This week’s Courier Herald column:
President Obama isn’t on the ballot next month, but there are times when you would wonder about that. Television ads and direct mail from Republican candidates at all levels are doing their best to remind voters who have traditionally remained loyal to their party who remains at the top of the party that is trying to woo them away. Democrats, while avoiding direct association as much as possible with the President publicly, are still utilizing the association with their national party to motivate and mobilize a new generation of Georgia Democrats – ones that wish the party were a bit more reflective of the President’s policies.
Within political circles, the 2016 Presidential election has actually been under way for some time. Democrats have already been asked if they are “Ready for Hillary”. Republican skies are filled with trial balloons from familiar names like Bush, Romney, and Paul – and many, many others. Anecdotally, I can say that I’ve been asked about handicapping the 2016 Presidential race during speaking engagements to GOP leaning crowds for at least 18 months. My answer has remained the same as it does now: It doesn’t matter.
The reason it doesn’t matter is that despite many within the GOP’s obsession with President Obama and retaking the White House, substantial change will likely not be made within a gridlocked Washington if Republicans do not also hold a majority in the Senate. Given that Republicans will likely be playing more defense to hold seats in 2016 than Democrats, that means that those who are pining away for change from the President and his policies needed to be at work taking the Senate this year. They probably will need to bank a few extra seats if they expect to hold a majority when the next President is inaugurated.
This, of course, has direct implications for the top of the ticket races next month here in Georgia. Clearly, it makes it much easier for Republicans to replace Harry Reid as Majority Leader if David Perdue replaces the retiring Saxby Chambliss. While Michelle Nunn has been coy about her potential vote for Majority Leader, her fundraisers have not. National fundraising efforts on behalf of Democratic interests continue to include Nunn as part of their plan to keep control of the Senate.
The Governor’s race also has a direct impact on 2016’s presidential contest as well. Democrats already sense that Georgia is a purple state, and have a long term strategy to turn the state blue. Having control of the Governor’s mansion (and possibly a Senate Seat) would almost certainly add Georgia to the list of battleground states for President. With Democratic voter turnout usually higher in Presidential election years, even close contests for Governor and U.S. Senate will keep the Democrats interested in a sustained effort to organize the community of Georgia.
The Governor’s office is also one that has the power to appoint a replacement Senator, as happened upon the death of the late Paul Coverdell. Coverdell, a Republican, was replaced by Democrat Zell Miller by Democratic Governor Roy Barnes. While many Republicans ultimately ended up enjoying Miller as he became a thorn in his party’s side, the feelings were significantly less than enthusiastic when an electorate that had just selected a GOP Senator were given a Democratic replacement early in the term.
The Governor’s office is able to wield enough power through official and unofficial channels that assist with party fundraising. Thus Georgia will either have a member of the Republican Governors Association or the Democratic Governors Association, and direct access to the support from one of those groups during upcoming elections. The Governor will also hold a veto pen – including one for line item vetoes of budgetary items – that provides a bit of sway with legislators whether with the same or a different party in the majority.
As such, while many have spent their time playing with hypothetical matchups for 2016, there are actual elections occurring here in Georgia in four weeks. They are for positions that Georgians have much more say in how we will be affected. They are for offices that directly affect us where we live. And these elections, in turn, will also determine how Georgia will stand as the 2016 presidential contest officially begins.
That’s a lot for one ballot. As such, the choices we make now need some serious attention before we jump ahead to the contests that are not yet even formed.