Little consolation for Democrats in election drubbing

By Tom Baxter

Hedging their bets somewhat last week, some Democrats were advancing the idea that simply by making this a competitive election, they were ahead of schedule in Georgia. And there might have been some truth to that.

But in the cold light of the day after Election Day, with less to show for their efforts, overall, than in the midterm elections four years ago, the reverse of that argument also has to be considered.

If the Democrats couldn’t make it into the runoff for either governor or the U.S. Senate, running with name candidates against an incumbent with baggage scattered down the highway and the nation’s highest unemployment rate to answer for, and a newcomer who looked less than impressive on the stump, how likely are they to be two or four years down the road? What’s going to change in that space of time that would give them a better shot than they had this year?

This was a bad day for Democrats nationally, it’s true. But not all their problems in Georgia can be ascribed to Barack Obama.

The striking thing in the first peel back of Tuesday’s results was how little anything changed, anywhere in Georgia, compared to the midterm elections of 2010. For all the attention paid to voter registration drives and voter targeting, fewer votes were cast in this governor’s race than the one four years ago.

The millions that were spent by PACs in this election nevertheless had an impact. Without their depressing effect, turnout over the four-year period would probably have been higher.

Gov. Nathan Deal won most of the Republican Metro counties by a little narrower margin than four years ago, with the biggest erosion in Gwinnett, where his winning margin of about 39,000 votes four years ago was whittled to 23,000.

That was some evidence, if there was any, of the demographic shifts the Democrats are always invoking. But the early-evening graphics showing huge leads for Deal and David Perdue essentially told the tale of these races. As long as Republicans maintain their on the white-majority counties elsewhere, the importance of Metro Atlanta diminishes somewhat.

This election had a lot of consequences, one of the most important being that the chance Georgia will change course and accept the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has gone from slim to, essentially, none. Some of the counties affected most directly by this are among those that gave Deal his solid majority. How they fare will be one of the interesting stories of the next four years.

Previously…

In this legacy year of Georgia politics, we have a Carter, a Nunn and a Perdue on the ballot. But the voice from the past we’ll remember from this election — if only because we’ve heard it so often — is likely to be that of Zell Miller.

Is there another politician in the country who would be asked to cut a spot for a Republican candidate for governor and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, and is there another politician with the gall to accept both offers?

Miller’s endorsements of Nathan Deal in the governor’s race and Michelle Nunn in the U.S. Senate race makes a fitting counterpoint to all the PAC-fueled partisanship of this political season. He has managed to put his persnickety stamp on this election, even without a descendent on the ballot. In an era of increasing regimentation by the parties, the old Marine is still doing it his way.

Miller’s cross-party endorsements may have puzzled newcomers, or voters too young to remember the famous zigs and zags of Miller’s career. There will be more of those voters when the state votes again in two years, and fewer of those who retain some attachment to the politics of Georgia in the last century. The youngest voter in the 2000 special election, which was Miller’s last run for office, turned 32 this year.

Regardless who wins at the polls this week, the electorate they’ll encounter two or four years down the line will be generally less familiar with all the famous names that marked this year of passage from one political generation to another.

This sense of passage is perhaps best encapsulated by Clayton County, which for years was represented by the powerful tandem of House Rules Chairman Bill Lee and state Sen. Terrell Starr. Lee, who died last week at the age of 88, represented a political era a world apart from the one in which Clayton County voters will decide whether or not to become part of MARTA.

The voters who will be casting their first ballots this year have known little other than Republican control over virtually all state government, and even with a big upset or two that’s not going to change for a while. But the close races waged by the Democrats in this year’s marquee bouts set the stage for what could be a very lively presidential election year in Georgia.

These are big races this year, with important implications for the state and the balance of power in Washington. But in terms of the state’s future, the most important races may not be those at the top of the ballot, but the little-noticed contests in which a new generation finds its way.

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.

8 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Georgia Democrats fielded attractive candidates for Governor and U.S. Senator, but both had an message unattractive to voters, “If you like the way Democrats have operated the Federal Government for the last 6 years and want two more years of the same, vote for me.” The voters listened to the unattractive message and voted for the other candidates.
    Democrats voted for Democrats, Republicans voted for Republicans, and independents voted about 60% for the Republicans.
    Georgia Democrats now have fallen to a new low: no statewide elected officials, no U.S. Senators, and only 4 of 14 members of the U.S. House. They had best listen to independent voters rather than the national Democratic leadership in Washington. Otherwise, they have little left to lose. A 2016 disaster like 2014 will cause many to question their future viability.Report

