NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, June 12th, 2020

Scramble for the Senate: Can Democrats secure a seat — or two — in Georgia?

Don­ald Trump’s polit­i­cal out­look isn’t look­ing good at all.

In recent weeks he has oscil­lat­ed between pet­ty insults to elect­ed offi­cials, grand­stand­ing and threat­en­ing his polit­i­cal oppo­nents, and com­mit­ting acts of casu­al bru­tal­i­ty. While none of this marks a notice­able change of course for an admin­is­tra­tion that began putting migrant chil­dren in cages with­in months of tak­ing office, the reac­tion of the Amer­i­can peo­ple to Trump is rapid­ly chang­ing.

Ras­mussen – often described as “Trump’s favorite poll­ster” – recent­ly released a poll that showed Trump’s approval rat­ings under­wa­ter by a whop­ping 13%.

This steep decline in Trump’s pop­u­lar­i­ty is bad news for the cur­rent occu­pant of 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue, but it could also spell cat­a­stro­phe for his par­ty.

As Amer­i­cans have swung fur­ther to the polit­i­cal left over the years, the Repub­li­can Par­ty has lost inter­est in craft­ing mean­ing­ful pub­lic pol­i­cy and has instead become whol­ly focused on gain­ing and keep­ing pow­er for pow­er’s sake.

Repub­li­cans are par­tic­u­lar­ly bent on tak­ing per­ma­nent con­trol of the judi­cia­ry by appoint­ing judges and oth­er offi­cials who can stymie pro­gres­sive reforms at every lev­el. Repub­li­cans have used their con­trol of the U.S. Sen­ate to seat Trump’s nom­i­nees. The Sen­ate, of course, over-rep­re­sents the thin­ly pop­u­lat­ed, rur­al states that are the only places the Repub­li­cans still reli­ably con­trol.

How­ev­er, Trump appears to be han­dling the var­i­ous ongo­ing crises he is faced with so bad­ly that the odds are increas­ing that the Repub­li­cans could lose the Sen­ate despite the struc­tur­al elec­toral advan­tages they enjoy.

The Democ­rats need to take three more seats (or four, if Mike Pence is still Vice Pres­i­dent in Jan­u­ary) to reach a major­i­ty. Accord­ing to Cook Polit­i­cal Report, at least four Repub­­li­­can-held seats are “toss ups” in 2020: Col­orado, Maine, North Car­oli­na and Ari­zona. Worse still for con­ser­v­a­tives, some seats that appeared to be reli­ably red in Jan­u­ary are becom­ing alarm­ing­ly com­pet­i­tive.

Geor­gia is the best exam­ple of such a state. For twen­ty years, the Peach State has been a Repub­li­can strong­hold. Gen­er­a­tions of Demo­c­ra­t­ic politi­cians, strate­gists and activists have worked tire­less­ly to chip away that con­trol, aid­ed by the state’s rapid­ly chang­ing demo­graph­ics. As the state becomes younger, more diverse and more urban, Democ­rats have inched clos­er to suc­cess.

In 2017, the nation­al spot­light fell on a spe­cial elec­tion in Georgia’s sixth con­gres­sion­al dis­trict. The elec­tion – which spi­raled into the most expen­sive House elec­tion in U.S. his­to­ry – ulti­mate­ly went in the Repub­li­can candidate’s favor, but the mar­gin of vic­to­ry (under 3%) gave Democ­rats cause for hope.

The fol­low­ing year, Stacey Abrams’ guber­na­to­r­i­al run came even clos­er to vic­to­ry. She ulti­mate­ly lost by a mere 1.5%.

Her Repub­li­can oppo­nent, then-Sec­re­­tary of State Bri­an Kemp, only man­aged to win by thor­ough­ly purg­ing like­ly Democ­ratic vot­ers from the vot­er rolls.

Two years lat­er, state Democ­rats are telling every­one who will lis­ten (and they very much want nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers to lis­ten… plus send mon­ey) that 2020 is the year that Geor­gia can final­ly be flipped blue.

More sur­pris­ing­ly, Repub­li­cans seem to believe them.

At the end of April, the state’s senior U.S. sen­a­tor, David Per­due, gave his sup­port­ers a shock­ing assess­ment: “Here’s the real­i­ty. The state of Geor­gia is in play.” Both Perdue’s seat and that of his col­league, Kel­ly Loef­fler, will be up for grabs this year. Per­due is look­ing for re-elec­­tion to the seat he won in 2014, while Loef­fler is look­ing ahead to a “jun­gle pri­ma­ry” (a spe­cial elec­tion that does not take account of par­ty affil­i­a­tion) after her appoint­ment to the seat last Decem­ber.

Both sen­a­tors face chal­leng­ing elec­tions. Elec­toral­ly, Per­due is the stronger of the two; he has the advan­tage of being an incum­bent, he has a sub­stan­tial war chest amount­ing to over $9 mil­lion, and he is the cousin of two-term Geor­gia gov­er­nor and cur­rent sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture, Son­ny Per­due.

Jon Ossoff and Rep. John Lewis

Jon Ossoff and Rep. John Lewis (Pho­to: Jon Ossoff, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

How­ev­er, David Per­due faces a tough and for­mi­da­ble oppo­nent in Jon Ossoff, a thir­ty-three-year-old inves­tiga­tive reporter and film­mak­er.

If you fol­low nation­al pol­i­tics, you may remem­ber Ossoff, who rock­et­ed to nation­al fame dur­ing the 2017 GA‑06 spe­cial elec­tion.

He was the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date who nar­row­ly lost the dis­trict.

