Wednesday, May 01, 2024

March Presidential Preference Primary Sets Stage For Conservative Test Of Oconee County In May Primaries, November Election

***Trump Support In Oconee Sixth Lowest In State***

In the March 12 Presidential Primary, Oconee County was sixth from the bottom among Georgia’s 159 counties in the percentage of Republican Party vote going to former President Donald Trump.

The only counties in the state ranking lower than Oconee County in terms of the percentage of Republican vote for Trump were Chatham, Cobb, Clarke, Fulton, and DeKalb, in that order.

The Trump vote in the Republican Primary in Oconee County of 77.4 percent also was considerably below the statewide vote of 84.5 percent.

On the Democratic side, 94.2 percent of the Oconee County voters using that party’s ballot selected President Joseph Biden on March 12, compared with the statewide figure of 95.2.

The Oconee County percentage put the county about in the middle of the 159 counties in terms of Biden’s vote, with a rank of 83 from the top. In neighboring Clarke County, the figure was just slightly lower at 93.7 percent, with a rank of 101.

Only 4,473 voters used the Republican ballot in March and only 773 used the Democratic ballot, for a total of 5,246 of the county’s 30,488 registered voters, or 17.2 percent. At the state level, that figure was 14.3 percent.

Because of the low turnout, the March data provide only hints--but hints nonetheless--about the outcome of the party primaries now underway that pit conservative challengers of incumbents in the Republican Primary and conservatives rejected by the Democratic Party running in the Democratic Primary.

Only Subset

Those 5,246 voters who turned out on March 12 clearly are a small subset of the eligible voters in the county.

Click To Enlarge

Currently, the county has 33,143 registered voters, 30,802 of whom are active, and 2,341 of whom are inactive. Inactive voters are eligible to vote.

In March, only 14.8 percent of the votes cast were in the Democratic Primary, and the remaining 85.2 percent were in the Republican Primary.

That contrasts with the November 2020 vote totals when just less than two-third of the voters cast ballots for Trump (65.9 percent), and just less than a third cast a ballot for Biden (32.4 percent).

Georgia does not have party registration, so it is only a guess that a disproportionate number of “Democrats” stayed home on March 12, voted in the Republican Primary, or did both.

The parties create data files that do label voters based on their primary ballot choices over time, but these data are not public and the classification is imprecise, particularly in a county such as Oconee where the Democratic Party rarely has local competition in its primary.

The lack of Democratic competition encourages voters to select the Republican ballot where a vote makes a difference.

Alternatives To Trump, Biden

In March 12 voting, Nikki Haley, a moderate and Trump critic, was the top alternative to Trump in Oconee County on the Republican Ballot, with 858 of the 1,011 votes Trump did not get going to her.

Ron DeSantis received 75 votes, and Chris Christie, another Trump critic and moderate, received 30. No other candidates received more than 20 votes.

Haley suspended her campaign during early voting in Georgia, and by March 12 Trump was the only candidate still campaigning.

On the Democratic ballot, Dean Phillips picked up 14 votes, and Marianne Williams got 31.

Surrounding Counties

Oconee County is surrounded by counties that gave Trump a higher percentage of their vote in the Republican Presidential Primary on March 12, with Clarke County being the exception.

In the Republican Primary in Barrow County, 89.7 percent of the voters selected Trump.

That figure was 88.1 percent in Jackson, 90.2 percent in Oglethorpe, 80.2 percent in Greene, 86.8 percent in Morgan, and 90.0 percent in Walton.

None of these counties come close to Atkinson County, west of Waycross, at the top of the scale, Trump received 464 of 477 votes cast, or 97.3 percent of the Republican votes. 

Trump received 67.4 percent of the total vote in Oconee County on Nov. 8, 2016, and 65.9 percent of the vote on Nov. 3, 2020.

Oconee County voters overall in 2020 were less likely to select Trump than all but two of the surrounding counties–Clarke and Greene.

Oconee County ranked 88th in the state in vote for Trump in 2020.

In 2016, Oconee County had ranked 83rd in the state in vote for Trump, lower again than all of the surrounding counties except Greene and Clarke.

Test Of Conservatives

Oconee County is indisputably a Republican County.

All of the local office holders are Republicans, and Biden’s 32.4 percent in 2020 was a contemporary highwater mark for the Democrats in the county.

