U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson holds a 6-point lead over his Democratic opponent, political rookie Jim Barksdale, with less than 14 weeks to go before election day, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Friday.
The poll shows the two-term Republican incumbent with 44 percent of the vote in a head-to-head matchup against Barksdale, who garnered 38 percent. Six percent of respondents selected neither candidate, while 12 percent did not answer or said they did not know who they would choose.
When the question was widened to include voters who were undecided but leaning toward one of the candidates, Isakson earned 48 percent support, compared with Barksdale’s 42 percent, with 1 percent saying they would select neither.
Libertarian Allen Buckley is also in the race.
While the poll shows Isakson with a lead at a time when some worry that Donald Trump's polarizing candidacy could drag down the Republican ticket, the numbers are likely too close for comfort for the longtime Republican lawmaker. Isakson still hangs below the 50 percent support mark, an unofficial benchmark for many reelection campaigns.
Isakson did better among men -- winning the category by 18 percentage points -- whites and voters above 40. He also won over the state’s independents, who broke for the incumbent 45 percent to Barksdale's 35 percent.
Isakson said in a statement he isn't taking anything for granted:
"I'm proud of my record of service to Georgia, and being ahead in any poll is humbling. Our campaign is taking nothing for granted and will be working for every vote until the polls close on Election Day."
Barksdale, an Atlanta investment manager who was virtually unknown before he became the Georgia Democratic Party’s pick to challenge Isakson, was the overwhelming winner among black voters, netting 72 percent of respondents in that category. His bastion of support centered on the Atlanta metro area. He also won young voters under 39 by 6 percentage points.
Here's what Dave Hoffman, Barksdale's campaign manager, had to say:
"Multiple polls this week show that Georgia’s U.S. Senate race is at single digits and it’s because of the appeal of Jim Barksdale’s outsider candidacy. Voters want somebody to stand up to Washington; somebody with the know-how to address the many failures of Congress."
The poll was conducted by ABT SRBI between Aug. 1-4 and included 847 registered voters. The margin of error was about 4 percentage points. View the crosstabs here.
The survey is the AJC's first since Donald Trump officially became the Republican presidential nominee. This newspaper’s most recent Senate poll, conducted just before Georgia’s May 24 primaries, reported that 42 percent of Georgians thought Isakson deserved to be reelected.
Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their odds in Georgia this year given changing demographics and Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. But the state has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in more than a decade. Michelle Nunn, the party's candidate for Senate in 2014, lost by nearly 8 percentage points.
A wealthy self-funder, Barksdale is seen as the Democratic answer to Republican David Perdue, the former Fortune 500 CEO who defeated Nunn two years ago. Barksdale so far has pumped more than $3 million of his own money into the race, but he trails behind Isakson significantly in terms of fundraising.
Meanwhile, Buckley said he’s confident that with more media exposure and the chance to debate Isakson and Barksdale he has the chance to drive up his numbers.
“We’re not at the point where we can afford just putting in nice guys,” said Buckley, who ran in 2004 and 2008. “We’re going to start seeing more people turn to third-party candidates from now on.”