By Maggie Lee
The day after Election Day, an email arrived in my inbox. Entitled “Victory Breakfast,” it came from the Gwinnett Democrats.
A roughly three-decade-old line of only Republican (and white) county commissioners in a diverse community of now more than 900,000 people of will end with the swearing-in of two new Democrat commissioners who were elected on Nov. 6.
A few hours later, another mass note. This one from the office of Congresswoman Karen Handel, Republican of the north and northwest metro area, part of which was once represented by Republican Newt Gingrich. Hers was a politics-free statement that began with sending “good thoughts and much prayer” to Democrat Lucy McBath, the African-American woman who will replace her in congressional District 6.
From that point of view, a blue wave driven by women and people of color washed over Georgia.
But take a look at other results. Republicans won seven statewide elections outright, like lieutenant governor and state school superintendent.
Or take the state Legislature, the 236 folks from across the state who meet under the Gold Dome for three or so months starting every January. Some Democrats’ private musing about who to put in charge of powerful committees was premature. Both the state House and Senate will be pretty comfortably Republican still, at about 57 and 62 percent, respectively.
From that point of view, a red wall — manned mostly by white males — stands strong.
Check out some important changes though.
Two years ago in the northeast metro, Republican Congressman Rob Woodall trounced by 60,000 votes Democrat Rashid Malik, a candidate without a website.
This year, Woodall was challenged by well-funded and highly visible Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux. As of this writing, he had an advantage of only 901 votes out of almost 279,000 yet counted for congressional District 7. Bordeaux’ campaign had just made a complaint to a federal judge, asking for a count of certain rejected absentee ballots in Gwinnett, where the rejection rate is disproportionately high.
The margin between gubernatorial frontrunner Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams was about 58,000 as of this writing — not yet counting all provisional and absentee ballots — fewer people than it takes to fill the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Abrams’ campaign is working on the ground and in court to hunt down every last provisional and absentee ballot to make sure it’s counted.
And Kemp and outgoing Republican Gov. Nathan Deal have already held a press conference to announce the start of the transition from one Republican to the next.
Whatever happens in court or the places where ballots are counted, the margin between them is much smaller than between Deal and Democrat Jason Carter in 2014 (about 200,000) or four years earlier between Deal and Democrat Roy Barnes (about 259,000).
After that Kemp/Deal press conference on Thursday, a dozen or so protesters gathered outside the governor’s ceremonial office, demanding their votes be counted.
Among them were a pair of folks who happened to be meeting in Atlanta at the time and stopped by the Capitol: Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock and Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.
Both of them are kind of a big deal in Democratic circles. He occupies the most famous pulpit in Georgia, the one formerly held by Martin Luther King Jr, in a church that remains socially and politically active.
Tomlinson is about to finish her term as mayor and is pondering a 2020 U.S. Senate run.
They both came to the Capitol for immediate purposes: demand votes be counted.
“Democracy doesn’t work if people have no faith in the process,” said Warnock. “It shrinks the electorate.”
I spoke to them both afterwards about the bigger political picture.
Warnock sees this year in the south as an inflection point comparable to about 50 years ago. History note: for most of the 20th century, Democrats ran things in the south, where it was a party of Jim Crow whites.
Warnock pointed out that back in the 1960s, a black woman from Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer, challenged the Democratic party to embrace everyone, not work to keep blacks from registering to vote.
Today, Warnock sees on the one hand pressure tactics and partisan and racial gerrymandering in states across the country shrinking the electorate; and on the other, a new south emerging that showed up in this election.
“Fifty years later, another woman from Mississippi, Stacey Abrams, has sent shockwaves through assumptions about the electorate and what is possible,” Warnock said.
The turnout numbers were very high for midterms, on both sides— almost four million votes. That’s not far behind the roughly 4.1 million votes in the 2016 presidential election in Georgia.
Another quick history note: for most of the 21st century, the GOP has dominated Georgia politics, as the conservative party we know today.
But Tomlinson declared that in Georgia, one-party days are over.
“That’s what Stacey Abrams, Lucy McBath, all the others have brought to the doorstep of Georgia, that this is a two-party state,” Tomlinson said.
Republicans may not agree.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a firebrand speaker and Trump surrogate, took to Facebook the day after the election, with a confident statement. Perdue echoed much of what he’d said the night before at Kemp’s watch party.
“The people of Georgia flatly rejected socialism,” Perdue wrote. “They rejected a single-payer health care system. They rejected open borders and sanctuary cities. They made it clear that the Democrats’ path to the presidency in 2020 will not run through Georgia.”
But Fran Millar, a Republican state Representative from north DeKalb wrote his own, pithy political obituary on Facebook after losing on Tuesday. Millar said the blue wave struck his district — by the way, washing all the Republicans out of the DeKalb County legislative delegation.
“I’m not sure what else I could have done to offset the anti-Trump/Washington attitude and changing demographics,” Millar wrote.
Maybe what you think depends on where you’re at. In most of Georgia’s 159 counties, it’s encouraging for Republicans. But in metro Atlanta, that blue dot is spreading outward.