Turning Georgia Blue? Democrats Aim to Seize Three Key Seats in 2018
By SUNWOO PARK | March 2, 2018
For decades, Democrats have spoken of a future where the changing demographics of two solid Republican strongholds, Texas and Georgia, turn them blue. Although they have consistently been proven wrong, it may now be possible that Georgia, the second most populous solid Red state, votes Democrats into power.
To understand Georgia’s current political status, readers must know about the state’s political history. The Peach State, home to former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, used to be a core component of the Solid South, voting Democrat from 1872 all the way until 1964. Following President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Democrats struggled to win Georgia in national elections. They emerged victorious in only three of the past thirteen Presidential cycles. Two of those three victories involved President Jimmy Carter, who carried his home state against President Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980 respectively. The final Democratic victory was in 1992, when President Clinton narrowly carried the state against President George H.W. Bush.
Despite their colossal defeats at the national level, Georgia Democrats managed to hang on at the state level until the early 2000s. The party held the Governor’s Mansion until 2002 and the last Democratic Senator of Georgia left office in 2005. Currently, Georgia Democrats generally garner between 43-47% of the vote in the Senate and Governor races. However, Georgia Democrats have been continuously losing ground since the late 1990s.
Readers may question why some Democrats believe that Georgia can turn blue. This is mostly based on the changing demographics of Georgia. According to Politifact, 80% of Georgia’s new residents in the 2010 Census were non-white. This number is steadily rising as the state is projected to become a minority-majority state by 2025. Democrats are pinning their hopes on the growing minority communities and the fairly solid white liberal population of Atlanta to eventually overcome the conservative communities in suburban Atlanta and rural Georgia. Of course, Democratic expectations have been constantly inflated in the past; minorities, especially African-Americans, tend to vote in far lower rates than whites, which compose the base of the Georgia Republican Party.
However, the unique political landscape of 2018 gives Democrats new hope of turning Georgia blue. Incumbent President Donald Trump has dismal approval ratings, with both Democrats and Independents largely opposed. Liberals are energized to unseat Republicans across the country while conservative enthusiasm has greatly dimmed. Democrats in Georgia’s three most important races are using this logic to try to paint the state sapphire blue.
The most important race is the one to replace Republican Governor Nathan Deal. Because Governor Deal is term limited, both parties are seeking to usher in his replacement.
In the Democratic Primary, Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams is going toe to toe with State Representative Stacey Evans. Dubbed by The Huffington Post as the “Tale of the Two Staceys”, the Democratic Primary is arguably the most important ongoing race to observe. Abrams represents the Neo-Liberal Wing of the Democratic Party, as she is socially liberal but fiscally moderate. She is focusing on higher voter turnout among minorities and women to drown out the Republicans in the general election. Evans represents the remnants of the Blue Dog Democrats, the socially moderate, fiscally liberal Democrats focus on winning over working class white voters and independents. Whoever emerges victorious in the primary will most likely define the direction the Democratic Party of Georgia heads towards in the near future.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans are attempting to embrace the popularity of Governor Deal. Out of the six candidates, only Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp have realistic prospects of winning. Lt. Governor Cagle is the favorite candidate, having a solid electoral history. Casey, a self-proclaimed conservative, is the first Republican Lieutenant Governor in Georgia history. Meanwhile, Secretary Kemp is embroiled in an elections monitoring scandal along with mounting allegations that he is incompetent and negligent.
The Georgian Governor’s Race is the most consequential largely because while the state legislatures draw the electoral maps, governors are able to veto them. Due to Republican control of both state legislatures, if a Republican candidate wins then they can continue to gerrymander Georgian House of Representative Districts. If the Democrats win, then they will be able to try to bargain with the Republican controlled legislatures for a more balanced map.
Another race in the spotlight is the US House seat in Georgia’s Six Congressional Distict. The Sixth District made headlines in the 2017 Special Election to replace then HHS Secretary Tom Price. National Democrats threw their weight behind Jon Ossoff’s campaign, pouring thirty million dollars into his bid for the seat. Despite massive funding and over the top press coverage, Ossoff handily lost to now Representative Karen Handel. However, Handel is still vulnerable, especially given President Trump’s tanking popularity and the tendency of the opposition party to outperform during midterms.
However, this election will largely be determined by whether Jon Ossoff decides to re-enter politics and try to take on Handel a second time. While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted this district in hopes of flipping it, Ossoff may be the key to victory in the suburban bellwether district, as all the other Democrats in the district are relatively obscure.
Last, is the Georgia Secretary of State election. What makes this race important is the unusual Democratic frontrunner and the importance of election monitoring in American politics. Former Representative John Barrow is a Conservative Democrat who famously became the last white Democratic congressman in the Deep South when his fellow colleagues were wiped out in the 2010 Republican landslide. Representative Barrow is a known for his political guile, managing to outmaneuver Republicans in three consecutive elections before finally losing in 2014. His very moderate political positions and his campaigning expertise make him a very formidable opponent for Republicans seeking the seat.
Given Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s incompetence, Barrow’s chances are now much higher. In an era where the foundations of our democracy are put in question, there is no doubt that honest, effective electoral management is on every citizen’s mind. On the Republican side, various state level politicians are battling it out in the primary. There are currently no polls showing the status of the race, but it is likely that the office of Secretary of State is the most winnable race for the Democratic Party.
Democrats certainly hold the advantage over Republicans in the 2018 Midterm Elections nationally, but they face an uphill battle against Republicans in Georgia. The popularity of Governor Nathan Deal and the large numbers of conservative voters across the state will dent Democratic prospects. However, this does not in any way mean that Democrats are fated to lose. Former Representative Barrow and Jon Ossoff both have strong chances of unseating Republicans. Regardless, Georgia Republicans are daunting opponents and Democrats should not take them lightly if they hope to turn Georgia blue.