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  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Burroughston Broch  Georgia Democrats most likely cannot win a statewide race with an electorate in which conservative white voters are the majority….That’s because in an electorate in which conservative white voters are the majority, Georgia Democrats likely will never receive more than 25% of white voters tops (Nunn and Carter received only about 23% of the white vote).
    White Georgia voters will likely never give a majority of their votes to Democrats in a statewide race because white Georgia voters (who are generally decidedly conservative in their political leanings) think that Democrats are entirely too liberal to be elected to statewide office in the state of Georgia.
    To have any hopes of again capturing statewide office before about 2030, Georgia Democrats are going to have to “expand the electorate” by registering all of the non-white voters that they can like Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed stated after the election. 
    If Georgia Democrats want to have a legitimate shot of winning statewide races, they are going to have to find a way to win with only about 20% of the white vote by expanding the electorate by registering as many non-white voters as they can….Otherwise if Democratic candidates like Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter want to win statewide races in Georgia, they had most likely better put an (R) in front of their names when running statewide in the future.Report

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  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    The Last Democrat in Georgia The average GA voter hasn’t changed much from those who kept the Democrats in complete control for 131 years (1871-2002). It’s the Georgia Democratic Party that’s changed.
    If the Democrats focus more on black and Hispanic voters and abandon white voters (which they are already doing), they will lose any chance with the independent voters who hold the balance of power today. It will be ugly for them once blacks accept the fact they have been screwed over by the national Democrat policies of the last 6 years – worse than any other demographic.
    Perhaps Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn will be remembered as the last great white hopes of the late Georgia Democratic Party.Report

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  4. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Burroughston Broch The Last Democrat in Georgia  For all intents and purposes, Georgia Democrats effectively already have lost any chance of winning the independent voters who hold the balance of power.
    Georgia Democrats know that they’ll receive at least no less than 20% (about 20-23%) of the white vote in statewide races. 
    If Georgia Democrats want to have a shot at winning statewide elections, they are going to have to focus on registering and turning out enough non-white voters to win with only about 20% of the white vote. 
    This most recent election in 2014 has made it abundantly clear that Georgia Democrats most likely will not win more than 25% (if that) in statewide races under current conditions (and likely will not win more than 30% under the most favorable conditions for them)….That’s because Georgia Democrats (and Democrats in general) are considered to be entirely too liberal to win statewide races in an electorate in which conservative white voters dominate.
    In addition to expanding the electorate to include many more non-white voters (probably at least 400,000 or more non-white voters) so that they can win statewide races with only about 20% of the white vote, Georgia Democrats are going to have to obsessively and relentlessly raise money at a level that is the same or greater than the currently ultra-dominant Georgia Republicans who excel at turning out their base and raising ridiculous amounts of money.
    Otherwise, without a dominant ground game that consists upon at least 400,000 more non-white voters in the electorate and obsessive and relentless fundraising, Georgia Democrats will never win a statewide election in the foreseeable future.
    Basically, to have a legitimate shot at winning statewide elections, Georgia Democrats are going to have to grow their base and their bank account to be bigger than Georgia Republicans who will likely always win no less than about 70-75% of the white vote.
    Going after independent white voters is a lost cause for Georgia Democrats because independent white voters lean heavily conservative in Georgia.  Independent whites default votes will always be for a conservative Republican rather than for a liberal Democrat.Report

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  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    The Last Democrat in Georgia Like a typical Democrat, it’s all about race for you.
    I wrote independent voters, not independent white voters. Independent voters are those of us who don’t declare allegiance to a party and who vote for the candidate, not the party. We are white, black, Hispanic, and all of the other shades. How the independents vote determines who wins elections.
    Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn raised as much money or more than their Republican opponents, so that disproves the poor Democrats being on short rations.Report

    Reply
  6. Burroughston Broch says:

    The Last Democrat in Georgia 
    “If Democrats want to win in Georgia, they are going to have to turnout more non-white voters than white voters, its just that simple.”
    I don’t agree with you. If Democrats want to win in Georgia, they must offer candidates and agendas that are attractive to all voters, not just blacks and Hispanics. It’s that simple.
    If Democrats continue to follow the tactic you suggest, they will soon lose all relevance in Georgia. This decline will be accelerated once blacks recognize they have suffered the worst of all demographics under the last 6 years of Democratic rule from Washington.Report

