With two years left of the Obama administration, and a narrow shot at gaining a Senate majority after midterm elections, the GOP certainly has a lot on its plate. Not the least of which are a number of gubernatorial races across the nation. While a solid handful of red states appear to be safe, there are a few key races that RealClearPolitics has labeled as “toss-ups.” One close race in particular could bring a big shift to U.S. politics for decades to come: Georgia.
For nearly two decades, Republicans have firmly held Georgia as a red state. Although recent reports have gone back and forth about Georgia turning purple, the GOP would be wise to pay close attention. Republican Senate candidate David Perdue has held a slight lead over Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn since the GOP runoff in July. However, the race for Georgia’s next governor has been much closer—and may be more dangerous for Republicans to lose.
The rising star of Georgia Democrats is gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter. As eldest grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, the 39-year-old lawyer is not new to the political scene. Carter has served the 42nd district in Georgia’s Senate for the past four years. His campaign platform focuses on education reforms, government transparency, and, more recently, the problem of unemployment.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is running for re-election with quite a history on his hands. The 72-year-old Gainesville native began his political career in 1980 as a Democrat in the state Senate, and he served Georgia’s ninth district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2010. But in 1995, Deal went red when the House did. When Deal entered the governor’s office in 2011, he was followed by an ethics scandal brought by the Office of Congressional Ethics. The office claimed that Deal had used his congressional seat to browbeat Georgia officials in a scheme that kept his family automotive business alive. While many voters stand by Deal – and others simply refuse to vote Democrat – there remains the growing sense that Georgia politics is on the cusp of a new tone.
Here’s why the GOP should keep an eye on Georgia’s gubernatorial race:
1. Georgia Democrats are Starting a Movement
At a recent campaign meeting, state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-98) reminded volunteers of the importance of their cause.
“It’s not just about Election Day,” she proclaimed. “It’s not just about November 5th. It’s about every day after then.”
Abrams spoke to the need for a shift in Georgia, one that would only come from a Democratic movement. Changing demographics, new voter registrations, and Sunday voting would just be the start of something big and exciting for Georgia Dems. Abrams stressed the significance of gaining hold not only of a U.S. Senate seat, but especially of the governor’s office—where redistricting could give Democrats control of Georgia “for the next 30 years.”
2. Gerrymandering Goes Both Ways
Following the 2010 census, Georgia Republicans gained a major victory when they redrew the state’s political boundaries. A quick glance at voting numbers by county versus the state will give you a big clue as to how redistricting could be a real game-changer. In 2012, 45.4 percent of voters in Georgia voted for President Obama. Yet only five of the 14 House Districts went to Democrats. State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-36) says this is the result of an “intensely pursued strategy” of Georgia Republicans to “eliminate white Democrats.”
Gerrymandering—the practice of “cracking,” where opposition members are spread out over many districts, and “packing,” where the opposition is clustered into a few districts—is a bitter political move used by both sides. In 2012, some members of the GOP openly used these measures to take control of the House of Representatives. Should Democrats take control of the governor’s office in Georgia, they stand a good chance of being able to redistrict the state in their favor.
3. A Functional ACA May Curtail Criticism
When the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare) was passed, several hospital subsidies were dropped or repositioned—including subsidies to hospitals the uninsured were likely to visit. The intention was for expansions to Medicaid to pick up the slack. So when Gov. Deal refused to expand Medicaid, it meant huge cuts to 61 Georgia hospitals—mainly in rural areas, where more Georgia Republicans reside.
A Democrat at the helm could bring back the much-needed Medicaid funds for rural hospitals, as Carter has already promised he would do as governor. It could also keep alive several thousand jobs in areas that sorely need them. At 8.1 percent, Georgia’s unemployment rate sits two points higher than the national average—a brutal blow to Deal’s campaign. Accepting the Medicaid expansion, though frowned upon by those wishing to curb the influx of federal funds, might give Georgia’s economy the boost it needs. And if surrounding red states see the upswing, what’s to keep them from following suit?
4. A Blue Win Could Bring a “Southern Spring”
As a cultural and transportation hub for the South, Georgia has a lot of regional sway. The gerrymandering of 2012 was not unique to Georgia, but hit several Southern states hard: North Carolina in particular, but also Virginia and Florida. North Carolina split nearly down the middle in House votes statewide (51 percent Democrat, 49 Republican), but the district make-up of the state led to six Republicans and three Democrats being sent to the U.S. House of Representatives. A major, visible win for Democrats in Georgia could push Dems in surrounding states to try for the same.
It is no secret that the hyperpolarized Congress is going all-out to put party over policy. Yet time and again we hear frustration from voters who call for more moderate candidates who will move past party politics. In a September New York Times/CBS poll, 87 percent of respondents wanted “new people” in Congress.
It may be true that a strong blue Georgia is not just around the corner, but a growing blue base could turn the South purple soon enough. And Georgia’s next governor might be the first hit of many.