Why Jack Kingston Lost: GOTV Efforts With His Base

Don’t forget your base.

It’s an important lesson and one Republicans keep failing to learn. Candidates must keep their supporters engaged whether through issues or motivation.

It’s an absolute must.

The Republican primary Senate runoff in Georgia is an perfect example of this. Although polling had Representative Jack Kingston besting businessman David Perdue, this didn’t occur.

Yes, the Chamber of Commerce endorsement likely did damage Kingston as the Perdue camp took advantage of the Chamber’s stance on immigration.  But the real error here was that Kingston left so many votes on the table in his stronghold – his own Congressional district.

Kingston lost by less than 9,000 votes. But when looking at the counties where he maximized turnout in the primary, it is apparent that he left those 9,000 there, right in his backyard. Those people didn’t come out to support him like they had in the primary.

Both candidates increased their overall vote totals from the May primary. That’s to be expected when a primary with a half a dozen candidates is whittled down to two. The real problem for Kingston was not the the votes he gained, but the votes he failed to maintain. 

Of the 159 counties in GA, Kingston lost nearly 16,100 votes in 59 of those counties. Meaning, there were 16,100 people who voted for Kingston on May 20, but didn’t turn out to support him on July 22. By contrast, David Perdue lost votes in 54 counties. But his total was only 6,500 less votes.

Jack Kingston is very well respected in his district. He was so well regarded that he hadn’t had a primary opponent in recent elections. And in 2012 he won the general election with 63% of the vote.

In his 11 terms in Congress, Kingston had strong name recognition in Southeast Georgia. That is where he should have parked his campaign the remaining days of the campaign. That is where his base of supporters live. But when you look at the numbers from the primary and the runoff, it is apparent the Kingston campaign didn’t properly drive them to the polls.

In comparing counties where both Kingston and Perdue (a total of 35) lost votes from the May 20 primary, you see where Kingston was hurt. In those 35 counties, Kingston lost 9350 votes. Perdue, 3640. Some of those votes lost were in counties in and around his Congressional district where Kingston should have done much better. For example:

  • In Coffee County, Kingston lost 877 votes, Perdue 191 for a net loss of 686.
  • In Bulloch County, Kingston lost 819 votes, Perdue 77 for a net loss of 742. 
  • In Appling County, Kingston lost 755 votes, Perdue 8 for a net loss of 747. 
  • In Brantley County, Kingston lost 510 votes, Perdue 3 for a net loss of 507.
  • In Toombs County, Kingston lost 1087 votes, Perdue 243 for a net loss of 844.

If you take only those counties in Kingston’s district, he left 6,600 votes on the table from the May 20 primary. In a race decided by less than 9,000 votes, this can’t happen.

In 2012, in his Congressional race, Kingston received 55,000 votes in Chatham County. That’s where Savannah is. It’s Kingston’s home. In the runoff Tuesday, Kingston got 15,000. Granted, primary elections bring out far less voters than a general election, but that’s why it is critical to have people down there constantly, flushing those precincts to get as many of those voters to the polls as possible.

The Kingston campaign would have been better served heading back to Savannah and the surrounding area the final days of the campaign. That’s where he has had name recognition for many years. That’s where he is revered. That’s where he could have found those 9,000 votes.

Did the Kingston campaign have an engaging GOTV effort in southeast Georgia? You have to motivate your people to vote. After a prolonged election, voters are weary. They just want it to be over. It’s not enough for your constituents to like you. This isn’t a popularity contest. Being respected means nothing if those who support you don’t vote.

The race has a deadline and if you don’t drag your voters to the polls, you don’t win.

Because you cannot forget your base.

*** Jay Caruso contributed to this article