As of noon today, the time to qualify for the Georgia ballot in 2012 has ended. With that, campaign season is officially underway and several storylines now move into their next phase.

Eyes have been locked on the coalition of tea party and progressive groups pushing candidates and lawmakers to sign a pledge of co-sponsorship for legislation that would cap lobbyist gifts at $100 a year. Vowing to target incumbents who did not sign the pledge, this week was intended to serve as a true test to their potential strength.

While (as of this moment) just 34 legislators and candidates have signed onto the pledge, the bigger story lies in the names on the list, particularly on the Senate side. President Pro Tem Tommie Williams was a late signee yesterday, and as the Tipsheet has already documented, Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour (following his last minute qualifying) joined the list this morning. His signing of the pledge, in particular, has potential to send shockwaves, as he had been a prime target of those seeking ethics reform in Georgia.

Pledge signees by party alignment: 15 Republicans, 19 Democrats. If these numbers change, updates will follow.

For Tea Party Patriots, Georgia Conservatives in Action and Common Cause Georgia, the next phase of their efforts revolves around the question of how great their influence on the dialogue and outcome of targeted races will prove.

In separate posts, we have also chronicled the significant primary challenges that have emerged throughout the state. Balfour now faces two primary opponents, one for the second consecutive election cycle. He joins another committee chairman, Jack Murphy, Majority Leader Chip Rogers and Majority Whip Cecil Staton among those who will be put to the test in July.

At the congressional level, County Commission Chairman Hunter Bicknell dropped out of the race for GA-9, following fundraising numbers that he felt were not strong enough to keep him competitive. In all likelihood, that race will now come down to state Rep. Doug Collins and radio host Martha Zoller.

Finally, the winnowing of the rural Democrat in Georgia has continued. District Attorneys throughout the state qualified as Republicans for the first time, and, in Bleckley County, there was a near unanimous party switch. The continued erosion of rural support and candidates provides another headache for a Georgia Democratic Party already facing serious fundraising woes.

Stay tuned to the Tipsheet for more news as the fallout from qualifying begins.

-Brandon Howell