Josh McLaurin of Krevolin & Horst associate (Courtesy photo) Josh McLaurin of Krevolin & Horst associate (Courtesy photo)

The Democratic Sandy Springs attorney who sued the Georgia Republican Party last month after he was targeted by an ugly political mailer campaign has won his race for the state House of Representatives.

Josh McLaurin, an associate at Atlanta’s Krevolin & Horst, said he was “thrilled and honored” the voters of House District 51 in formerly reliably Republican Sandy Springs selected him over opponent Alex Kaufman, an attorney with the law firm Kaufman & Forman.

According to the Secretary of State’s website, McLaurin received 12,462 votes, or 51.49 percent, and Kaufman received 11,741 votes, or 48.51 percent. The 721-vote difference is far above the 1 percent margin (136 votes)  by which a candidate may request a recount under Georgia election law.

McLaurin takes over the seat vacated by Wendell Willard, a longtime Republican attorney who was chair of the state House Judiciary Committee when he announcement his retirement last spring. Willard anointed Kaufman as his intended successor.

In an email to the Daily Report late Thursday afternoon, Kaufman adopted a conciliatory tone, even as he explained why he hadn’t conceded defeat.

“The Democratic Party should be recognized for the impressive work done in turning out their base and getting new voters to the polls,” he wrote. “In particular, the ‘Trump effect’ and the top of the Democratic ticket for State and Federal office drew many new voters.”

“As for my campaign, we are waiting for the final vote to be certified and we are still evaluating votes in certain parts of the district before we are willing to concede this race,” Kaufman added.

“I applaud Mr. McLaurin for his willingness to serve in public office and admire his toughness and respect him as ‘a man in the arena’ and, if he is ultimately the representative for House District 51 next session, I hope that he successfully represents our community in a manner reflective of their wishes.”

McLaurin’s win came despite a series of alarmingly worded mailers funded by the GOP that claimed McLaurin was under criminal investigation over alleged election law violations.

The mailers’ wording was based on an administrative complaint GOP deputy counsel Vincent Russo filed with his former boss, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, accusing McLaurin of registering to vote in Georgia when he still lived in New York. When McLaurin registered in October 2016, he was in the final stage of moving from New York to Atlanta.

Atlanta attorney Stacey Evans, who lost the race for the state’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Stacey Abrams last summer, soon weighed in on McLaurin’s behalf. Evans sued the GOP, warning that the mailers constituted and intentional smear made with actual malice—crossing the threshold from speech protected by the First Amendment to actionable defamation, even though McLaurin is a public figure as a candidate.

The GOP settled the lawsuit six days before the election with an agreement to end all references to any “criminal investigation.”

Last week Kaufman—who was not named as a defendant in McLaurin’s libel suit—sent the Daily Report a written statement calling the suit “meritless” and “a political stunt.”

Kaufman earlier referred the Daily Report to the GOP as the group responsible for distributing the mailers in question.

“Everything my campaign has said and written is factually accurate,” Kaufman said.

McLaurin said his campaign manager told him he had never seen anything like the campaign the GOP waged against him on Kaufman’s behalf.

“Campaigns can be tough, but the reward, in the end, is participating in democracy,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I had faith that voters were willing to see through it. The reason is that, as a country, we have dealt with so much ugly politics in the last few years that people are really just sick of mudslinging … just to win a race. I actually spoke with lifelong Republican voters on the [campaign] trail who confirmed as much.”

McLaurin said winning the race despite the GOP’s tactics was reassuring. In going door to door and meeting people face to face, he said, “You can build relationships with anybody just by being open and listening and wanting the best for everybody.”

Evans said the voters in his district “have chosen wisely” in electing McLaurin. “I am glad that we were able to work out a settlement with the GOP where they stopped saying he was under criminal investigation,” she said.  “Because it was a lie.”

 

Jonathan Ringel contributed to this article.