Today’s Courier Herald Column:
With last week consumed by the Republican Convention and this week occupied by the Democrats, the question about where Georgia fits in to this election is one that can be settled quickly. As far as the electoral college is concerned, we don’t. This November, Georgia will remain among the most red of red states.
Georgia went for John McCain in 2008, which was a landslide election. That vote marked the strongest intensity and enthusiasm Democrats had held in a generation. The anger against Republicans was palpable, even among many within their own base. The economy was in free fall. Virtually anything that could have been going against the incumbent party was, and yet Georgians stuck with McCain.
For 2012, Democrats do not share the edge they did in 2008. President Obama is not candidate Obama, the blank slate who could promise “hope and change” and let each voter fill in the void of what that would mean to them. The economy continues to underperform. His signature economic stimulus plan did not keep unemployment below the 8% level as promised. Our troops remain in Afghanistan.
In short, it is difficult to see how those who voted against President Obama in 2008 would vote for him now, while it is much easier to see how some who did will either elect for a change or elect to stay home. Even the strongest Democratic partisans who disagree with this assessment will have difficulty explaining how Georgians that didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 would vote for him in 2012, though some will try. Regardless, the Democrats will not make headway in Georgia during this election cycle.
So if not now, when? Are the Democrats a relic and only relevant as part of Georgia’s history, or will they be able to rally and again become a competitive force in Georgia at the statewide level? This is a matter that will be decided by both Republicans and Democrats, but it will not be settled quickly.
Presuming the logic for 2012 presented above holds true, the Democratic Party of Georgia, which recently had to shed staff and was having difficulty paying skeletal operating expenses, will be no stronger in December than it is today. With few resources dedicated to organizing Georgia, the party will likely remain in need of strong organizational help after this election.
The immediate opportunity for the party would be for a U.S. Senate Seat in 2014. Senator Saxby Chambliss will headline that ticket, which will also include most of Georgia’s statewide elected officials. Given the power of the incumbent party with fundraising and the grassroots power of patronage, it does not appear at this time that the Governor’s race or most other statewide offices will be back in play during the next two years.
National politics, however, tends to change much more rapidly, as evidenced by the 2008 Democratic landslide followed by the 2010 Republican/TEA Party backlash landslide. A primary challenge to Chambliss, should one materialize, could weaken the Republicans’ hand heading into November regardless of the primary’s outcome. Should Mitt Romney win the White House, there is also a usual factor of the party of the incumbent president losing seats in Congress during the first mid-term elections.
It remains still, at this point, a longshot for the Democrats to pick up this seat. The grassroots network in place already by the stable of statewide Republicans should be of great benefit to Chambliss or any other Republican nominee. The Democrats will be starting from scratch in 2013 and will have little money on hand. The advantage remains with Chambliss and the Republicans.
In 2016, it is another Presidential year. Senator Isakson will be up for re-election but few other Republicans will be statewide on the ballot. National politics will dominate this election but there are few prizes for Democrats at the state level. Isakson remains popular enough with Republican and centrist/independent Georgians that this seat should remain his if he wants it.
In 2018, however, things start to get interesting. Governor Nathan Deal will be term limited. There will likely be a contested primary for his seat, which will also likely create openings in other statewide and Congressional seats. Republicans will likely spend much of the two years leading up to this race fighting among themselves, and are likely to be somewhat fractured as a party.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s demographics, particularly in Atlanta’s suburbs, will be changing. Minority voters, specifically Hispanic Georgians, are growing in population much faster than white voters. Republicans will also have a 16 year track record at this point of being a majority party, and solving – or not solving – Georgia’s problems.
As such, 2018 represents the best opportunity for Georgia to turn “blue”. Or at least be competitively purple. While that sounds like generations away, the plans that are made now will determine how successfully Democrats can be at taking Republican power, and how successful Republicans can be at defending it.
We’ll spend the rest of this week on the future of Democrats in Georgia, using 2018 as a milestone.