Georgia is now considered, in political circles, a “purple state” where both parties are viable in statewide races. If so, next week’s midterm election for state and federal offices will determine if that blended color has a more red or blue hue.
At present, Republicans have highlighted how they have their stronghold in state level offices. Led by Governor Brian Kemp, every state constitutional office and the Georgia General Assembly continues to be in Republican hands. The Democrats, in contrast, point to the 2020 presidential race when President Biden narrowly won Georgia and the two U.S. Senate runoff races, two months later, when Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff ousted both Georgia Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
So, will Governor Kemp and his Republican colleagues be able to continue their firm hold under the Gold Dome? And will Senator Warnock be able to win again and capture a full term to the U.S. Senate?
Let’s take a look.
Early Voting Thus Far…
One thing is clear about this election cycle: voters are not apathetic. Georgians are setting records with their early voting turnout this election cycle. As of November 1st, 1,810,427 voters have cast their ballots as opposed to only 1,351,476 by this same time in 2018. Early voting turnout has consistently outperformed 2018 levels, proving that voters are highly engaged in the upcoming races. In general, voters have become more comfortable with early in-person voting – in 2014, 846,118 voters cast their ballots early in total.
One wild card: Almost 350 thousand early voters – 19% of the total – did not vote in 2018.
Since her narrow loss in 2018, Stacey Abrams has been laying the ground work to challenge Governor Kemp’s reelection again this cycle, however, faced with challenging an entrenched incumbent, she has been unable, thus far, to replicate the urgency and traction of her 2018 campaign.
Polling shows that Governor Kemp holds a 6 to a 10-point lead heading into the last week of campaigning. The RealClearPolitics average sets Governor Kemp at 51 percent and Abrams at 43.6 percent. Even recent polling from Data for Progress (DFP), a left-leaning organization, found that 53 percent of voters supported Kemp, and only 43 percent of voters supported Abrams. Kemp has even continued polling above expectations among Black voters, receiving support from 15 percent of Black voters in the DFP poll.
Likewise, a recent poll from the more conservative leaning InsiderAdvantage found that 17 percent of Black voters supported Kemp and 50.3 percent overall compared to Abram’s 43 percent. By contrast, in 2018, exit polls found that only about 6 percent of Black voters cast their ballot for the eventual governor. The Cook Political Report now rates the race as “Lean-R.”
Why this steady lead for Kemp in the polls? At the end of the day reelection campaigns for governor are usually a referendum on the incumbent. The governor appears to have consolidated support from Republicans after a contested primary, while gaining support from Democrats for his handling of the Covid Pandemic, his handling of the controversy around the 2020 election, and the economic development gains the state has seen with new businesses coming to Georgia.
On Sunday, Abrams and Kemp faced off for their final debate before next week’s election. With Kemp polling ahead, both campaigns were looking for a moment to highlight their closing argument with Georgia voters.
Governor Kemp is focusing his closing message on the issue of crime. The Kemp Campaign is likely to renew their “soft on crime” attacks against Abrams by highlighting the following debate exchange. In response to the governor’s boast that 107 Georgia sheriffs endorsed him, including some Democrats, Abrams defiantly said she was not a member of the “good ol’ boys club” and then added, “So no, I don’t have 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take Black people off the streets, who want to be able to go without accountability. I don’t think every sheriff wants that, but I do know that we need a governor who believes in both defending law enforcement but also defending the people of Georgia.”
By contrast, the Abrams Campaign clearly believes that the Dobbs decision will motivate pro-choice voters to turnout for her. They are likely to continue to attack the governor’s support for restrictive abortion laws including a moment Sunday night where he demurred about his support for any further restrictions on abortion. He said, “I’m not going to say yes or no to any specific piece of legislation without actually seeing exactly what it is doing. It’s not my desire to move the needle any further on this issue. We’ve been dealing with this issue for three years. That’s where the General Assembly was. I personally don’t see a need to go back, but when you’re governor, you have to deal with all kind of legislative issues that are out there. We’ll look at those when the time comes.”
U.S. Senate Race
On January 5th, 2020, Rev. Raphael Warnock defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) in the special election runoff to fill the unexpired term created by Senator Johnny Isakson’s early retirement for health reasons, giving Democrats possession of that Senate seat for the first time since Zell Miller retired in 2005. Suddenly, in one night, Democrats took control of both U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, breaking a 15-year streak of unbroken Republican dominance.
Since then, the conventional wisdom among many political pundits is that the 2020 U.S. Senate Runoffs were a perfect storm brought on by Trump’s election denialism, defections from right of center suburban moms, and Democrats enhanced ground campaign. Senator Warnock still has an excellent ground campaign and is out performing Stacey Abrams in the polls, but with President Biden hovering below 40% approval from Georgia voters, his path to reelection is more difficult this year.
As for Republican chances, with inflation climbing and crime levels remaining uncomfortably high, the GOP is competing in traditionally safe Democratic elections across the country. These and other national political conditions favor Republicans significantly, and yet, Herschel Walker is struggling in Georgia. He has been unable to put any distance between himself and Sen. Warnock due in large part to troubling allegations from his personal past. In the early days of the general election, Walker’s campaign seemed to stabilize after a staff shakeup eliminated most of his notable gaffes. However, the campaign has since been inundated by a constant stream of explosive news stories. Between Walker’s undisclosed children and allegations that he paid for an abortion, the Republican has been unable to take advantage of Kemp’s coattails or Biden’s negative ratings.