The May 21 primary and the Nov. 3 general election, however, offer a test of how conservative the county is.

Pam Hendrix, who has long been active in the Oconee County Republican Party and has run as a Republican in the past, has organized a slate of six conservative candidates under the label of Choices 4 Oconee 2024 to challenge incumbent Republicans, all of whom would be considered moderate in today’s party.

Hendrix on her own is challenging incumbent Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell in the Republican Primary on May 21, and Victoria Cruz is challenging incumbent Post 4 Commissioner Mark Saxon in that primary.

Suzannah Heimel is running unopposed in the Democratic Party Primary on May 21 and will challenge Post 1 Commissioner Mark Thomas in November.

Laura King also is running as a Democrat, unopposed, in the May 21 Primary so she will challenge incumbent Superior Court Clerk Angie Elder-Johnson in November.

Other Conservatives In the Race

The Choices 4 Oconee slate also includes Stephen Aleshire, who is running for Post 5 on the Board of Education in the Republican Party Primary, and Sheri Ward Long, who is running as a Democrat, unopposed, for Post 4 on the Board of Education.

Eight Candidates Conservatives Of Northeast Georgia

Also seeking Post 5 in the Republican Primary is Brock Toole, a former assistant superintendent at Oconee County Schools. Katie Green is running unopposed as an endorsed candidate on the Democratic Ballot.

Three Republicans are seeking the party’s nomination for Post 4 on the Board of Education, including Adam Hammond, who has served on the Party’s Executive Committee, Andy Pippin, and Russell Toms.

Hendrix, Cruz, Aleshire, Long, Heimel, and King were featured presenters at a meeting last month of the Conservatives of Northeast Georgia, where they were joined by Joyce Reifsteck and John Michael Grigsby.

Reifsteck is running for Post 1 Chair on the Board of Education in the Republican Party Primary.

Michael Ransom was elected as a Republican to Post 5 four years ago and shifted to run for Post 1 Chair to replace Republican Kim Argo, who is stepping down at the end of the year.

Grigsby is running against incumbent Republican Marcus Wiedower in the Republican Primary for House District 121, which is made up six of Oconee County’s eight precincts as well as parts of Clarke County.

Cultural Issues

What unites many of those running as conservatives is complaints about the books and programming of Oconee County Library.

Democratic Advertisement
Scheduled For May 9 
The Oconee Enterprise

Reifsteck, Cruz, Aleshire, Heimel, and King all have challenged books at the library, and Hendrix has been outspoken in criticizing the library before the Board of Commissioners.

Criticism of the library played a prominent role in the discussion at the Conservatives of Northeast Georgia Forum.

When King and Heimel introduced themselves to the Democratic Party in March, claiming they wanted to run as “moderate Democrats,” they received strong pushback because of their roles as critics of the Oconee County Library.

The Democratic Party is running an advertisement in the May 9 edition of The Oconee Enterprise stating that Heimel, King, and Long are not running with party support or endorsement.

The ad endorses Green and Reginal Wade, who is running unopposed on the Democratic Ballot to challenge Republican James Hale in November.

Regardless of what happens in the Republican Primary later this month to the other conservative candidates, Heimel, King, and Long will continue on with their challenge of the party until at least November.

Whether Oconee County voters will support the conservatives in the May Republican Primary and in the General Election in November will say much about party politics in Oconee County–and about the meaning of the Presidential Primary vote in March.

Early voting is underway and runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until May 17 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday May 4 and Saturday May 11 at the Oconee County Administrative Building, 7635 Macon Highway.

In the first three days of early voting, 331 voters have cast a ballot.

1 comment:

Retired teacher Lawrence said...

Defining any political party has been difficult throughout our nation's history, but that line between Democrat & Republican has become even more difficult to find because it is an ever widening, swerving line. TRUMP-licans are not the same as KEMP-licans. Trump is neither Conservative nor Christian by most standards; he is a CCINO - Conservative Christian in Name Only.
I used to teach think that voting at the local level is what is most important, and some local RINOs and DINOs have made it so important to know for whom/what you think you're voting despite what they call themselves.
Do your citizenship homework by getting news and information from MULTIPLE sources. Yes, that's a hard thing to do, but a working Federalist system depends on a well-informed citizenry. Be that voter!
-David Lawrence