ATLANTA — With an incumbent hand-picked by the governor facing a strong Republican challenger and Democrats fighting for name recognition in a crowded primary, the secretary of state's race is seemingly wide open.
Incumbent Brian Kemp, a Republican from Athens, took office Jan. 8 after Karen Handel stepped aside in late December to focus on her bid to become the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Primary opponent Doug MacGinnitie decried the appointment at the time, saying Gov. Sonny Perdue should have appointed an interim caretaker, rather than handpicking an already declared candidate from the GOP ranks.
A small-business owner, Kemp served in the state Senate from 2002 to 2006 and lost a 2006 bid to be the Republican nominee for state agriculture commissioner.
His goals as secretary of state are to reduce wasteful spending and make sure elections are secure, he said.
"I'm a fiscally conservative small-business owner that has a proven track record of getting things done in the General Assembly when I was there and now in the secretary of state's office," he said.
MacGinnitie, co-founder of a commercial insurance brokerage firm and a former city councilman in Sandy Springs, has never run for statewide office.
"I'm not the guy with the long list of political connections or the long list of lobbyist connections, and I think that's a good thing," he said.
His priorities in office, he said, would be making it easier to start a small business and improving access to voting for members of the military serving overseas.
The amount of money the two Republicans have raised from supporters is comparable. MacGinnitie has a slight lead but, as a public officeholder, Kemp was barred from soliciting money during the legislative session.
By the most recent reporting deadline, March 31, Kemp had $208,069 in the bank for the race, having raised a total of $267,407. That includes $24,305 raised in the first three months of this year, almost all of that coming in before the legislative session began.
In the same three-month period, MacGinnitie raised $88,506 and, by the end of March, had $692,286 to spend on the race. MacGinnitie had raised a total of $793,098 by the end of the reporting period, more than half of which — $480,000 — came from three loans he gave his campaign.
There is no clear front-runner among the five Democrats hoping to secure their party's nomination, and none has raised nearly as much money from supporters as the two GOP candidates.
Gary Horlacher, a lawyer from Peachtree City, had raised the most money by March 31, with a total of $300,480, including $250,000 in loans from himself. His goals as secretary of state include increasing transparency and creating a verifiable paper trail for the electronic voting system.
State Sen. Gail Buckner of Jonesboro was close on his heels in terms of money with $246,125, including $200,000 she loaned her campaign. She hopes to use the office to create a verifiable paper ballot, hire more and better-trained poll workers, and help fight identity theft.
Angela Moore, a medical personnel company owner from Decatur, had raised $46,591, including a $15,000 loan she gave her campaign. She also calls for verified paper evidence for the state's electronic voting system and says she wants to make it easier for professionals to transfer their licenses from other states.
Michael Mills, a public relations consultant from Atlanta, had raised $3,319 by March 31. He wants to secure the voting system while also eliminating unnecessary barriers to voting, help small businesses thrive and take measures to prevent fraud.
State Rep. Georganna Sinkfield of Atlanta had not raised any money by March 31 because she was barred from raising money during the legislative session. Her goals in office are to have open and fair elections with a secure ballot and to increase access to business licenses.
Buckner may have the highest name recognition in the race because she was the Democratic nominee for the office in 2006.
Moore lost to Buckner in the 2006 primary, but generated political music buzz during that campaign with "Vote 4 Miss Angela" — a campaign rap song that made the rounds in political circles and on the Internet.
In addition to overseeing elections in Georgia, the Secretary of State's Office administers the incorporation of businesses, oversees professional licensing boards and maintains the state archives.
The job can be a stepping stone for higher office. Handel and her predecessor, Democrat Cathy Cox, both ran for governor. Max Cleland was secretary of state before rising to the U.S. Senate.