Primary runners-up rarely turn into runoff winners

Candidates who lead in Georgia primary elections overwhelmingly go on to win the runoff. There are exceptions. Such as Vernon Jones, who led the 2008 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate but lost the runoff to Jim Martin. Mikki K. Harris / mkharris@ajc.com

Candidates who lead in Georgia primary elections overwhelmingly go on to win the runoff. There are exceptions. Such as Vernon Jones, who led the 2008 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate but lost the runoff to Jim Martin. Mikki K. Harris / mkharris@ajc.com

Waiting for elections results is a restless pastime. The mind wanders and ponders, leading to questions like this: How often does the leading candidate in a primary end up losing in a runoff?

Thanks to the Internet, we have an answer.

From 2000 through 2014, there were 68 primary runoff elections for federal or statewide races in Georgia. In only eight cases did the leader of the primary end up losing the runoff.

Most recently it happened twice in 2014: Republican Mike Buck finished first in the primary for state school superintendent but lost (barely) the runoff to Richard Woods by one-tenth of a percentage point. The same year, Amy Tavio finished first in the Democratic primary for the First District seat in the U.S. House only to lose the runoff to Brian Reese.

In those eight cases, only once did an incumbent lose: then-U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney fell to Hank Johnson in the 2006 Democratic primary for the Fourth District U.S. House seat.


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