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Lawmakers move toward earlier 2014 primary date

Special to SEGAZINE

There is growing support among leading politicians to move next year’s primary vote to the earliest date in Georgia history, a move some Republicans hope could prevent the contest for an open U.S. Senate seat from leaning too far to the right.

Both House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle voiced support Monday to move the 2014 primary to May 20. And Gov. Nathan Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was leaving the debate up to lawmakers.

The timing of the vote is crucial as a crowded field of Republicans square off for the nomination for an open Senate seat and Deal faces the prospect of two Republican challengers. A vote before Memorial Day will likely yield a higher turnout and is less likely to be dominated by GOP activists who leaders fear may tap a nominee who couldn’t win in November.

The voting shuffle was set off in July when U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones moved the vote to June 3 to give military residents and other Georgians living overseas more time to return absentee ballots. Worries that turnout may still be down after the holiday weekend are prompting lawmakers, who must sign off on any change, to weigh another adjustment.

Cagle said a vote toward the end of May, when classes are still in, “could be very beneficial.” Ralston offered a heartier endorsement, saying “it makes a lot of sense.”

“I live close to states that have primaries earlier than that — Tennessee and North Carolina,” Ralston said. “This is not a novel idea. It may be a little different for Georgia. We’re going to give it a thorough looking into.”

As an indication of how sensitive the issue is, neither Deal, Cagle nor Ralston took ownership of the plan. The three were likely wary of the appearance of taking sides.

Both Cagle and Ralston said concern over the Republican outcome in next year’s Senate race or the presence of Michelle Nunn, a Democrat endorsed by Washington power brokers, had nothing to do with their support.

Deal, meanwhile, said he’s concerned about another part of the judge’s order: the requirement to extend the span between an election and a runoff from three weeks to a full two months. As a survivor of a bitter runoff in 2010 with former Secretary of State Karen Handel, he said he speaks from experience.

“A three-week runoff period was excessively long for me,” he said, “but to extend it even further is going to be a very long and probably costly period of time when you have contested runoffs.”

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