How did a candidate for the Georgia House win her primary election without even trying?
She had a big advantage: People know her name. It’s Sandra Bullock, just like the actress known as “America’s Sweetheart.”
The Sandra Bullock who won Tuesday’s Democratic Party primary didn’t knock on doors, hand out campaign signs, set up a website or have any experience in politics.
Even she admits voters might have picked her to represent the Smyrna area based on her name, along with an inclination to elect more women to public office.
“I thought, let’s see what my silly name will do, and I won!” said Bullock, a 54-year-old retired Georgia Tech database administrator. “Apparently, name recognition and voting for Democratic women counts for a lot.”
The result caught Democrats by surprise in a district they had targeted to flip from Republican control after longtime state Rep. Rich Golick decided not to run for re-election. Hillary Clinton won the district with about 54 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office.
Bullock defeated fellow Democrat Erick Allen, who has run for the seat in the past three elections, with 58 percent of the vote. She will face Republican Matt Bentley, an attorney, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Sharing a name with an actress who starred in “The Blind Side,” “Gravity” and “Speed” certainly helped Bullock’s chances.
“I have no explanation for it other than name identification,” said Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University. “Some of the most important factors of them all are name recognition and incumbency.”
Another candidate with a famous name also won a Georgia primary on Tuesday. Viola Davis, a longtime DeKalb County activist, unseated state Rep. Coach Williams, a Democrat from Avondale Estates.
Two incumbent state legislators have familiar names as well: Republican Sen. John F. Kennedy of Macon and Republican Rep. John Carson of Marietta.
Voters might have chosen Bullock even though they didn’t know much about her because they wanted an alternative to Allen, said Golick, who defeated Allen in 2014 and 2016.
“It’s so convenient to say that Ms. Bullock won because of her famous name, but that really insults the intelligence of Democratic voters here,” said Golick, who is retiring from the House after 20 years to spend more time with his two teenage boys. Allen “obviously had to have been known to Democratic voters — his own party — and they rejected him in favor of someone new.”
Still, it struck Democrats as odd that their party’s voters would choose an unknown over Allen, whom they saw as the candidate most likely to turn the district blue. House District 40 covers Smyrna, Vinings and Mableton in Cobb County and part of Buckhead in Fulton County.
A third Democrat in the race, Justin Gorman, dropped out and supported Allen to avoid the possibility of a Democratic Party runoff.
“I’ve never met her. I never saw her on the campaign trail or at a Cobb Democrats function,” said Gorman, an attorney. “I don’t know anything about Ms. Bullock’s position on the issues. I don’t know how she would relate to voters, quite frankly.”
Allen was also mystified by Bullock’s ghost campaign and her unexpected win.
“It’s my sincere hope that Ms. Bullock takes this sincerely because this is a very winnable seat,” said Allen, a consultant for a workforce development company. “If I’m convinced that she truly reflects Democratic values and is truly looking forward to winning this seat, I look forward to supporting that. I’m just waiting for that moment.”
Bentley, who is Bullock’s Republican opponent in the general election, said her Hollywood name won’t matter as much in November.
“I don’t think voters are given enough credit from politicians or the media,” he said. “Voters I’m speaking with are engaged on issues like keeping our economy growing, improving their children’s education or figuring out a solution to our traffic issues.”
Bullock said she was inspired to run for office after watching the Women’s March in January 2017 following President Donald Trump’s election.
She never expected to win, but now that she has, she plans to set up a website, attend community events and start meeting voters.
If elected, she said she’ll focus on strengthening computer security, gay rights and education.
“I’m just an unknown Democrat who is passionate,” Bullock said. “I really didn’t think I’d get this far. I’m a little overwhelmed, but I’m a quick learner as well. I’m good at figuring out solutions to problems.”