To See The Republican Future in Georgia, Watch Rockdale.

Rockdale County, just east of Atlanta, often gets overlooked in Georgia politics. It’s small, but it’s not Georgia’s smallest county (that’s Clarke) nor least populous (that would be Taliaferro). And even though actors Holly Hunter, Jack McBrayer and Dakota Fanning were born there, as the smallest of the 10 counties that make up the “metro Atlanta region,” a lot of people tend to treat it as the “oh yeah” County. As in, ” …Henry, DeKalb, Clayton, umm… and oh yeah, Rockdale.” But if you want to see close campaigns that demonstrate the limits of Republican politics, and the likely future of the GOP in Georgia, study Rockdale County’s elections tonight with a magnifying glass. Or maybe an electron microscope.

Until 2008, Rockdale County was Republican turf. The 3-member board of commissioners was all Republican, as was just about every elected office in the County. But in Rockdale in 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain by nearly 10 points. Jim Martin beat Saxby Chambliss by 11. And except for the Sheriff, all the contested local county offices flipped from “R” to “D.” Clerk of the Court went from R to D by a margin of less than 3%. County Chairman: A Democratic challenger beat the Republican incumbent by just over 1% -a mere 501 votes. Post 1 Commissioner Jason Hill, a Republican, lost to Oz Nesbitt by 90 votes out of 35,788 cast, a nano-margin of 0.0025%. There’s just no way to describe how small that margin is to folks who aren’t statisticians, pollsters or political junkies. It’s a single puff of wind while sailing around the world, less noise than you get in any signal, a margin of error undetectable by any pollster. (By way of disclosure, I was the general consultant on Hill’s campaign in 2008, and I have a few words I used to describe that loss. I just can’t repeat them in public.) A mathematician told me that number was “halfway between the line and the curve on the asymptote,” but then I punched him for using big words, so I still don’t get it.

As small as the loss was mathematically, it was huge for Rockdale County government, and for the Rockdale GOP. I’ll skip the policy details, but the last four years of governing under a Democrat-controlled county have not been well-received by any longtime Rockdale resident, whether Republican or Democrat, black or white.

Oh, did I forget the racial component? It wouldn’t be Georgia politics without a racial undercurrent, allow me to clarify: Every contested county office in Rockdale has an African American Democrat facing off against a white Republican. Every. Single. One.  Here’s a slate mailer the Democrats sent out, see for yourself:
The ones with the red slashes across their faces are white Republicans. The others are not. (And coroner? Really? Who challenges the coroner?) But for too long, that’s been the face of politics in Georgia: White Republicans versus Black Democrats. That division hasn’t helped either party, either race, nor any Georgian.

I’m not a general consultant to any campaign in Rockdale this year, but I’ve provided some polling and advertising services to several of the campaigns on the Republican side. I’ve been asked what I think is going to happen in that county, and I honestly can’t say. Everything I measure is inside the margin of error. Every projection I see depends on variables too small to predict with any more certainty than a coin toss. Early voting data shows that black voters have a 587-vote advantage. Did any of them vote for any of the Republicans? Among all voters who can vote today, whites have a 258-vote advantage. Are they all Republicans, and will they all show up? I don’t know, there are 26,150 registered voters remaining, which is 2,910 fewer than in 2008, and even the weather forecast (as of yesterday) called for EXACTLY a 50% chance of rain. I’ll give you an answer as soon as that coin stops flipping.

What I know is that a lot of volunteers for the Rockdale GOP have been dialing and canvassing and waving signs and driving voters to the polls. I’ve never seen such effort from any local Republican party, and I’ve never seen such a sincere and concentrated effort, on the part of the candidates, to win black votes. Ever. So there are two reasons to pay extra-close attention to little ole’ Rockdale County’s election returns tonight. The first is that it’s close, and anyone who likes close contests is in for a ride. The second is that Rockdale County is a bellwether for the future of every Republican in Georgia. Because to win, the Rockdale GOP needs nearly all of the white votes AND enough black votes to make the difference. And if they can pull THAT off, they’ll have mapped the path for long-term Republican success.