In addition to his ground campaign, Warnock has been boasting about his willingness to buck the president and work across the political aisle; however, it still might not be enough to pull out the victory given the national mood in the country and the desire of many for Republicans to take control of the U.S. Senate. For all of Walker’s alleged flaws, he still has found a way to stay viable in the race. In the days after the allegation that Walker paid for an abortion, Warnock’s lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average grew by 3 points. However, after beating expectations in their only debate, Walker’s polling numbers have climbed over the past two weeks. Now, with a week to go, polls show the race in a statistical dead heat, with Walker holding a 0.6-point advantage in the polling average. Recent polling from InsiderAdvantage found Warnock with a 2-point lead, while a poll from conservative organizations Daily Wire and Trafalgar Group found Walker with a 2-point lead of his own.
A further complicating factor is the presence of a Libertarian in the race who is polling between 3 to 4%. If this holds, we are likely to see political ads through Thanksgiving and a runoff on December 6th.
Lt. Governor Race
Republican State Senator Burt Jones is facing off against former Fulton Senior Assistant District Attorney Charlie Bailey in the race to be Lt. Governor of Georgia. Despite Bailey’s attempts to highlight Jones’s role as a “fake elector” for Donald Trump, the race has not received much attention. Current polling suggests Jones has a 7-point lead and is expected to win.
Secretary of State Race
After he refused to assist Donald Trump and his team in subverting the election results in 2020, many left Secretary Raffensperger’s political career for dead. Instead, Raffensperger beat off a cadre of Republican challengers in the primary and has a significant lead over State Rep. Bee Nguyen, his Democratic challenger in the General Election – an AJC poll from September found Raffensperger had an almost 20-point lead. Raffensperger has regularly outperformed all other Republicans in polling and is poised for a convincing win next Tuesday.
Attorney General Race
Some expected State Senator Jen Jordan (D) to provide a real challenge to Attorney General Chris Carr, but the race has been unable to garner any attention from voters. In recent polling, Jordan trailed by 7 points, with almost 9 percent of voters still undecided. Jordan has recently stepped up her attacks on Carr, aiming to make a case centered around a woman’s right to choose during the run-up to election day. Carr, however, who enjoys broad support from both the business and legal communities, will likely win reelection next Tuesday.
This election will be the first since the House and Senate redrew their district lines after the 2020 census. While redrawn lines has led to more competitive races this year, both Republicans and Democratic insiders predict the GOP will remain in control of the General Assembly with the only question being the size of its majority.
Republicans currently hold 103 seats in the State House for a 12-seat majority. If Republicans have a good night, that number could grow to 107, giving Speaker Ralston and the Republican House Caucus a little more breathing room with a 16-seat majority. The absolute floor for Republicans should be at 99 seats in the State House, which would give Democrats cause for celebration and preview a more contentious 2023-4 legislative cycle.
Bellwether House Race: Early returns in House Districts 48 and 53 should provide insight into which party will be celebrating by the early morning.
In H.D. 48, Republican Scott Hilton is running to rejoin the State House after he lost his seat in a particularly close election during the Democrat’s “Blue wave” in 2018. He is squaring off against Rep. Mary Robichaux (D-GA), a 2-term incumbent who has shown an ability to win close races.
In H.D. 53, Republican Deborah Silcox is looking to make her own return to the State House after losing in 2020 to Rep. Shea Roberts by less than 400 votes. Now, Silcox is facing Dr. Kelly Coffman, a first-time candidate in a newly drawn district just outside North Atlanta.
In the State Senate, Republicans currently hold 34 seats in the State Senate for a 5-seat majority. With an impressive showing on election night, Republicans could grow their majority by 3 seats, for a total of 37 Republican Senators in the chamber. Due to redistricting, many previously competitive seats are now safely red or blue. A worst-case scenario for Republicans would include losing a single seat and seeing their membership drop to 33 seats, a majority of 4 seats.
Bellwether Race: For an early indication of each party’s success, look to Senate District 14, where two well respected elected officials are vying for higher office. Democrat Josh McLaurin has made a name for himself during his past two terms in the State House and Republican Liz Hausmann serves on the Fulton County Board of Commissioners with a long track record of working across the political aisle.
During redistricting, State Republicans eliminated two of the state’s three competitive congressional districts, instead opting to create a safe Republican 6th District and a safe Democratic 7th District. Rep. Lucy McBath defeated Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in an incumbent-on-incumbent primary, ensuring that Bourdeaux will be the only Democratic incumbent not running for reelection this November.
Bellwether Race: Congressional District 2 now stands alone as the only seriously competitive U.S. House District left in the state. Down in Columbus and the surrounding areas, long-time Democratic Incumbent Rep. Sanford Bishop is facing off against local attorney and developer Chris West. West surprised political pundits during the primary season by upsetting Jeremy Hunt, a former U.S. Army captain with lots of support from national Republican establishment figures. Now, West looks to knock off one of the state’s longest-serving public officials in a genuinely competitive district. If Republicans are to experience a massive “Red wave” next Tuesday, this is the type of district they must flip.
The remaining Congressional races are not expected to be seriously competitive at this time with the following Congressman returning to Washington: Rep. Buddy Carter (R) (District 1); Rep. Drew Ferguson (R) (District 3); Rep. Hank Johnson (D) (District 4); Rep. Nikema Williams (D) (District 5); Rich McCormick Rep. Lucy McBath (D) (District 7); Rep. Austin Scott (R) (District 8) Rep. Andrew Clyde (R) (district 9); Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R) (District 11); Rep. Rick Allen (R) (District 12); Rep. David Scott (D) (District 13); and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (District 14). They will be joined by two newcomers who had competitive primaries but are expected to easily win election next week – Dr. Rich McCormick (District 6) and Businessman Mike Collins (District 10).