For many years now, Georgia Democrats have been championing our cause, and our candidates, proclaiming that we will soon flip the state, while Georgia Republicans laugh and say, “Georgia is a red state!” This is such a worn call-and-response that its lines are second nature. We have assumed our roles and such is the political situation in Georgia.
But there’s a problem. When this began, all statewide offices were safely in Republican hands, the GOP held a supermajority in the state Senate and was poised to claim another supermajority in the state House. However, the playing field looks a lot different now.
Every statewide office in 2018 was fought for and won on thin margins, runoffs were forced in multiple races, and the irregularities of those elections have become the attention of Congressional investigations and legal battles that have challenged the transparency and fairness of our state’s elections with intensity not seen since the voter suppression of the Jim Crow era.
The Republicans’ supermajority in the Georgia Senate was broken a few years ago, and more seats were won in the 2018 election. In the state House, Democrats picked up a dozen seats and are poised to pick up more in 2020 — claiming the majority there is within range.
More than this, Georgia will again garner attention in the 2020 Presidential election and may be ground zero for the control of the US Senate. Georgians will go to the polls to elect both of our US Senators, the regular election for incumbent freshman David Perdue and now also a special election for the Senate seat being vacated by Johnny Isakson. Both seats have garnered attention.
There are currently four major Democratic candidates seeking to challenge Perdue, and it’s currently anyone’s guess what the other election will look like, as it will be a “jungle” election without a primary. Currently only one Democrat has stepped forward for this seat, Matt Lieberman, son of former US Senator and Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.
Meanwhile, Governor Kemp’s selection of Kelly Loeffler to fill the seat was divisive. It was in defiance of the hopes of many conservative activists and the express wishes of the President, both of whom sought to have Isakson replaced by a hardliner such as House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins, Georgia’s 9th Congressional District representative, who has been a vocal advocate of the President. Aside from Collins, others are also rumored to be looking at the seat, and voters could be confronted with a large field of candidates for this seat come November.
The Presidential election will also be interesting in Georgia, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was only about five points short of carrying Georgia in 2016. That margin was significantly tightened by statewide races in 2018 when former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams came within two points of victory (just under 55,000 votes out of roughly 4 million), and two other statewide Democrats forced runoffs in their elections.
This shows the gap narrowing quickly, and the trends show no sign of stopping yet, as some key victories in municipal races across the state favored Democrats in 2019.
Make no mistake. This by no means indicates that Georgia is there for the taking by Democrats. These electoral contests will be hard-fought. Gov. Kemp enjoys a good approval rating statewide, and Sen. Perdue is by no means unpopular.
At the same time, recent polling shows potential vulnerabilities as voters seem to be willing to consider a Democrat, a point former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson — who has visited Rome and is one of the Democrats seeking to challenge Perdue in the fall — has made repeatedly.
Likely this is tied to the aforementioned trends, as well as Perdue’s trouble in securing federal aid for Georgia farmers in the wake of Hurricane Michael that took a year to shake loose, losing billions of dollars for the industry. Perdue has also maintained strong support for the President, whose favorables have long been underwater in Georgia.
It’s anyone’s guess who will be on top after November in any of these elections, but that has become the new norm in Georgia. While Democrats haven’t yet elected a statewide Democrat, they’ve certainly closed the gap and Republicans will have to fight to keep what they have.
Georgia could very well end up being an important decider in 2020. We will certainly have a decision to make about the majority of the Georgia State House, and we could be pivotal in the US Senate majority, or even the White House. One thing is certain: Georgia politics in 2020 will be anything but boring.