This week’s Courier Herald column:
First and foremost in this month of Thanksgiving, let us be thankful that this is not a column about a runoff for either the Governor’s race in December or the U.S. Senate race in January. Our holidays will once again be filled with sometimes annoying Christmas jingles, instead of always annoying political hit pieces. Joy to the world.
This was a National Election. Those that deny last Tuesday was a wave are likely digging out from being pounded into the sand as it crashed ashore. Not only did the GOP gain control of the Senate with a healthy margin that may still grow pending a runoff in Louisiana, but have the largest majority in the US House since the Hoover administration.
The wave went much deeper. According to Scott Rasmussen, the GOP picked up governorships in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland – hardly “purple” states. Republicans gained a net 432 state house seats and 114 State Senate seats. The GOP now controls 31 State Senates and 33 state houses, plus the unicameral legislature of Nebraska. The GOP now has 31 Governors to the Democrats 19.
Here in Georgia, the “changing demographics” didn’t help the Democrats much. Not a single state house or senate seat changed parties last week. The GOP held all statewide constitutional offices and retained the U.S. Senate seat for David Perdue. And somewhat surprisingly, John Barrow succumbed to the wave giving Republicans 10 of Georgia’s 14 seats in the U.S. House.
In 2010, 12th District Democratic Congressman John Barrow defeated Ray McKinney with 57% of the vote. After a few changes to make the district more friendly for a Republican challenger in 2012, Barrow still managed to garner 54% of the vote, in a district that went 55% for Mitt Romney.
For 2014 the ticket splitting was mostly gone. Republican Rick Allen defeated Barrow with 55% of the vote. Republican Senate nominee David Perdue won the 12th with almost 57% of the vote.
Democrats spent the last two years organizing Georgia to be a battleground state. An unprecedented amount of money was spent by candidates and outside groups to win Georgia’s election. The result was that the needle barely moved.
Nathan Deal received 53 percent of the vote in 2010. He received just two tenths of one percent less, against a much better funded candidate with significantly more national resources. Michelle Nunn received roughly the same percentage as President Barack Obama did in 2012 with roughly the same resources as Jason Carter.
For all the talk we’ve heard that Georgia’s demographics were prepared to hand Georgia Democrats a competitive state if not outright victory, the talk of a blue Georgia turned out to be premature. At least for now.
A large part of the Democrats inability to turn the tide this year can be attributed to the national wave. An honest assessment must also include questions about the Democrats flawed two-part strategy to generate a Democratic majority.
Democrats have spent at least two years in Georgia trying to recruit and motivate suburbanites – especially white suburban women who have been voting Republican – to join their side in November. Images of Michelle Nunn with former President George H. W. Bush were ubiquitous. Talk of “working across the aisle” and quotes from Senator John McCain were direct appeals to centrists and more than a few Republicans. And as recently as a couple of weeks ago many Republicans were not at all comfortable of winning.
And then, the Democrats began to be a bit public about the other part of their strategy – the intention to motivate traditional democrats who tend to only vote during Presidential election years. President Obama called Atlanta’s V-103 to endorse Nunn to help enact and protect his policies. A Democratic flyer warned about “Ferguson” problems here if Republicans were elected.
Georgia Democrats relied on a plan that was inherently contradictory. The actions to motivate their base to turn out seem to have also openly tied their candidates to national Democratic rhetoric and policies. This resulted in bringing Republicans and some independents back to the GOP. There was a late break to Republicans across the board. It appears that even those Republicans who formerly split votes to allow a relatively moderate Democrat John Barrow in Congress decided to nationalize his race as well.
And so, for now, Georgia remains a red state.
But with the close of the 2014 election begins what we now know as permanent 2 year election cycles. Senator Johnny Isakson has already printed new “Johnny 2016” signs and bumper stickers. 24 hour news channels are speaking of Presidential contenders as if the first primaries are next month. And with that, Republicans would be wise to remember that if the 2014 elections reflected national results, 2016 may do so as well.
In 2016, Democrats will not have the same challenge as motivating their base to turn out. In 2016, Republicans at the national and state level will again have to defend the responsibility of governing versus their “just say no” perception. And in 2016, President Barack Obama will not be on the ballot.
Georgia remains red. But elections are lagging indicators. Republicans must navigate the next two years very carefully if they wish to hold their gains nationally and capture the White House in 2016, as well as be in position to again defend statewide constitutional offices in 2018 when significantly fewer incumbents will be presumed to be on the ballot.