Democrats and the media are making great hay out of the Republican turnout being only 50,000 votes more than the Democratic turnout in Georgia’s primary elections. In 2014, it was a 300,000 vote gap in favor of the GOP. It is misleading to rely on that comparison. Georgia is still a tough place for Democrats to win statewide.
In 2014, Republicans had a highly competitive Senate primary featuring David Perdue, Jack Kingston, Karen Handel, and others. Democrats, instead, chose to coronate Michelle Nunn as their Senate nominee and Jason Carter as their gubernatorial nominee. In the Republican race in 2014, the Republicans worked hard on not just identifying their base but persuading undecided voters to turn up. The candidates all had the money to be able to do that.
This year, Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp led the field in fundraising and, not surprisingly, will be in the runoff. They also decided not to focus much on undecided voters. Cagle and Kemp, under the radar and off of television, organized each of Georgia’s 159 counties and sent people door to door to identify their voters. I am familiar with the technology they both deployed from separate vendors, and it is impressive. People could go door to door, log their voter contact on a cell phone, and in real time the campaigns could see which voters were theirs, which voters were not theirs, and which were undecided. They could remind their voters to turn out, try to suppress their opponents’ supporters through negative attacks, and avoid stirring up undecided voters until after the primary.
For their part, most undecided voters seeing a ballot full of people they had never heard of running for positions they were not sure of decided they would let the committed narrow the field for July. July, after all, is when people in Georgia are used to voting in primaries. The top Republican campaigns consciously decided to leave undecided voters on the sidelines, and there they sat.
The only part of the state showing higher than expected turn out was Middle Georgia. Had it not been for a County Commission special election in Bibb County, the open seat for State Representative Allen Peake’s replacement, and a vote on a type of local sales tax, turnout in Middle Georgia would have been like it was elsewhere — down. To be sure, Democratic enthusiasm is elevated. I suspect Abrams will be able to pull off a race as close as or closer than Jason Carter. That does not mean she will win.
I expect a backlash against Democrats from Trump voters in November. The President’s popularity, though still underwater, has consistently increased since December. The entirety of that increase comes from Republicans who now call themselves independents because they hate the GOP and do not like Trump. But they are siding with him because of progressive excess in the culture war.
Concurrent with that popularity increase, the GOP is eroding the Democratic advantage on the generic ballot. The odds are still in the Democrats’ favor, but in Georgia, we look to be on track for a 2006 scenario again. In that year, as the GOP saw its majorities collapse everywhere, Republicans in Georgia increased their majorities. Democrats are energized, but they are starting to get Republicans motivated to protect their guns, their values, and their President. That, in addition to the baseline demographics currently in Georgia, works against Stacey Abrams. About the only useful comparison between 2014 and now is this: the Democrats will yet again convince the media of the blue wave in Georgia, but it will be more like a wave of blue water circling the toilet drain.