Scramble for the Senate: Georgia
Scramble for the Senate: 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.

Adjacent posts

One reply on “Scramble for the Senate: Can Democrats secure a seat — or two — in Georgia?”

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

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