By GREG BLUESTEIN
Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle soundly defeated their Democratic challengers Tuesday as Republicans flexed their political muscle, and GOP candidates won the school superintendent post and jumped to a lead for the attorney general's job.
Unofficial results showed Kemp, a Republican appointed in January, leading Democrat Georganna Sinkfield with 58 percent of the vote with 76 percent of precincts reporting. And Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle logged 56 percent of the vote against Democrat Carol Porter, a newcomer who promised to bring fresh views to the statehouse.
Republicans won another key state-wide race in the state school superintendent seat, which was left wide open after Republican Kathy Cox left the post for the private sector, and appointee Brad Bryant failed to collect enough signatures to qualify as an independent. Republican John Barge led Democrat Joe Martin with 55 percent of the vote.
The race was still too close to call in the attorney general's race, the most closely watched down-ticket contest. Republican Sam Olens led Democrat Ken Hodges with 54 percent of the vote in the race, a fierce campaign with tough television ads and spirited debates that often focused on national issues.
Olens, a 53-year-old former Cobb County commission chairman, vowed throughout the campaign that he would join the legal fight against President Barack Obama's health-care reform, work to adopt tougher immigration laws and help sort out a compromise in Georgia's long-running fight over water with Alabama and Florida.
Hodges, 45, countered by emphasizing his experience as a former Dougherty County district attorney handling hundreds of cases and overseeing thousands more. He also questioned Olens' background as a civil litigator, in the closing days of the race, at one point even questioning whether his opponent knew where a courtroom was.
In the lieutenant governor's race, Cagle, 44, breezed through the otherwise hectic primaries without any opposition. Elected in 2006, Cagle was the first Republican ever to hold the office and vowed to keep taxes low and encourage job growth in Georgia, if he was given another four-year term.
Porter, a 51-year-old newspaper publisher, stepped forward to challenge Cagle after years spent running the campaigns of her husband DuBose Porter, a state legislative leader. Porter focused her campaign on pledging to boost education spending and improve infrastructure.
The campaign was a mostly positive race with few debates -- and few campaign slip-ups. Both ran television advertisements spotlighting the importance of the lieutenant governor, who presides over the State Senate and helps set legislative priorities.
"Once you earn the people's trust and prove you can keep it for another term, it's very gratifying," said Cagle. "I'm humbled by the opportunity to continue serving Georgia. We're going to stick to the fiscal conservative principles that we've applied the last four years."
Experience was a key issue in the state schools' superintendent race.
Barge, a 44-year-old Bartow County schools administrator, said his top priority is to prepare each child to be productive members in society, whether they're going to four-year universities or planning to join the military.
"It's been a long campaign. And I'm excited," he said. "This just speaks clearly that the people in Georgia want proven education leadership to help Georgia and bring commonsense solutions to educational issues."
Martin, 68, countered he would use his experience as a longtime Atlanta school board member to make sure schools receive better funding and vowed to end teacher layoffs and furlough days.
The secretary of state's race was Kemp's first bid for a four-year term in the office, after he was appointed to the office to replace Karen Handel, who stepped down for an ultimately unsuccessful run for governor.
Sinkfield, a 67-year-old state lawmaker, pledged to streamline the business license during the low-key campaign, and vowed to end voter fraud. And Kemp, 46, said he would work to secure elections and partner with small business owners to create jobs.
"I campaigned on ideas and issues, and I want to continue to do that," said Kemp, who said he plans to return to work Wednesday and prepare for runoffs in other elections across the state.