Chris West pulled off Georgia’s biggest political upset in the runoffs. How’d he do it?

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Chris West pulled off Georgia’s biggest political upset of the June runoffs, defeating Jeremy Hunt for the Republican nomination in Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District.

Hunt and PACs acting on his behalf spent roughly $2.1 million during the cycle, and that number is expected to increase as new reports are filed. Hunt collected endorsements from national Republican figures like Nikki Haley, Tom Cotton and Karl Rove. He was the top vote-getter in the May primary.

But it wasn’t enough.

Unofficial tallies as of Wednesday evening have West winning by just 755 votes, 14,608-13,853. Turnout was expected to be lower, but Hunt failed to bring Columbus voters to the polls. West was also able to make gains in Bibb County and a few others in the district, according to data analyzed by the Ledger-Enquirer and Macon Telegraph.

Chris West speaks at a Bibb County GOP meeting last week. West defeated Jeremy Hunt in the Republican primary runoff for Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District. He’ll take on incumbent Sanford Bishop this fall.
Chris West speaks at a Bibb County GOP meeting last week. West defeated Jeremy Hunt in the Republican primary runoff for Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District. He’ll take on incumbent Sanford Bishop this fall.

Where did Hunt lose votes?

Both Hunt and West had fewer votes in the June runoff than in the May primary. Hunt lost 9,070 votes while West lost only 4,050 in the quest for a Congress seat.

Hunt saw the largest drop-off in Muscogee County, where he got 1,796 fewer votes than he did in May’s primary.

Other counties where he saw large decreases include:

  • Lee: -851

  • Dougherty: -678

  • Houston: -617

  • Bibb: -567

Alton Russell, the chairman of Muscogee County GOP, told the Ledger-Enquirer that several factors could have contributed to Hunt’s poor showing. Hunt’s lack of ties to the district and the amount of outside PAC spending could have turned some voters off, he said.

Hunt outspent and outraised West by roughly 9 to 1. Two PACs, American Patriots PAC and American Values First, spent roughly $1.4 million on Hunt’s campaign since early May, with more than $623,000 coming since June 8, according to raw reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

Hunt registered to vote in Columbus in February 2022, one month after announcing that he would run. West and other opponents attacked Hunt over the move throughout the election.

“A big smile and going to West Point is not a reason to vote for you,” Russell said. “I think people saw Jeremy as an opportunist that only moved to Columbus so he could run.”

John Tures, a political science professor at LaGrange College, said that two factors may have contributed to Hunt’s runoff defeat. While Hunt still handily won Muscogee County, Tures said he noticed more Chris West signs in parts of Columbus — an indication that West made some inroads with local voters.

Tures added that West appealed to more dedicated Republican voters who would return to the polls for a runoff. In a race where turnout is lower and there isn’t a statewide contest, that is key.

“Had there been a (statewide) runoff, that might have actually helped Hunt given how close the race was,” Tures said.

Where did West make gains?

While Hunt’s poor showing in Columbus likely cost him the nomination, West made gains in the runoff that helped him to victory.

West lost Bibb County, but he gained 324 votes compared to his May performance. He saw increases in other counties including:

  • Taylor - 126

  • Marion - 65

  • Chattahoochee - 28

David Sumrall, the Bibb County GOP chair, told the Ledger-Enquirer that endorsements in the region boosted West.

Three former candidates in the race — Wayne Johnson, Vivian Childs and Rich Robertson —are from the Middle Georgia area. Johnson and Childs endorsed West before the runoff. Johnson won Taylor County in the primary, and Johnson voters were more likely to cast a ballot for West, Sumrall said.

Johnson filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against Hunt, Fox News and Fox Host Brian Kilmeade days before the runoff, but Sumrall said those issues likely didn’t influence Tuesday’s outcome.

Like Tures, Sumrall said that Hunt benefited from the statewide races on the ballot in May. He didn’t have that benefit in the runoff.

“They wouldn’t come out just to vote for Jeremy,” he said.