Watch closely.


  1. Dave Bearse says:

    All of the white votes and enough black votes to win isn’t a recipe that will help either party, either race, nor any Rockdalian.

  2. xdog says:

    Thanks for an interesting read, Mike. All I knew about Rockdale was that I went through it to get to the airport.

  3. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Rockdale (and Newton) have indeed changed. It’s like Clayton and Dekalb have slowly expanded east out I-20. We moved out of there several years ago. If you assume that the majority of blacks vote Democrat, and they do, and combine this fact with the black birthrate, then you can see that “change” is certain to come in many other counties in the future. It’s unfortunate, but it’s simple math.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Fiscal Conservative, I agree…It is “unfortunate” that blacks are moving out into formerly overwhelmingly predominantly white suburbs and exurbs and making them increasingly less predominantly white and therefore less subject to automatically vote for every candidate with an (R) behind their name.

      I also agree that it is “unfortunate” that with the increase in the black and minority population in the formerly predominantly white suburbs and exurbs of Metro Atlanta that the Georgia GOP may have to turn on its long-dormant brains, get up off of its ever-expanding collective rear-ends on which it has grown increasingly lazy and contented and do some actual WORK* to appeal to more than just a scant few of the most reliably loyal voters in the base of the Republican Party and possibly expect to be held accountable to more than just under 20% of the electorate to stay in power.

      The Georgia GOP may have to actually start WORKING for votes…OH THE HORROR!!!!…That the party in power may actually have to do something CONSTRUCTIVE to stay in power beyond just simply appealing to the increasingly narrow demographic of angry old white men who pine for the ’50’s (…in some cases, the 1850’s).

      (*-In its decade of dominance, the Georgia GOP has “unfortunately” become increasingly allergic to the concept of WORK)

  4. SmyrnaModerate says:

    Douglas county on the west side will also be interesting To watch for the same reasons. Because of its small size like rockdale it is feeling demographic changes much more rapidly than the larger counties in the metro area. Obama carried it in 2008 by a small fraction (1000 votes) but countywide offices stayed republican. Now the races for sheriff and county chairman are rematches of 2008, interesting to see how it plays out

  5. SmyrnaSAHM says:

    To I would guess is the chagrin of the Rockdale County Board of Education, when I think Rockdale, the first thing that comes to mind is syphilis, followed by horses.

    • Calypso says:

      Seems to me that it would be wise for the state of Georgia political parties to recruit some diversity into their ranks.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        Caly, I agree that it would be wise for Georgia political parties to recruit some diversity into their ranks, but that might first require Georgia Republicans to grow some brains (and some ambition) and Georgia Democrats to grow a spine (and some heart and some courage), something that just clearly seems too much to ask of both major political parties at this point.

        • SallyForth says:

          Excerpt from Mike’s post: “…..but the last four years of governing under a Democrat-controlled county have not been well-received by any longtime Rockdale resident, whether Republican or Democrat, black or white.”

          With all the scandals and infighting that have gone on since Rockdale’s “regime change” four years ago, I’m thinking part of the problem is that there are no longer THAT many “longtime” residents. Their experience actually mirrors to great extent the Georgia Democratic Party since diversity became their buzzword a couple of decades ago. Diversity for the sake of diversity yields chaos; Republicans probably need to think long and hard about how to avoid the same pitfalls of their opposing party.

  6. greencracker says:

    “But for too long, that’s been the face of politics in Georgia: White Republicans versus Black Democrats.”

