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State candidates hope to narrow field in runoff

COVINGTON -- Runoffs are in the future for many candidates vying for state elections.

The race to fill the state Senate seat vacated by John Douglas appears to be headed to a runoff between Republicans Rick Jeffares of Henry County and Covington resident Todd Hilton. Jeffares took an early lead as precinct totals began to roll in Tuesday night, but Hilton and former Newton County Commissioner Ester Fleming weren't too far behind.

By the time 97 percent of the precincts in the 17th District -- which includes portions of Newton, Rockdale, Henry, Walton and Spalding counties -- reported, though, Jeffares had taken the lead with 43.8 percent of the vote over Hilton's 31.4 percent. Fleming was in third with 24.7 percent.

Even the 12-point lead over Hilton, however, wasn't enough for Jeffares to avoid a runoff since he did not secure more than 50 percent of the vote.

Jeffares said Tuesday that he was prepared to face a runoff, and that he is looking forward to the next three weeks of campaigning.

"It's overwhelming when you see something like this and see the results come in and all the hard work of volunteers and family and friends coming through," he said.

Jeffares, a former Henry County Commissioner, easily secured the majority of Republican votes in Henry County, but came in third with Newton County voters. With 99 percent of the precincts in Newton reporting, fewer than 200 votes separated Fleming, a former Newton County Commissioner, and Hilton, an educator in Social Circle. Fleming had 2,562 ballots cast for him and 2,377 voters opted for Hilton. Jeffares brought in 1,806 Newton County voters.

Hilton edged both Jeffares and Fleming among Rockdale Republicans with 77 percent of precincts reporting. Holton took 274 of the votes cast to Jeffares' 207 votes and Fleming's 197 votes.

Hilton said the primary campaign has been a great experience and he, too, looks forward to continuing the race, which is his first run for elective office.

"I had absolutely no expectations or had any way to gauge where I would come out in this race," he said. "I have thoroughly enjoyed the process and have been encouraged by what I've seen."

Hilton said he believes his message has resonated with voters, particularly in light of the fact he ran a no-frills campaign

"I just tried to tell my story -- nothing fancy," he said. "I'm not a politician. I just ran on my name and my passion for helping families and improving education."

Fleming did not return calls for comment by press time.

The race for the 17th Senate District was opened up when Douglas announced he would not seek re-election and instead vie for the open Public Service Commission District 2 seat.

Douglas was the first to announce his intentions to seek that seat, but soon that field was populated with fellow Republicans Joey Brush of Grovetown, Tim Echols of Athens and Jeff May of Monroe.

That race also looks likely to head to a runoff between Douglas and Echols. With 68 percent of precincts reporting, Douglas had 27.5 percent of the vote, second to Echols, who had 35.3 percent. May brought in 21.9 percent of the vote and Brush came in fourth with 15.4 percent.

In Newton County, Douglas easily garnered the most votes with 3,645 to Echols' 1,301. Likewise in Rockdale County, Douglas secured the majority of votes with 1,379 ballots cast for him and 734 cast for Echols.

"It's very gratifying to be where we are and we are very pleased to be here, and I want to thank everybody across the state who voted for us," Douglas said Tuesday night.

But it was the votes of Newton and Rockdale counties' voters that meant the most to him.

"I am absolutely proud of Newton County and Rockdale County voters," Douglas said. "Our home folks stood with me, and obviously we'll be asking them to do it again in August and hopefully in November."

Democrats were in a primary battle for House District 95 and are likewise looking at a runoff. Incumbent Toney Collins of Conyers pulled in 42.9 percent of the votes with 68 percent of precincts reporting. Pam Dickerson, also of Conyers, was in second with 33.5 percent of votes cast for her. Covington resident Andrea Cooper came in third, with 23.6 percent of the vote.

Collins narrowly edged Dickerson in their home county of Rockdale with 279 votes to her 266 votes. One hundred votes separated the two in Newton County, with Collins bringing in 499 votes to Dickerson's 399.

"We're ready -- that's all I can say," Dickerson said when reached for comment. "We are ready and we are ready to win."

Collins took the news of a possible runoff in stride.

"Hopefully we will keep pushing and be able to talk about the issues that pertain to the voters of the 95th District, and I will work harder to know what their needs are," he said. "I just thank God for the position that I'm in and I know I will do my best for the citizens."