In the Nov. 6 election, with four Republican candidates in the field, former state Rep. Bill Hembree of Douglas County received 48.4 percent of the vote, just short of a majority. That gave Dugan, a first-time candidate and Carrollton resident, who finished second with 24.3 percent, a place on the runoff ballot.
What seemed like an easy victory for Hembree turned into a win for Dugan because he was able to motivate the majority of the 7 percent who did return to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots for him. Dugan got 3,606 votes, or 55.79 percent, to Hembree’s 2,857 votes, or 44.21 percent.,
Todd Rehm, a political consultant and author of the GaPundit.com website, said Hembree’s early success in the Nov. 6 election was due to his ability to use a large advertising campaign to capture votes in the 70 percentage voter turnout.
“Most voters were going out to vote anyway, and he didn’t have to convince them to go vote, just pull the lever for him,” Rehm said. “He (Hembree) may have been the only candidate they had heard of, due to the number of candidates and the money it takes to reach those voters.”
But Rehm said that winning the vote in the runoff often comes down to a situation where the voters know the person they’re voting for and are willing to go vote.
“People who supported Dugan were more willing to do something that cost them time and money than the Hembree people were,” he said. “Carroll County voters came out specifically to vote for Dugan. That’s an intensity you can’t get by sending direct mail, robo calls or TV ads. It comes from knowing the person on the ballot, knowing him personally. I would suspect Dugan knew a lot more of the people who voted for him than Hembree did.
“I tell everybody who asks me how to get elected is to go out and ask every voter to vote for you,” Rehm said. “If you can do that, you’ll probably win. The hard part is that the number of voters is usually greater than you can speak to in the time period. It’s refreshing to see someone win a major election by just that method. It’s hard work, and if everybody did it, I’d be out of work as a political consultant.”
Rehm noted that the runoff had to compete for voters’ attention with Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping and other activities associated with the holidays.
“People who usually vote in summer primary elections get used to the idea of a runoff a few weeks later,” he said. “There’s more of a dropoff of voters from the November general election to the December runoff.”
Robert Sanders, a University of West Georgia political science professor, said he was not surprised to see Dugan win.
“When you have a smaller turnout, it’s the most zealous people who win,” he said.
Sanders said Dugan had numerous factors working in his favor on a personal level.
“His military service and being a graduate of a local university really helped,” he said. “He was also perceived as more moderate. I think the main thing that helped Dugan is he’s from Carroll County, where most of the votes come from.”
Sanders said Dugan was also successful at portraying himself as an outsider and not a career politician, and someone who could take a fresh look at the lawmaking process. His approach painted Hembree as a career politician.
“Dugan talked about prudent spending,” he said. “Being a challenger, you can say you’re for prudent spending. If you’re an incumbent, you can say you’re for less spending and smaller government, but having been a part of the system awhile, it’s harder to do.”
Some observers feel that the low turnout in the Dugan-Hembree runoff and the reversal of November's vote outcome might lead to new calls to eliminate the runoff altogether.
“We already know that Secretary of State Brian Kemp will present to the state Legislature some changes in how Georgia elections are conducted — federal watchers have expressed concern that runoff elections are held too closely to the original contest for overseas military personnel to participate,” Jim Galloway wrote in his Wednesday “Political Insider” column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, commenting on the District 30 runoff outcome. “If you’re an incumbent lawmaker, you might be worried that tea partiers or Libertarians might run several candidates against you, lure you into a runoff — where a highly organized turnout could finish you off.”
Dugan will get little rest before he has to get out on the campaign trail again, with a Jan. 8 contest with Libertarian candidate James Camp of Temple coming on the heels of the New Year’s holiday and football bowl games.
“Anybody who thinks this race is over is kidding themselves,” Dugan said Tuesday night. “It’s going to be tough getting them out there to vote after the BCS championship game.”
But Rehm feels like Dugan has honed his get-out-the-vote skills enough to carry him to another victory.
“I wouldn’t bet against a guy who just beat Bill Hembree,” Rehm said. “He didn’t spend a lot of money. Whatever he did do, I bet he will continue doing it to good results.”