    Yes. Since time immemorial … oh … wait … uh … #NathanDeal #SonnyPerde #MaxCleland #RoyBarnes #ZellMiller

    • drjay says:

      that may be oversimplifying, but i do remember a column from around 10 years ago when the gop finally did break through as the majority party and the lament was that the parties were becoming racially identified as evidenced by things like the majority of dem primary voters were black even though only 30% of all voters were and the rural white dem legislators were all either losing, retiring or switching parties…i think i read it in the sav’h paper but it may have been off the wire…again this was around 2000 to 2002…

  7. SallyForth says:

    Rockdale results reported to SoS show black Democrats swept all the white Republicans — but this does not predict the Georgia Republican Party’s future by any stretch. Rockdale is now a predominantly black county, much like Fulton and DeKalb. Black Rockdale leaders speak openly of their plan (presently underway) to draw increasing numbers of blacks from other states and turn the I-20 corridor predominantly black from Atlanta to Augusta. This is called a “Black Mecca” in recruiting friends and family from other parts of the country. As a matter of fact, some of the people elected today have only lived in Georgia for 5-6 years, know little or nothing about the laws of Rockdale and Georgia – governance? what’s that?

    It is a fact of life that white people will vote for candidates of color based on the candidate’s qualifications (the number tossed out tonight was at least 40%) – vice versa not so much. Any time a person of color is on the ballot opposite a white candidate, they go 95-100% for the candidate of color no matter what kind of person (as we’ve recently seen with a certain metro sheriff’s election).

    History shows that voters of color do not turn out to vote overwhelmingly for white Democrats (just ask some veteran Georgia Dems), much less for white Republicans. 2008 showed us for the first time that a black candidate at the top of the ticket is required to get out the big vote in non-white communities. All today’s Rockdale experience does is reconfirm that reverse racism based on skin color is alive and well. People of color will only turn out in winning numbers for candidates of color, even when they know nothing about the candidate other than the color of their skin.

    Thus, Mike, today’s Rockdale elections offer no guidance for the future of Georgia’s Republican Party, unless they want to have their party taken over by a majority people of color, like the Georgia Democratic Party has done with SUCH obviously excellent results – a fraternity now running that campus.

    But, hey, in addition to our American-born people of color, let’s keep the flood gates open for foreigners from central and south America, the Caribbean, and the African continent. With a utility bill or fake ID of any sort, they register to vote (which other nations do not even allow naturalized citizens to do), and actually have a voice in running our government (about which most know little or nothing). Gee…..I wonder which way all those people who break our nation’s laws in order to live in the US vote? Probably for the candidate that looks most like themselves?

    Beyond things in Rockdale or Georgia, with all the voting irregularities being reported in various states by the major TV stations, it’s looking like we have another questionable presidential election on our hands. Oh, joy. My eyes are slamming shut, so I’m going to sleep on all this and see what tomorrow morning brings.

  8. SallyForth says:

    Lea, a combination of the Ohio drinking game and late-night frustration took control of my fingers, caused me to blatantly lay uncomfortable facts on the screen. No subtlety, no mere opinion. I regret having to acknowledge way too much BWA, too much “stick it to whitey” in general. It is sad watching folks deliberately create segregated enclaves, after all the years of our rainbow coalition efforts for racial integration and diversity.

    Didn’t the ballot Mike put up, with the red circles and lines across all the white faces, at least give you pause?

    I truly wish this did not exist, but wearing blinders and pretending it doesn’t will do no good for the Republican Party – which I think was the purpose of Mike’s post. Per the 2011 Census update, nationwide the black population is 12.6%; in Georgia it is 30.5% – disproportionate to say the least. Whites in BOTH Georgia parties must find a way to work effectively with this voting block. How does anyone (not just a political party) attract people with animosity for others not their own skin color? Finding answers will take someone smarter than me. This much I do know: avoiding honest public dialogue will never get us anywhere.

    I did not intend to make anyone uncomfortable laying my heart bare on election night. I hope it at least provokes serious thought about how we go forward in our state.

    • benevolus says:

      This is not a “fact”, uncomfortable or otherwise:
      “With a utility bill or fake ID of any sort, they register to vote “

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