    Reply
  7. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Burroughston Broch The Last Democrat in Georgia 
    Of course its all about race….White voters make up about somewhere between 58-66% of the electorate (whites make up about 58% of registered voters and about 66% of likely voters) and Democrats currently can’t win more than 23% of that very-dominant part of the electorate.  The overwhelming majority of independent voters are white voters as most black voters generally vote for Democrats in overwhelming fashion.
    Unless it is some kind of extremely unusual event, the independent white voters that dominate the electorate will generally always vote for Republicans in statewide races because those independent white voters view Republicans as being much closer to their conservative values than Democrats who are viewed by about 53-55% of the electorate as being too liberal for a conservative state like Georgia.
    When one is talking about independent voters, they are most often going to be talking about white voters because white voters make up the overwhelming majority of independent voters in a state like Georgia.
    Politics is all about race because elections are won on demographics.  In 2012, Mitt Romney won the same percentage of the white vote that Ronald Reagan won in 1980, but Mitt Romney lost in 2012 because their were many more non-whites that voted in 2012 than in 1980.
    In 1980, whites made up 67% of the population of California in a state where Ronald Reagan won 53% of the vote and Republicans still played a strong, if not dominant, role in statewide governance (Reagan won 58% of the vote in 1984 and G.H.W. Bush won 51% of the vote in 1988…Republicans have not won California since).  By 2012 the Republican presidential candidate (Romney) only won 37% of the vote in a state in California where whites currently make up about only 39% of the population.
    Demographics matter in electoral politics as political parties do much better with people that are much more likely to vote for them….In this case white voters are much more likely to vote for Republicans (particularly in a conservative state like Georgia where whites still make up about 54-55% of the state’s population (down from about 73% in 1990)) while non-whites are much more likely to vote for Democrats.
    Democrats likely cannot (and will not) win statewide elections in a state where the electorate is dominated by conservative white voters that do NOT like them and cannot politically, socially or personally identify with them.  If Democrats want to win in Georgia, they are going to have to turnout more non-white voters than white voters, its just that simple.
    – See more at: http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/11/little-consolation-for-democrats-in-election-drubbing/comment-page-1/#comment-88644Report

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  8. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Burroughston Broch The Last Democrat in Georgia{{“I don’t agree with you. If Democrats want to win in Georgia, they must offer candidates and agendas that are attractive to all voters, not just blacks and Hispanics. It’s that simple.”}}
    I agree that offering agendas that are attractive to all voters, not just blacks and Hispanics will help Democrats to have a better shot at winning in Georgia.
    But because of the conservative and libertarian bent of the roughly 60-65% of white voters that dominate the Georgia electorate and because of the close affiliation of the Georgia Democratic Party to the National Democratic Party (an entity which most of those dominant white Georgia voters consider to be entirely too liberal to receive their votes) in the minds and hearts of those white Georgia voters, Democrats likely never will be an attractive option for white Georgia voters as long as the Georgia electorate is dominated by conservative white voters and as long as the Democratic Party is considered by those dominant conservative white voters to be too liberal for their tastes.
    The overwhelming majority of white voters in conservative states like Georgia just simply can no longer relate to or identify with the Democratic Party, no matter how seemingly attractive the candidates they might run might appear to be. 
    If Democrats want to win in a conservative state like Georgia they are going to have to grow the electorate with voters that likely will be more amenable to voting for them by registering and turning out more black, Hispanic and Asian voters….And Georgia Democrats had better hurry because it appears that Georgia Republicans are starting to make significant headways with minorities if the reports are correct that Governor Nathan Deal received up to 11% of the black vote (on the strength of his criminal justice reform efforts and his support for charter schools) and U.S. Senator-elect David Perdue received up to 40% of the Hispanic vote. 
    {{“If Democrats continue to follow the tactic you suggest, they will soon lose all relevance in Georgia. This decline will be accelerated once blacks recognize they have suffered the worst of all demographics under the last 6 years of Democratic rule from Washington.”}}
    But with being on the short end of a Republican supermajority in the Georgia Legislative, being in possession of NO statewide offices and with the possession of only 4 of 14 Congressional seats, Democrats have effectively already lost all relevance in Georgia. 
    Heck, the Democratic Party of Georgia had as little as only $13,000 in the bank in early 2013 before recruiting two candidates with well-known family names in Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter to run during the 2014 election cycle (…Georgia Republicans as a whole always have several millions of dollars on hand at any given time because of their fundraising prowess).
    The 2014 election cycle was actually a vast improvement from the depths of total disarray, absolute dysfunction and perennial retreat that Georgia Democrats had been in between 2003-2013 when the party bottomed completely out with no money and no organization of any kind.
    The 2014 election cycle got Georgia Democrats back on the board in a very big way, its just that GA Democrats do not have the ability to turnout their base at almost a moment’s notice like GA Republicans can and did in 2014.
    GA Democrats cannot depend on white voters to support them because more often than not, those white voters will almost always vote for the Republican candidates that they can relate to and identify with in overwhelming numbers.
    GA Democrats must register, grow, cultivate and turnout their base of non-white voters, otherwise they will never be able to close the deal in statewide elections in Georgia because the Republicans will always be able to turnout a larger base vote while grabbing the votes of white independents.
    If Georgia Republicans would not have been able to turnout their large base vote (while grabbing most of the votes of white independents) they probably would not have been able to win in 2014….That base vote is critical to winning elections.Report

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