Ossoff (who won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­ate pri­ma­ry on 9th June, nar­row­ly avoid­ing a runoff) raised more than $23 mil­lion in his 2017 run.

He has used the left­overs from that year to kick-start his 2020 run, and is like­ly to be able to keep up eas­i­ly with Perdue’s fundrais­ing. He also has the endorse­ment of sev­er­al promi­nent Geor­gian fig­ures, includ­ing U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Hank John­son, and the leg­endary civ­il rights-hero and con­gress­man, John Lewis.

Ossoff is a high­ly charis­mat­ic fig­ure and, hap­pi­ly for pro­gres­sives, has adopt­ed a more pro­gres­sive set of plat­form planks than he did in 2017, empha­siz­ing the issue of civ­il rights. His expe­ri­ence as an inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist spe­cial­iz­ing in cor­rup­tion could also make him a lethal cam­paign­er against Per­due, who has a long and sto­ried his­to­ry in the world of inter­na­tion­al busi­ness.

Sen­a­tor Kel­ly Loef­fler is in an even less sta­ble posi­tion than Per­due, with chal­lengers from both sides of the polit­i­cal spec­trum.

She also failed to do her­self any favors by becom­ing embroiled in a scan­dal involv­ing insid­er trad­ing; hav­ing sat in on secret coro­n­avirus-relat­ed Sen­ate com­mit­tee brief­in­gs, Loef­fler quick­ly moved to dump shares before the pan­dem­ic crashed the stock mar­ket, mak­ing a for­tune for her­self.

Her most imme­di­ate chal­lenger is Doug Collins, a right-wing con­gress­man who made his name des­per­ate­ly suck­ing up to Don­ald Trump dur­ing the House impeach­ment hear­ings. Collins isn’t afraid to attack a mem­ber of his own par­ty, and has ampli­fied the accu­sa­tions against Loef­fler.

“Instead of work­ing for the peo­ple of Geor­gia for the past five months in D.C., she seems to have been work­ing for her­self,” Collins has charged.

The con­test between the two Repub­li­cans has degen­er­at­ed into insult-swap­ping, with Loef­fler call­ing Collins a “do-noth­ing career politi­cian,” and Collins retort­ing, “it’s amaz­ing she can read a cue card from her con­sul­tants.”

Loef­fler doesn’t only have to wor­ry about the snip­ing from her right. She also faces a seri­ous Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger: Reverand Raphael Warnock.

Rev. Warnock addresses supporters

Rev. Warnock address­es sup­port­ers (Pho­to: Raphael Warnock, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

The sen­ate race is Warnock’s first entry into elec­toral pol­i­tics, but a life­time as a Bap­tist preach­er with a rep­u­ta­tion for fiery ser­mons advo­cat­ing jus­tice and equal­i­ty has pre­pared him for the bet­ter than most career politi­cians to take Loef­fler to task. Warnock’s posi­tion as the head pas­tor of Ebenez­er Bap­tist Church – Mar­tin Luther King Jr’s for­mer con­gre­ga­tion – gives him a pow­er­ful moral posi­tion that none of his rivals (Repub­li­can or Demo­c­rat) can touch.

He also enjoys sup­port from influ­en­tial Democ­rats: Stacey Abrams, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­to­r­i­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, U.S. Sen­a­tors Cory Book­er, Sher­rod Brown and Chris Mur­phy, have all endorsed his cam­paign.

The sen­ate seat Loef­fler cur­rent­ly holds will be up for elec­tion on Novem­ber 3rd, but there could be a runoff in Decem­ber between the top vote get­ters.

On the sur­face, the sit­u­a­tion in Geor­gia looks very promis­ing for the Democ­rats: two Repub­li­can incum­bents are on shaky ground, strong Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates are run­ning against them, and there is a wide­spread, ongo­ing effort to counter Kem­p’s vot­er purges (around 700,000 new vot­ers have reg­is­tered since 2018).

If 2020 turns out to be the year that state Democ­rats hope it will be, it could become the basis of a road map to vic­to­ry in the rest of the South, revers­ing the years of Repub­li­can dom­i­nance that began with the “South­ern strat­e­gy”.

How­ev­er, the Democ­rats should not be over­ly con­fi­dent about their prospects in the Peach State. 2018 was also expect­ed to be a turn­ing point, and would have been if not for the ram­pant vot­er sup­pres­sion com­mit­ted by shame­less Repub­li­can Bri­an Kemp – who is now the state’s gov­er­nor.

Kemp seems to be up to his old tricks already.

The pri­ma­ry elec­tions on 9th June were a sham­bles, with hours-long queues, mal­func­tion­ing equip­ment, poor train­ing for elec­tions vol­un­teers and even miss­ing vot­ing machines. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the hard­est places to vote were in Demo­c­ra­t­ic-lean­ing areas and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or. Jon Ossoff – who was kept wait­ing for three hours at an ear­ly vot­ing loca­tion – called the process an “embar­rass­ment” and “an affront to our con­sti­tu­tion­al prin­ci­ples.”

If Democ­rats want to win in Geor­gia, they will not only need to cam­paign against the state’s two incum­bent Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, but also keep ahead of the state government’s efforts to keep their vot­ers away from the polls.

This will take a gar­gan­tu­an effort, involv­ing orga­niz­ing on the ground, help­ing dis­ad­van­taged vot­ers to reg­is­ter, tak­ing legal action, and many oth­er steps.

It remains to be seen whether the Democ­rats are up to the task.

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One Comment

  1. The pres­i­dent is a big bul­ly. He doesn’t do any­thing or act like a leader.

    # by Edward Soo-Hoo :: July 9th, 2020 at 5:13 AM