Ga. voters can protect Trump’s legacy in January

Nov. 30, 2020

This week: Election roundup, part III

  • In Georgia runoffs, history favors the GOP
  • How Tennessee quietly became a one-party state
  • Democrats’ Texas-sized plans came to naught

Senate 2021

Georgia: Clearly, 2020 was not the typical election year in Georgia. Joe Biden’s razor-thin win was accompanied by Democrats’ takeover of yet another suburban Atlanta House seat. Democrats did a lot better in Georgia than they had done since the Clinton era. 

Now, the remaining question is about the two Senate seats still hanging in the balance — that of appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R, running in a special election, and that of Sen. David Perdue, R, in his regularly scheduled re-election. The parties and candidates have already spent more than $120 million on these two races, with Republicans — in contrast to nearly all of the 2020 Senate races — spending more. It appears that Democrats are trying to stay in it — Republicans, certainly nervous but confident that they will win absent any major screw-ups, are spending the big bucks to make absolutely sure.

This speaks to the consistent narrative about the results in Georgia runoffs this century. They usually tend to betray expectations of a close race — which is to say, in the end, the Republican candidate tends to win it going away, no matter what happened in the general election. 

In 2008, for example, Saxby Chambliss came up short with 49.8% of the vote statewide on the day of Barack Obama’s presidential election. However, in what was expected to be a close runoff, Chambliss took an astounding 57.4% against Democrat Jim Martin. 

The turnout numbers for that race are instructive, and suggest that many of the voters who turned out for the presidential race in November simply will not turn out for the January runoff. Chambliss’s vote total in his blowout runoff victory was just 1.23 million — two-thirds of the nearly 1.9 million votes he won in November. Martin, his challenger, was able to hang on to even less of his initial total. He received only about half as many votes in the runoff (909,000) as he had in the first round (1.76 million). This is why some knowledgeable Democrats from outside of Georgia are quietly writing off both Georgia races. But do not include Georgia Democrats in that number, even if the outsiders are right.

Earlier this month, Democrats’ marginal voters turned out for the general election in astounding numbers. President Trump’s brand of Republicanism had always been a bit soft in Georgia, whose suburban gentrification is making for a much more competitive state. As a result, Biden won a squeaker. But history casts much more serious doubts upon the reliability of Democratic runoff voters than it does upon the Republicans who showed up to have their say in the Trump-Biden race. 

The polls this time suggest a close-run affair, in which both Jon Ossoff, the stronger Democratic candidate, and Raphael Warnock, the weaker one, very much in the hunt — possibly as good as even with the Republican incumbents they are challenging. Still, take such results with a grain of salt. Overall turnout will be way down in the runoff, and Democratic turnout will drop by far more than the average. Unless the polling models are dramatically different for the runoff, they cannot be trusted. The Chambliss-Martin race demonstrates as much.

Election 2020

Georgia: In addition to the above, it should be noted that Republicans maintained control of Georgia’s legislature. This means that Democrats cannot count on keeping both of the seats they have gained in the Atlanta area during the Trump era, but it also means the state’s governance will remain firmly in Republican hands for at least two more years. In 2022, Biden’s first midterm, the GOP will have a chance to win elections in a whole new set of districts that its own party operatives have drawn special to the purpose. This is exactly where the party most wants to be.

North Carolina: President Trump won narrowly, but decisively in North Carolina. But in the end, that wasn’t the most impressive win. Sen. Thom Tillis’s improbable victory, which might in the end save the GOP Senate, is one of the most important wins of 2020. It also speaks to the power of opposition research. 

Democratic nominee and serial adulterer Cal Cunningham was simply buried by revelations of his infidelity. This was a race that Republicans were definitely set to lose, but they had a deus ex machina waiting to save them and evidently they knew it in advance.  

Until 2010, North Carolina was a Democratic state that usually voted for Republican presidential candidates. In the time since, it has become a more Republican state at the local level, but Democrats remain stubbornly competitive in presidential races. In this year’s contest, the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, won more votes than Trump as he secured re-election this year. Even so, a Republican, Mark Robinson, won the lieutenant governorship — a powerful post in the Tar Heel State, where vetoes are overturned by simple majorities. Robinson, a black Republican, will be a potential vier for the top spot in the future. 

