— Straw Poll Winner: Ray McBerry finished overwhelmingly first. It wasn’t just his polished speaking style or his conservative answers that I think led the voters of the event to pick him first. Beforehand, I told my students that the candidate who does the most to separate himself or herself from the pack will win. And he did just that, while keeping a consistent theme to each message, chiding his opponents for being late converts to the states’ rights movement.
— Straw Poll Loser: I was surprised to see State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine finish last, despite a strong campaign presence at the event. Many attendees told me he sounded the most like a politician in his answers.
— Best One-On-One: In chatting with the candidates after the event, I think Oxendine did the best, handling one-on-one issues and concerns. If he can treat questions at debates the way he chats with people in the crowd, he’ll do better at such forums.
— Best Informed About Local Matters: Former state Sen. Eric Johnson did his homework, meeting with our college president, students and locals before the event. It definitely showed. His ability to point out regional concerns like the moving of the Milliken Design Group and tie it to his answers about jobs and education earned him a second-place finish in the straw poll and a first place vote from my students attending the event.
— Best Mythbuster: Former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal revealed the real differences between Georgia and Alabama on SAT scores, rather than adopt the old line about simply reading the statistics and bashing the schools.
— Most Honest Answer: Former Secretary of State Karen Handel answered “Abraham Lincoln” when asked who her favorite president was outside of Ronald Reagan. While others adopted the safe approach and picked George Washington, she appreciated his ability to make tough decisions and did what was necessary in the face of adversity, in a building with a Confederate battle flag and war heroes on the wall. With this answer and others, she is perhaps the candidate most willing to tell people what she thinks, and not what they want to hear.
— Best Election Idea: Most of the candidates said that the Voting Rights Act should apply to every state, or to no state. But they felt it was wrong to single out Georgia and other Southern states.
— Best Sound-Bite: Oxendine won this when he described federal dollars to the states as “crack cocaine,” noting the blame states deserve for mandates exchanged for money from Washington.
— Boldest Prognostication: McBerry predicted that Judge Roy Moore would become the next governor of Alabama.
— Best Education Responses: Handel wins this for claiming we need to (a) change a system where teachers have to teach to the test, (b) work with college presidents on the gun law and (c) get the flexibility teachers need in the classroom. A close second goes to Johnson for his idea of expanding a voucher-type program for college students.
— Most Connected: Deal was able to drop the most endorsements, from organizations, from local members of Congress, to appearances on radio shows, to politicians he’s worked with in the past.
— Best “Nixon-To-China” Moment: After the forum, I talked with McBerry about the others in the race. When I mentioned that Ray City Mayor Carl Camon, an African-American candidate, had visited LaGrange College earlier that day, McBerry (who earlier hinted that Jefferson Davis was his favorite president) smiled and said, “He’s my favorite on the Democratic Party side!”