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Abrams and Kemp last meeting airs as early voting roars on

By Tom Baxter

We need some new terminology, maybe even another tense, for that floating time between the beginning of early voting and Election Day.

By most accounts, including conservative pundits, Stacey Abrams had a pretty good evening Sunday at the WSB-TV debate. She did an effective job of articulating how her positions on health care and abortion were related, and she got a big chunk of time to expound on these and other issues core to her campaign.

But what exactly does that mean, when more than 1.6 million Georgians had voted before the debate began? For Abrams it could mean a lot. Because despite the Democrats’ early voting strategy, she still needs to lock in her core vote, while, judging from where the votes are coming from, a lot of Brian Kemp’s base votes have already been cast. To have any hope of overtaking Kemp in a race in which she has consistently polled behind him, she needs a very large same-day turnout. There’s no small irony in that.

It’s an unremarked paradox of this campaign that at a time when Republicans across the country are running on how lousy the economy is, the cornerstone of Kemp’s campaign is how great the economy is in Georgia. He balanced the two deftly in the debate, ticking off his administration’s economic accomplishments while chiming in on the national Republican line about inflation.

There’s always been a lot of political bias involved in judging the state of the economy, but there’s even more now, in part because the economy’s more complicated and a lot because politics is more blindly partisan.

Kemp in the debate said he was “not going to say yes or no” as to whether he would sign any more abortion-related legislation in his second term as governor.

“He defended Herschel Walker, saying that he didn’t want to be involved in the personal life of his running mate, but he doesn’t mind being involved in the personal lives and the personal medical choices of women in Georgia,” Abrams said.

Would that exchange have had a bigger impact if the debate had been held earlier? The candidates are pretty well baked in on this issue, so it’s hard to say. In the era of long elections, there needs to be a word — and there surely will be one — for the dilemma news organizations face in figuring out when a debate will get the largest audience, and when campaigns should be on peak message.

We need another new word for the big things that happen while voting is puttering along. The closing of Georgia Medical Center fits that description technically, but it had already been announced. Storm clouds continue to gather over the Rivian development project, but the election will be over by the time the storm breaks.

Nationally, something that could affect elections everywhere is going on, but we don’t yet know quite what it is. It was coincidental that Elon Musk took possession of Twitter a day after Jim Cramer wept on CNBC, tearfully apologizing for advising his followers to buy Meta, at about the same time Ye, as he now calls himself, was descending from billionaire status. But these events were not “only” coincidental.

These are all stories of billionaire hubris — investment analysts were said to be slackjawed at the money Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has poured into the virtual reality Meta project when quarterly reports came out last week. More importantly for our politics, they also involve, in one way or another, the technologically hip, celebrity-sensitive world of social media and its beneficiaries. The structure of that world has begun to shake.

The model which predicts that the social media giants will break up into ever smaller political bubbles doesn’t take into account that people have also grown accustomed to gathering on the internet to talk about human evolution, college football, jazz and many other things. Something resembling a digital town square is likely to continue to evolve, but political campaigns are likely to be more reluctant to stake the future on social media until things settle down.

 

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Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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