Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Georgia

Georgia gains a seat in the House due to population growth. In presidential politics, I personally have my worries in Georgia. With state approval ratings above the national average, Obama’s chances of picking up an unanticipated 16 electoral votes is a real possibility. While it is true that Georgia has been a fairly reliable GOP state since 2000, the margins have not been exactly stellar averaging 51.7% of the total vote. Should Obama pick off Georgia in 2012, it changes the entire electoral picture and math. An August 2011 Gallup poll put his approval rating in Georgia at 48%. At first, this would seem strange and certainly bucks the trend after a dismal summer for Obama. More recent polling from sources in Georgia put his approval rating in the low to mid 40s. That would give me some hope here. The GOP cannot take Georgia for granted and needs to defend these votes. I will go with recent electoral history and call their 16 votes for the Republicans, although it will be very, very close.

In the House races, things become interesting because of the addition of a district this year. The new district is numbered the 9th and is located in the northeastern part of the state. The current House delegation favors the GOP 8-5.

Three of the incumbent Democrats are safe in their newly drawn districts. John Lewis in the 5th, which comprises urban Atlanta, will face only a primary challenge from Fulton County Judge Michael Johnson. Hank Johnson’s 4th District, which includes the eastern part of Atlanta, became slightly less Democratic, but is safe. David Scott in the 13th falls into the same category. The 2nd District, held by Sanford Bishop, won with 51% of the vote in 2010 against Rick Allen and 2012 is shaping up as a rematch. This is a minority district in the southwestern corner of Georgia. However, it is expected Bishop will fare better in 2012 as the district picked up Macon. Still, the race bears some watching and could be indicative of the political winds in Georgia this cycle.

For Republicans, of their eight current seats, all appear safe. No major changes were made to the 3rd or 7th Districts. In the 1st District, Jack Kingston has at one time or another represented every part of his new territory. He added a Democratic stronghold in Savannah- a direct blow to the 12th- but he won with 72% of the vote in 2010 leaving him a comfortable margin of error. Tom Price in the 6th will have a considerably different looking district this time out. He added the northern parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties while losing Cherokee County. In 2010, he ran unopposed and although he may draw a challenger this year, he is safe. The 8th District stretches from the Florida border to Monroe County. Considered somewhat vulnerable, Austin Scott probably gained the most in redistricting. He lost Democratic territory, including Macon, to the 2nd District and gained some solid GOP territory in the exchange. Although he may face former representative Jim Marshall in a general election, the area has been definitely drawn to Scott’s benefit and he should improve on his 53% of the vote from 2010.

Paul Gingrey sees a possible electoral and financial gain by having the wealthy northern part of Atlanta drawn into his district- the 11th. Meanwhile, Paul Broun in the 10th gains new territory to conquer. Whenever this happens, there is always the possibility of a primary challenge popping up, but there are none thus far. Regardless, Broun is known for his grassroots organization that already has tentacles in these new areas. And in the 14th, Tom Graves, which is the northwest corner of the state, faces only a primary challenge. That wil come from both Steve Tarvin and Jerry Shearin both who admit it will be difficult to beat Graves or even run to the right of his conservative voting record. Graves received a boost when Bob Barr- a former representative and 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate- announced he would remain at his law firm rather than mount a primary challenge. In conclusion, we can safely say that all current Republican incumbents will win reelection, leaving only the new 9th District and the 12th, currently held by Democrat John Barrow.

The new district- labeled the 9th- is located in the growing and somewhat conservative northeast corner of the state. It is generally believed that a Republican will win this seat. The only question is who? In effect, this race will be a microcosm of the national debate in the GOP- the establishment versus the Tea Party/outsiders.

On the Tea party side is talk show host Martha Zoller. She has thus far gained the support and endorsement of Herman Cain and Redstate’s own Erick Erickson. On the establishment side is state representative Doug Collins. Although Governor Nathan Deal has not officially endorsed anyone in this race, his finger prints are all over the race. Several operatives from Deal’s campaign are now working for Collins. Collins was a major floor leader in the legislature for the Deal agenda. Nathan Deal pushed for the creation of the district in this part of the state, tacit approval of a Collins candidacy. And Collins was one of the most vocal boosters of the seat in this area.

If ever a Democratic incumbent had a target on his back it would be John Barrow in the 12th District. In redistricting, he lost his home base of Savannah while gaining the heavy Republican suburbs of Augusta. Barrow is a leader of the Blue Dog Democrats in the House and has shown some independence from the Democratic leadership of Pelosi. However, a sober analysis of his voting record indicates that he voted with the Democratic Party 91% of the time. What sets him apart, however, is his votes on some marquee issues- the vote against TARP, Obamacare and cap-and-trade. Under ordinary circumstances, this would be enough to keep him in office. But his likely GOP opponent- state representative Lee Anderson- will remind voters of two key votes by Barrow- his support of the Obama stimulus and his vote against repeal of Obamacare.

One cannot count out Barrow. He has been on the short end of the stick in redistricting in the past and survived. He is considered a tireless campaigner and is politically savvy. He is already trying to spin those votes Anderson will highlight to his advantage. For example, with the stimulus he is saying that the amount spent was not a problem given the circumstances at the time, but there was a definite problem with HOW those funds were spent. With Obamacare, he says that the law is here to stay, that the repeal attempts were window dressing, and that the law should and can be improved without outright repeal.

The worst case scenario in Georgia is for Barrow to win and Obama to claim their 16 electoral votes. A better scenario would be for Barrow to win while Obama loses the 16 electoral votes. The best case scenario would be for the GOP to take the 16 electoral votes, the new 9th District, and for Barrow to lose. I am taking the middle ground and saying the GOP picks up a seat in the House (the 9th) and Obama loses the state.

Running totals thus far:
Obama 261 votes to 247 for the GOP;
Net gain 3 Governors;
Net gain 4 Senate seats;
Net loss 3 House seats.

Next: Florida, part 1