CALHOUN, Ga. - Despite a significant funding deficit and fewer votes than his opponent a month ago, former city councilman Matt Barton won a special election runoff for a Georgia State House seat Tuesday night.
According to unofficial results from the Secretary of State's website, Barton defeated attorney Jesse Vaughn, 1,655-1,371, for the District 5 seat, which covers most of Gordon County and the Southwest Precinct of Murray County. Barton received more votes than Vaughn in 10 of 11 precincts.
He also more than doubled his vote total after a Jan. 8 special election, when he received 812 votes in a six-candidate race. That effort was good enough to put him in second place, landing him in the runoff with Vaughn.
Barton watched Tuesday's results from home with his wife and daughters, over pepperoni and banana pepper pizzas. Around 8:10 p.m., results streamed in, showing him up by 259 votes with just the Calhoun City Precinct outstanding.
"It would be a pretty big whopping for him to take over," Barton said. "But until [the results came in], you know, I didn't want to get excited."
"This took a lot of hard work," he added. "It wasn't just me. It was my whole team, just a whole lot of people and friends who came together and worked for me. We did a lot of door-to-door, personally. Lots of phone calls and texts, just trying to get out and see everyone."
Barton said he wasn't sure if any particular issues separated him from Vaughn, who finished first in the Jan. 8 runoff but only picked up 201 more votes this time around, in a field with four fewer opponents. He only won one precinct: Calhoun City, where he beat Barton, 564-561.
Vaughn did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday night but posted on his campaign Facebook page, "Congratulations to Matt Barton on winning the runoff election tonight. I ask that we all support him with our prayers."
Compared to the Jan. 8 election, Barton gained votes in all 11 precincts. According to the Secretary of State's website, his biggest gain came in the Calhoun City Precinct, where he picked up 209 votes more than he did a month ago. His other significant areas of improvement? The Gordon County Precinct, where he added 158 votes. And the Sonoraville Precinct, where he added 141 votes.
Overall, both candidates accurately predicted a low turnout in the race, given the unusual time for the election. Only 3,114 people cast ballots in this election, about 10 percent of eligible voters.
With his victory, Barton will replace State Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, who died Nov. 13. A 14-year veteran of the legislature, Meadows served as chair of the House Rules Committee.
From the beginning, Vaughn appeared to be the favorite in the election. A longtime resident of Calhoun, Vaughn is well connected in the community. His father was a pastor in town, and his mother worked for the local school system.
Meadows' family backed Vaughn in the election. Vaughn also received support from the state's Republican establishment. Fifteen current state lawmakers donated about $30,000 to his campaign. Speaker of the House David Ralston was among the donors.
Overall, Vaughn raised $60,000 - three times what Barton received.
Barton, the owner of a courier business, previously served on the Calhoun City Council and Board of Education. He billed himself as a lifelong conservative and attacked Vaughn's previous political record. Before switching parties, Vaughn ran for a state House seat in 2002 as a Democrat. He also served as the local Democratic Party chair and volunteered on Democrats' campaigns.
Vaughn said he switched parties around 2008, frustrated with the direction of the state's Democratic leadership. His voting record shows he first cast a ballot in a Republican primary in 2010.
After last month's election, Vaughn received the endorsement of Georgia Right to Life, a pro-life organization. Scott Tidwell, who finished third in the January race, also endorsed Vaughn. The fourth-place candidate in that race, Larry Massey Jr., backed Barton.
The Georgia Secretary of State's Office will certify Tuesday's election results in the coming days. Barton can then give Ralston his top three choices for committees on which he would like to serve, though the speaker can put Barton wherever he sees fit. Barton said Tuesday night he isn't sure about the committees on which he would like to serve.
"I don't have a list," he said. "I'll be a team player."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.