Down in the Weeds: Georgia

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

In the previous article on South Carolina, I referred to Mark Sanford as the mouse in the room.  In Georgia, there is a very large cow in the room in the form of Stacey Abrams who has been touted by the Democrats as a potential VP selection.  There are also rumors she may challenge one of the two Georgia Republican Senators come 2020.  Although many Leftist outlets are under the mistaken impression the election for Governor was stolen from Abrams by Brian Kemp, the fact remains she lost that race.  It was comparatively close, by Georgia standards, only because she made gains over previous candidates in the metro areas of Georgia, but lost considerable ground compared to previous candidates in the rural areas.  Brian Kemp exceeded 80% of the vote in several of these counties which bested the performance by Trump in 2016.

And despite the presence of this cow in Georgia politics, there is plenty consternation in the Georgia Democrat Party over their fortunes in 2020 given the leftward lurch of the party at the national level.  Democrats see a path to victory given the fact they have registered about 300,000 new voters since 2018.  However, most of that registration is attributable to the state’s new automatic registration once one gets a driver’s license.  Whether 300,000 additional Democratic voters show up on Election Day simply because they have a Georgia driver’s license is another story.  Further analysis show that most of the new registrations occurred in the already blue metro areas.  Regardless, many Democrats, given the close loss by Abrams, are itching for the next election to see if these demographic trends in Georgia translate into electoral success.

Growth and urbanization over the past two decades has transformed the Georgia electorate.  They are younger, less white, and less native to the state.  That, Democrats believe, along with Trump’s struggle among white GOP-leaning college graduates, puts Georgia on the cusp of a presidential battleground state.  How close they are to that reality is the real question these days.

Like most places, the role of independent voters is very important.  In 2014, current Senator David Perdue won 59% of the independent vote and won with 53% of the vote overall.  In the 2018 gubernatorial race, Abrams won 53% of the independent vote and came considerably close to an upset.  Hence, taking somewhere between those numbers (56%) of the independent vote appears to be what is required to win any statewide election.  From 2014 to the present, turnout among Democrats and Republicans has been stable and they usually vote along party lines.

The clout of rural Georgia, however, may be waning.  In the 2014 vote that sent Perdue to the Senate, 22% of the vote overall came from rural areas.  In 2018, that number dropped to 15%.  Conversely, the share of the urban vote rose from 17% to 22%.  Hence, a Republican victory is dependent upon GOTV efforts in the rural areas and even suburban areas.

Among Republicans, they recently voted in favor of David Shafer to become party leader in the state.  This marked a comeback for the powerful state senator who lost a tough Lt. Governor’s runoff.  He campaigned on a promise to re-engage the grassroots network of conservative activists.  Also, the party he took over was $130,000 in debt.  He noted that several counties had no GOP infrastructure whatsoever.  This was echoed by one of his opponents for party chair, Bruce Azevedo, who noted that 52 House seats were uncontested by Republicans in 2018.

Ryan Mahoney is a top outside adviser to Brian Kemp who has pointed to the strong economy in Georgia since Trump became President.  Although noting that Trump may rub some GOP-leaning suburbanites the wrong way, complaints about Trump the man ring hollow when unemployment is under 4% in these same areas.  By association, Kemp’s rising poll numbers are likely spurred by a conservative base in the state.  Some state level legislators have received outsized attention from the compliant media out to paint Kemp and the GOP as the party out to control every woman’s uterus after Kemp signed Georgia’s abortion bill.

Further, several Republicans have noted that the recent attempts to impeach Trump have actually motivated Georgia Republicans away from fence-sitter status into the Trump camp.  The impeachment efforts feed into a narrative being pushed by the Georgia GOP that Trump is under attack from DC elites and coastal liberals (they’re correct, by the way).  Others have noted that the average Georgian is tired of the attacks and that Democrats have overplayed their attacks with this impeachment nonsense.  This is clearly a strategy that must be employed to motivate GOP turnout.

The state’s strong economy under Trump is another winning strategy that needs to be stressed.  In September, the state’s unemployment rate hit 3.5%, the lowest level since 2001.  Jeffrey Dorfman, a state economist, said there is a 50-50 chance a recession will hit next year amid fears of a China-US trade war that Trump is deftly managing right now.  However, other outlets have placed the risk of a recession considerably lower than the 50/50 chance.

As mentioned earlier, there are two Senate races in 2020 since John Isaakson is retiring.  Kemp will appoint a replacement and that person will likely run in November to fill out Isaakson’s term.  The other race involves David Perdue who has built up a strong attachment to and affiliation with Trump.  It makes sense since both men entered politics from the business world and both ran as outsiders.  At the recent meeting to choose a new party leader, Perdue spoke less about himself and more about the President and his leadership.  He noted Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the economy, Trump’s military strategy, and his judicial appointments as winning policy points not only with Georgia Republicans, but also many independent voters.  In 2017 where Trump took a clear position, Perdue has a 100% agreement rating in Senate votes with the Trump position.  In 2018, he voted with Trump 99% of the time.  Perdue has also supported Trump when it comes to impeachment.

That has led Perdue’s senior 2020 campaign adviser, Derrick Dickey, to note that Perdue intends to run in tandem with Trump.  He further notes that Trump will increase the GOP turnout in Georgia.  In short, Perdue will not be running away from, but with Trump in 2020.

There are two key House races of note.  In the Atlanta suburbs, Lucy McBath will try to defend her seat for the Democrats while in a neighboring district the retirement of Republican Rob Woodall has placed that district in the Democrat’s crosshairs.  Woodall survived the 2018 midterms by less than 1,000 votes.  It should also be noted that the competitive gubernatorial race, not the House race, made this one closer than most expected.  With Trump at the top of the ticket, perhaps Woodall felt a vulnerability, but it would have been interesting to see the results so that one could gauge the so-called transition of the Atlanta suburbs.

The entire Georgia state legislature will be on the ballot come 2020.  Democrats are targeting 16 additional legislative districts which would secure them a majority.  Even if they do not gain the majority, unless beaten back by the GOP at this level, they will have either the upper hand or a stronger hand in redrawing legislative districts after the Census.

Unlike some other states, there appears to be a clear commitment to reinvigorate the party through grassroots efforts.  Assuming the party’s debt problem can be resolved and they field viable candidates at all levels, the reelection of Trump might put to rest, for a period anyway, the so-called move of Georgia from red to purple or even blue status.  This is a unique opportunity to put a stake through the hearts of Democrats in Georgia and prove all those demographic pundits wrong.

Next: Florida