All Politics Wasn’t Local

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.



  1. saltycracker says:

    #1 Thanksgiving – no runoff.
    Obama was on CBS Face the Nation yesterday in full narcissistic uniform, as noted by the panel.
    He said the immigration executive order was coming but would sign any bill on this issue put in front of him. About the closest conciliatory remark made.

    It was an insightful interview and one that will see him at odds with any Democrat reaching across the aisle.

    I’d expect him to veto any attempt at a flat out repeal of Obamacare. After that shot, both parties need to sit down and fix the plan. And many of the newly elected including Purdue promised a fix.

  2. saltycracker says:

    Isakson is another subject. Maybe some brave (R) will step up for grassroots movement. One that wants to simplify the tax code, reduce debt to revenue, get some controls in place on spending, see enforcement in public programs and address some social issues in line with general public thinking (Abortion: no public monies outside criminal and health issues – other than that, pretty much mind your own business).
    In a lot of matters -Stop confusing you can do it with, we will fund it.

  3. FranInAtlanta says:

    I suspect that, if it becomes obvious that Georgia is in danger of turning blue, then those who have voted blue just to help the totals might reconsider. I think some of that happened this time.
    Even our minorities are not all that liberal. Check out the House votes of Hank Johnson, David Scott, and Sanford Bishop (and, occasionally, John Lewis).
    And, many of our Hispanics who are eligible to vote are successful in small businesses and think like other successful small business men and women.
    We live in interesting times.

  4. George Chidi says:

    A fair analysis, to which I might add that the general disarray of the Democratic Party in Georgia contributes to a lack of execution of any strategy, masking the weaknesses of the Republican Party.

    I would note that while Georgia appears to have had a nationalized election, some of those Republican wins in blue states are decidedly local affairs. Massachusetts, for one, tends to elect Republican governors — William Weld, Paul Cellucci, Mitt Romney — to serve as a check on its notoriously corrupt state legislature. Invariably, Massachusetts Democrats nominate a party hack with the charisma of unflavored yogurt, reminding voters of the politics that produced their last visit to the DMV and $40-an-hour flaggers on public construction jobs, who then pull the R lever.

    In Georgia, Democrats have poor county-level and precinct-level organization, which has to change — particularly in metro Atlanta — if the party plans to improve. I find the relatively strong performance of Georgia Republicans with the Latino vote incredibly troubling as a Democrat. It means are thinking of the Latino vote the way they think about the black vote — as a given. Plainly, that’s not true. If there’s one place I would invest time and money, it’s there — immigrant populations, particularly in north DeKalb and Gwinnett.

    • I find if you look at actual election results you will not find “relatively strong performance among Hispanics”. True – we don’t really have any majority Hispanic precincts to look at similar to majority black precincts in DeKalb or other places, but pretty much every precinct that has a sizable Hispanic registration total in the state voted heavily more Democratic than its county as a whole.

      And metro Atlanta? Nunn/Carter did leagues better than Barnes in pretty much every metro county, and in many counties outpolled Obama from two years ago. There are two Georgias – the one that is growing saw increases in Democratic votes – it is where the vast majority of our 2% gain came from. The one that is not growing is turning increasingly Republican.

  5. Will Durant says:

    As long as money is considered free speech and corporations are considered to be protected the same as individuals under the Bill or Rights then politics will rarely be local ever again. All that think there are no strings attached to the billions that have just been spent on this election please raise your hands.

    • saltycracker says:

      “Corporations” is casting a wide net. Consider that the number of companies traded on US exchanges has dropped 44% from 1997 to 2013. Consider the exploding income gap. Consider the too big to fails and the financial institutions bigger than ever. Consider the employee empires in public service. Looks like the very wealthy are joined with the poor and public servants to put the big squeeze on private workers, the shrinking responsible public corporations and small businesses.

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