- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - Every Georgia Republican member of Congress easily defeated primary challengers Tuesday, including U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who crushed two long-shot challengers to earn a bid for a third term. Jim Barksdale, the Democrat favored by top party members, meanwhile, averted a July runoff in his first political campaign.

Barksdale, an investment manager, loaned his campaign more than $1 million to get through the primary against two other Democrats with little funding. Introductory ads, framed around a trademark cap worn by the candidate, sought to introduce the Buckhead resident statewide. Cheryl Copeland, a project manager from Hira who reported raising only $9,100 by mid-April, still managed to give Barksdale a close race Tuesday.

In House races, Reps. Doug Collins of the 9th District and Barry Loudermilk of the 11th District handily defeated four Republican challengers each. Collins virtually ensured he will return to Congress, with no Democrat running in November. Incumbent Reps. Austin Scott, Rick Allen and Tom Graves also cruised to GOP primary victories on Tuesday.

Isakson easily defeated Democratic challengers in his last two Senate bids. Those contests also indicated Isakson has support among independent voters and some Democrats, said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor. He is skeptical Isakson’s bid will be affected by presidential politics.

“Georgia is still a red state,” Bullock said. “That’s not going to change in 2016.”

Georgia Democrats, though, hope presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will become a drag for down-ticket candidates. The party also has announced a new field program to turn out its base, including minority voters who back the party’s presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in strong numbers.

“Because of Georgia’s incredibly diverse and growing electorate, and a strong state party infrastructure, the rest of the country is paying attention to what we’ve already known: Georgia is a battleground state,” said Michael Smith, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Isakson said Tuesday night that his re-election campaign will highlight the work he has done to secure funding to expand the Port of Savannah, to eliminate or defeat regulations he considers oppressive, and to improve national security. But he recognizes voters are angry and feel “a malaise around the country right now.”

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Isakson said. “We’re going to work hard.”

Barksdale told supporters in a written statement that he’s honored to be the party’s nominee.

“We all know the hard work begins tomorrow,” he wrote. “Let’s win this thing for the working men and women of Georgia.”

Some voters who cast Democratic ballots on Tuesday said whoever represents the party in November needs to be more aggressive against Isakson than during the primary. Robin Sherman, a 64-year-old freelance publication designer who voted in downtown Savannah, said he read up on the Democratic primary contests and came prepared for all races but one: the Senate campaign. He said he hadn’t seen a single news story or campaign commercial about the three Democrats running.

“These candidates don’t have a chance if they don’t do any campaigning that you know about,” Sherman said, noting that Georgia Democrats failed to win an open Senate seat two years ago when their candidate was the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn. “If Michelle Nunn can’t win in Georgia, what makes these jokers think they can?”

Libertarian Allen Buckley, a Smyrna attorney and accountant, also will appear on the ballot in November. Buckley previously ran for U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2004 and 2008. In his last race, he received about 3.4 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin. Chambliss, the incumbent, ultimately kept the seat.

Isakson built a sizable campaign war chest to scare off any well-known Republican challengers, and several prominent Democrats also backed away after publicly contemplating a Senate run. In early May, Isakson reported nearly $6 million in cash on hand.

Jennifer Cash, an elementary school teacher who voted for Isakson on Tuesday in Marietta, said he’s stayed “very visible” while in office. Cash, 52, said she thinks that will protect Isakson from any “anti-incumbent” sentiment in November.

“He’s served Georgia well,” Cash said. “He hasn’t lost touch with home.”

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Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report.

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