1998 Georgia General Election Results

Republicans Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory


Analysis of your favorite race:

The year 1998 offered Georgia Republicans the best opportunity in the party's history to finally seize control of Georgia state government from the governorship to the constitutional offices to the General Assembly. Georgia Republicans proved themselves spectacularly unready for the task as a number of weak candidates won GOP nominations over more qualified and electable candidates, and critical strategy mistakes were made in the closing days of the campaign. These political miscalculations cost the GOP dearly at the ballot box as a strong African-American turnout combined with a weak GOP turnout spelled doom for most of the Republican candidates. Yet, several Republican candidates did run very good races and were rewarded at the ballot box.

Georgia was one of many states where Republicans had a disappointing year, so not all of the blame can be laid at the feet of the state GOP. Nationally, Republicans presented no agenda and no vision, other than pushing for the impeachment of President Clinton. Republican leaders believed that the President's sexual shenanigans would bring Republican minded voters to the polls in droves. However, it did not turn out that way for a number of reasons. First, Clinton's problems were not the galvanizing force that Republican leaders had hoped for them to be. Actually, the constant talk of impeachment rallied the President's allies in unprecedented numbers. Second, labor unions put all of their resources into turning out Democratic voters, with stunning results. Third, a number of events in the final weeks of the campaign served to energize Democratic base voters. The brutal and senseless murder in Wyoming of gay university student Matthew Shepard energized gay voters, mostly Democratic. The shooting death of a New York abortion doctor awakened pro-choice activists across the country days before the polls opened. African-American voters, long one of President Clinton's strongest group of supporters, rallied to vote against Republican impeachment efforts that were on the news programs throughout the fall campaign.

Thus, Republicans lost five seats in the U.S. House (the first time the party in the White House has gained seats during a mid-term election since 1934!), made no gains in the U.S. Senate (after predicting a 3-5 seat pickup), and lost a net of one governorship (after predicting a 2-4 seat gain in governorships.) Republicans in Georgia and in the nation as a whole will need to rethink strategy and tactics as a result of this debacle. Voters across the country perceive the party as too extreme, too divisive, and controlled by the Christian Coalition. Several Republican candidates in Georgia and elsewhere ran campaigns openly on anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and anti-minority themes. Republican political consultant Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition, was a behind the scenes player in many of these unsuccessful races. In contrast, a number of GOP gubernatorial candidates were highly successful by running on issues of inclusiveness, lower taxes, welfare reform, and touting the GOP agenda of less government and more freedom. The Republican Party in Georgia and nationally needs a positive, optimistic message for 2000 and beyond. Hopefully, in the defeats of 1998 will be sown the seeds of an inclusive, vibrant program that will lead to victories in the years to come.

Log Cabin Republicans and gay voters in general achieved great notice this year in a number of races across the country. According to exit polls done by the New York Times and CBS News, self-identified gay and lesbian voters cast 4% of the national vote this year, a higher percentage than Jewish or Asian voters and only slightly less than Hispanic voters. In elections for Congress gays voted 62% Democratic, 35% Republican and 3% other. Gays voted more strongly for Republicans than just about any other minority. One wonders how high that percentage might have gone up without the idiotic remarks of Senator Trent Lott, comparing gays to drug addicts and kleptomaniacs, and also the ugly, hateful rhetoric of the so-called "Religious Right" and its candidates.


The shining light for Georgia Republicans was the re-election of our fine U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell. Coverdell ran an excellent campaign against businessman Michael Coles resulting in a 52%-44% GOP victory. Senator Coverdell was proudly endorsed by Georgia Log Cabin Republicans. His campaign focused on real Republican issues: balancing the budget, defense readiness and capability, reforming Social Security, and protecting the veterans who have given so much for this nation.


Democratic State Representative Roy Barnes easily defeated Republican businessman Guy Millner by a vote of 53%-44%, with 3% going to Libertarian Jack Cashin. Political analysts believe that Millner's campaign made an enormous tactical blunder in the campaign's closing days by focusing heavily on Barnes' support for affirmative action. Millner's constant barrage of TV ads on the issue served to drive up black voter turnout, with the lion's share going to Barnes. Also, voters were weary of Guy Millner, a man who has lost three statewide elections this decade. Thus, Democrats will continue to control the governor's office which they have held since Reconstruction.


