Nate Cohn Misses a Few Key Details About Georgia's Senate Race

I saw on twitter that Josh Krashaar linked to a new piece by Nate Cohn at the New Republic about Georgia being the best bet for Democrats to pick up a Senate seat.There have been a number of these pieces lately. We get this sort of hype from partisans regularly. Many Democrats have been going through it about Texas. Remember the Senate guy who was going to be so awesome against Ted Cruz? Remember the guy who was going to beat Rick Perry in the last gubernatorial race? Hey, and let’s not forget about the Democrats holding Florida in the 2010 Senate race. This irrational exuberance happens. It happens to the GOP too. Did you hear the one about the GOP taking the Massachusetts Senate Seat?Reality is settling in with Democrats about Texas, so they have moved to Georgia. Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, is running. The Republicans have a huge primary field with several who make the national GOP squeamish, including Congressman Paul Broun.At least Nate Cohn admits, “Even with an electorate as diverse as 2008, it would still be tough for a Georgia Democrat to win federal office.” But he, and so many others, are missing a few key facts about Georgia.First, let’s review the Saxby Chambliss 2008 race that many look to as a harbinger of what’s to come. From Nate Cohn, who actually is dismissive of this bit while others are not:


Consider the difference between the general and run-off Senate elections in 2008, when Chambliss went from a 3 point edge to 15 point rout. Since Georgia’s white vote is pretty “inelastic,” it’s hard to see how a Democratic candidate was going to overcome a 15 point deficit statewide.

Most focus on the 3 point edge that put Saxby Chambliss into a general election runoff. They ignore that Saxby had a loud libertarian challenger in that race who siphoned off enough of Saxby’s vote over Saxby’s immigration position and TARP vote. But the folks who voted for the libertarian did run back to him in the runoff because he was what stood between the Democrats and sixty seats in the Senate.If the GOP in Georgia perceives that their nominee is what will help get the GOP a majority in the Senate, they’ll run to the polls as fast as they can to support whoever is nominated.But beyond that, there are some other problems. Many of the Democratic activists in the state who’ve had encounters with Michelle Nunn are not impressed. Privately, they say she has lost her roots and won’t be able to connect outside the urban Atlanta base. She won’t be able to drive out black voters in middle and south Georgia to support her. Remember, in 2010, Johnny Isakson ran for re-election against the very popular Mike Thurmond, a black Democrat long supported even by large numbers of the Republican establishment.Hell, for perspective, I myself had voted for Mike Thurmond as Georgia’s Labor Commissioner even with the “D” after his name. Thurmond, a black man who had held elected statewide office in Georgia for twelve years through three election cycles, could get no more than 39% of the vote even with Barack Obama also encouraging black voters to turn out. Black voters in Georgia simply do not turn out in off year elections at the percentage Democrats need.This will be complicated by a few other things the national media has completely ignored.Most significantly, the Democrats do not have a candidate for Governor in Georgia. Typically, it is the gubernatorial infrastructure that helps turn out the base for the Senate candidate. In 2008, Saxby Chambliss relied on incumbent Governor Sonny Perdue’s existing organization. This is the Haley Barbour rule — if you want to flip the Senate, flip Governor’s Mansions first. Democrats do not have a candidate on the horizon to do that and some prominent Democrats are urging they skip the race all together.Second, in addition to having no gubernatorial grassroots infrastructure, the state party itself has no infrastructure. It has gone through a series of scandals. The state party sued members of its board to find out who a leaker was. The Chairman was deposed in a nasty whisper campaign. The Executive Director, himself mired in scandal, got tossed. The Democrats are scrambling now to find a new party chairman and they’ve limited it to only white men. That, in and of itself, is now a scandal. Party rules for the Georgia Democrats require that the Chairman and Vice Chairman be of both different race and sex. Because the Vice Chair is a black female, the Democrats have had to deny several white women the opportunity to run for party chair.Third, after all the problems with the state party, you will not be surprised to learn the party is out of money. It has barely enough to buy a used car.Fourth, Republicans have a home field advantage that should not be taken for granted. The Governor is running for re-election even against no Democrat. He’s stepping up his grassroots organization as are other statewide officers who are building up their networks for their present races, but really are doing so for 2018’s gubernatorial race. This is the dry run. The GOP is planning on moving back the Republican Primary to earlier than July to stop any nastiness sooner. And we should not ignore that the GOP in Georgia, still largely controlled by the metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce Republicans, rarely nominates someone as conservative as Paul Broun. The present Senators are Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.It’s like Tennessee, which over the years has produced a long line of radicals like Howard Baker, Fred Thompson, Lamar Alexander, and Bob Corker. Democrats licking their lips in hopes of a Paul Broun nomination probably are going to be disappointed.Fifth, many of the people most heavily pushing Michelle Nunn are political junkies who are vastly overestimating the clout and name ID of a man last on the ballot two decades ago. Georgia has had a massive influx of new mostly Republican voters since then.Then, as Cohn notes, we are in an off year election. Organization for Action has never put down strong roots in the state. The Democrats do not have the infrastructure to mobilize, and their Senate nominee does not have the deep ties outside Metro Atlanta to get more than the usual voters to vote. Even if they put Sam Nunn in charge of the state party to further tie the two together, they’re out of money and organization.Nate Cohn at least stays grounded in his thinking.


To be clear: Georgia is not a toss-up. The state retains a clear Republican lean in neutral conditions, and the Democratic path to victory is quite narrow with so few persuadable voters. Nunn probably needs the Republicans to blow it. But across the board, Georgia seems like a more winnable state for Democrats than Kentucky. Start with 2008 as the baseline for comparison. Even then, Democrats came significantly closer to beating Senator Chambliss than Senator McConnell. . . .But even if Nunn loses in 2014, which remains the likely outcome, the demographic changes keeping her hopes alive should eventually make Democrats competitive in the Peach State.

If demography is destiny, Georgia will one day move back to the Democrats. But it is not going to happen in 2014 despite mass wishing by many Democrats.


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