The other result worth mentioning is that, solely because of court-ordered redistricting, Democrats gained two U.S. House seats in North Carolina. But with a new round of redistricting beginning in the new cycle and Republicans controlling the process, Democrats may find these gains hard to defend. 

Oklahoma: Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn lost the Oklahoma City-area fifth district, one of the districts her party had narrowly taken over in its midterm high tide of 2018. Thanks to victories at the state level, Republicans will have a chance to change the district’s shape in such a way that Democrats probably won’t be competitive here again for a few years at least.  

Pennsylvania: President Trump lost the Keystone state narrowly. There was no action in the House races, and there was no Senate race. But Republican control of both houses of the state legislature was not affected by this election. That leaves Republicans with a significant advantage in a state where Democrats had counted on being in a much more powerful position for redistricting. 

The state GOP could probably devise a better map — and a map that can actually stand up in court — than the map that Democratic state Supreme Court justices devised prior to 2018. But even without the cooperation of the governor, Democrats will at least be unable to make bigger gainst than the ones they had already.

South Carolina: For all their ridiculous talk of ousting Sen. Lindsey Graham, R, Democrats’ only accomplishment in South Carolina was to lose the first congressional district, where Rep. Joe Cunningham, D, lost narrowly to Nancy Mace. The district’s shape is sure to be improved for Mace before 2022, as Republicans will control the redistricting process.

Tennessee: What’s amazing about the Volunteer State in 2020 is not what happened, but the fact that everything was so completely uneventful from start to finish — at least, it was uneventful after the rather exciting Republican U.S. Senate primary was over. 

This year, Tennessee had an open Senate seat, yet there was not even the feeblest Democratic attempt to win it. In just 15 years, Tennessee has gone from one of the last Democratic holdout states in the South to a one-party Republican state. 

As late as 2008, Democrats controlled the state House and the governorship, and the state Senate was tied between the parties, 16-16. So much has changed. Republicans now dominate absolutely everything in Tennessee (the state House is nearly three-fourths Republican and the Senate is now 27-6 Republican), and no Democrat has won a statewide race since 2006. The Democrats’ great young hope, former Memphis-area Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., was blown out in a Senate race and has since left politics.

Texas: Unlike in Tennessee, something was actually expected to happen in Texas. At one point, Democrats had hopes of delivering the state for Biden. They had semi-realistic dreams of taking over a couple suburban House seats, longshot dreams of ousting Sen. John Cornyn, R, and high hopes of taking control of the Texas legislature in time for the 2021 round of redistricting. They failed miserably at every single one of these goals.

Trump won Texas by 5.5 points and, to add insult to injury. Cornyn won a fourth term by ten points. Rep. Chip Roy, R, defeated Wendy Davis by a comfortable seven points in a competitive district that takes in suburbs of both Austin and San Antonio. Sheriff Troy Nehls, R, held on to the district of the retiring Republican Rep. Pete Olson. Rep. Ron Wright, R, maintained his imperiled seat in the Dallas suburbs. And Tony Gonzales, R, held on to the perennially competitive 23rd district, which stretches along most of the Mexican border and has changed party hands so many times this century. Meanwhile, in the state Senate, Republicans actually increased their vote share as they gave up just a single seat.  

For all the last-minute millions that Mike Bloomberg and others spent on the Lone Star State, this was a huge bust for Democrats. They came up completely empty.

Wisconsin: Trump’s extremely narrow loss here overshadowed the fact that Republicans held on to lopsided majorities in the state House and Senate. As a consequence, GOP lawmakers will likely produce a congressional map for 2022 that limits Democrats to three or even just two districts. If they can get away with it, they will put the already-vulnerable rural southwest Wisconsin seat of Rep. Ron Kind, D, in jeopardy. Kind won this year by about 2.5 points, and as with rural, moderate soon-to-be-ex-Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Kind’s chances just get worse every cycle.

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