After running one of the most hard-hitting and controversial campaigns Georgia has ever seen, Republican Mitch Skandalakis, the candidate of Ralph Reed, was trounced by Democratic State Senator Mark Taylor for lieutenant governor by a margin of 56%-39%. Skandalakis ran a series of harshly negative ads attacking Taylor's support among gay voters and calling Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell an "incompetent boob." Skandalakis stated in his own TV commercials that he would "kick Atlanta's ass." Needless to say, Campbell's black Atlanta base became heavily energized in outrage over Skandalakis' media campaign.

Mitch Skandalakis was defeated by wide margins in virtually every region of the state, including his home county of Fulton, where he presently serves as county commission chairman. He also ran a much criticized TV ad implying that State Senator Taylor is presently addicted to drugs and has recently been in a drug rehab program. As it turns out, Skandalakis had no proof to back up these allegations. Evidently, the dishonesty, homophobia, and thinly veiled racism of the Skandalakis campaign backfired badly. Political analysts across the state credit the Skandalakis campaign with bringing down most of the GOP ticket to defeat.


State Senator David Ralston of Blue Ridge was one of the GOP candidates who lost due to the Democratic tide, coming up short against Attorney General Thurbert Baker, 51%-45%. Ralston, a moderate conservative, was clearly the best candidate for the GOP and ran a strong race on law-and-order issues. However, the Democrat's financial advantage and strong African-American turnout made the difference. Thurbert Baker now becomes the first of two black candidates to win a statewide constitutional office, a milestone for Georgia.


Democrat Cathy Cox, the present Assistant Secretary of State, easily defeated Ralph Reed's client, Republican John McCallum, by a vote of 56%-41%. McCallum, a 28 year old political novice, attempted to use his wife's fame as the former Miss America to get himself elected. Yet, a lack of money and dubious political advice doomed McCallum's campaign against Cox.


Veteran Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin was easily re-elected by a margin of 63%-34% over Republican businessman Bob Greer. Irvin's prowess at fund-raising coupled with Greer's lack of political cash made this an easy Democratic win.


Republican incumbent John Oxendine was handily re-elected over Democratic State Representative Henrietta Canty on a vote of 59%-38%. Oxendine vastly outspent his opponent, who could never afford TV advertising. Oxendine has been heavily criticized by gay political leaders for his refusal to allow insurance companies to offer health and other insurance benefits to gay couples in Georgia. However, this issue was not central to the campaign as Oxendine presented himself as a crime-fighting reformer.


As predicted previously on this page, Democrat Michael Thurmond defeated Republican perennial candidate John Frank Collins 53%-47%. The vote was closer than expected due to Collins' high name recognition and strong support in many rural areas, where some older white voters are still reluctant to cast a vote for a black candidate such as Michael Thurmond. Thurmond served in the cabinet of outgoing Governor Zell Miller, successfully implementing welfare reform.


Controversial Republican incumbent Linda Schrenko was returned by a vote of 50%-45% over former City of Atlanta School Board President Joe Martin. Superintendent Schrenko was re-elected despite some rocky periods in her office and Georgia schools' generally low level of academic performance. However, Democrats handed her the dream opponent in Joe Martin who presided over the long term decline of the City of Atlanta's public school system. Martin was never able to explain away his pathetic performance and appalling record during his tenure on the Atlanta board.


Republican incumbent Bobby Baker, endorsed by Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, was easily re-elected 55%-45% over Democrat Anna Marie Hargis. Baker's effective, common sense conservative leadership on the Public Service Commission was recognized by the voters and he was accordingly returned to office.


The new chairman of the Fulton County Commission will be Republican Mike Kenn, who received the endorsement of both Log Cabin Republicans and the Georgia Equality Project. Kenn, a 17 year star player for the Atlanta Falcons football team, will fill the chairmanship vacated by Mitch Skandalakis. In defeating Democrat Eldrin Bell by a margin of 53%-47%, Kenn reached out to gay voters and other minority voters to fashion a winning coalition. His race should provide an example for Republicans across the state of how to win an urban constituency.

The Georgia General Assembly will remain virtually unchanged despite high Republican hopes for major gains this year. The State Senate remains unchanged at 33 Democrats and 23 Republicans, and the House has one less Republican at 102 Democrats and 78 Republicans. Only 2 Republican House members lost their seats this year, and one of them was State Rep. Ron Crews of Tucker, the most virulently anti-gay member of the Georgia House and the 1997 Christian Coalition "Legislator of the Year." Georgia Equality Project executive director Harry Knox compared defeating Ron Crews to "cutting the head off of the dragon."