinney in the three-candidate primary.
Democrats also picked their nominee for lieutenant governor, ending what has been a bruising battle between Jim Martin, former head of the state Department of Human Resources and longtime House member, and Greg Hecht, a former state senator and one-term House member.
The campaign had been overshadowed by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed's failed bid for the Republican nomination, but it supplied plenty of its own fireworks in recent weeks as both sides have accused the other of negative campaigning and dirty tricks.
Martin criticized numerous attacks by Hecht — including a mail piece that accused him of being soft on rape. And his campaign complained of recorded phone calls sent to voters before the primary telling voters who support gay marriage and "sodomy" to vote for Martin.
Hecht, who lost a bid for Congress in 2002, claimed Martin started the dirty campaigning by starting a "whisper campaign" that Hecht opposes legalized abortion, among other charges.
The winner faces state Sen. Casey Cagle, who became the immediate frontrunner when he easily upset Reed in the Republican primary last month.
Also at stake Tuesday were elections to decide the Democratic and Republican nominees for secretary of state, who is responsible for overseeing the state's elections, maintaining the state archives and handling business licenses.
For Republicans, it came down to Fulton County Commission Chairman Karen Handel and former state Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens of Canton. Both lobbed attacks at each other on topics ranging from abortion to gay marriage — issues with little to do with the mostly clerical duties of the office. In debates, the two jockeyed with each other over who is the true conservative.
The winner faces either state Rep. Gail Buckner, an eight-term legislative veteran of Jonesboro who reminds voters of her elected experience, or businessman Darryl Hicks of Fayetteville, who says his corporate background makes him better qualified to manage the office's $39 million budget.
Republicans also will pick between Gary Black, a farmer from Commerce, and state Sen. Brian Kemp of Athens for state agriculture commissioner, with the winner facing Democrat Tommy Irvin, the dean of the state's constitutional officers, who is seeking a final term before retiring. At age 76, he has held the post for 37 years.