A Democratic wave sends a ripple through Georgia politics

Georgia’s Gold Dome. AJC file.

Georgia Democrats strung together improbable victories on Tuesday night, emboldening partisans who hope their strong performance is a prelude to next year’s statewide vote – and the beginning of a forceful rebuke of President Donald Trump.

Democratic newcomers flipped two state House seats in northeast Georgia considered so conservative that the party hasn’t even contested them since the lines were redrawn in 2012. And Democrats captured an Atlanta-based state Senate district long held by a Republican, breaking the GOP super-majority in the chamber.

The Georgia results were but a ripple of the national wave that engulfed Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey. And with a wide-open race for governor next year, Democrats Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans trumpeted the results as validation of their strategies.

Supporters of Abrams said Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s victory in Virginia said it confirms their approach to the election, which hinges on energizing the party’s base. Her campaign said it was “proof that the momentum is on our side going into 2018.”

And Evans backers said Northam’s success in districts carried by Trump, coupled with the Democratic wins in Georgia GOP strongholds, shows there’s an opening for Democrats like her who aim for disaffected Republican voters.

And Democrats of all stripes saw the votes as a warning shot to Republicans who cling too closely to Trump.

“The results are a rejection of Trump – it’s clear as day,” said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta. “Republicans who continue to embrace him can start the countdown on their political careers.”

Republicans didn’t bother trying to spin the defeats in House districts covering parts of Athens and Watkinsville late Tuesday. Trump had carried both districts in November, and Republicans mounted solid and well-financed contenders for the seats.

“It’s a testament to the importance of a party contesting every seat possible,” said Republican operative Todd Rehm. “Kudos to Georgia Democrats for their recruitment efforts.”

He added that he’s not sure what kind of precedent the votes set, since special elections are imperfect predictors of midterm votes. But he warned that the results will likely spur a new Democratic mission to contest all possible elections, even in deeply conservative areas.

Democrats couldn’t capitalize on Trump’s struggles in metro Atlanta last year because the party failed to put forward credible contenders – or any at all – in dozens of races. Only 31 of the 180 state House seats in Georgia featured candidates from both parties.  An Associated Press analysis found that uncontested rate of 83 percent was the highest in the nation.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell said finding willing Democratic recruits shouldn’t be a problem next year. Already, the party has drafted at least a half-dozen candidates for GOP-held seats in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. He said the “tremendous receptiveness and enthusiasm” should spur more recruits.

“We have a lot of seats where we haven’t competed in a long time, but last night shows that when we contest races with credible candidates who run competitive campaigns, we are going to pick up seats in 2018,” he said.

His Republican counterpart, House Speaker David Ralston, cautioned against reading too much into a “minor shift” of 1 percent of the chamber’s 180 seats. He also made clear the two districts are atop the party’s target list in 2018.

“Our House Republican Caucus and Georgia GOP are already working to reclaim those seats lost last night in next year’s elections when a greater percentage of Georgians will go to the polls,” said Ralston.

Republicans are also defending a slate of open statewide seats in next year’s vote, and the four leading GOP contenders running for governor are already engaged in a race to the party’s conservative flank on “religious liberty,” illegal immigration and other hot-button issues.

State Sen. Michael Williams, a Republican running for governor on a pro-Trump platform, quickly posited that Republican Ed Gillespie was defeated in part because GOP primary voters overlooked other candidates who more ardently backed the president.

“For Republicans to continue winning elections, we have to elect pro-Trump conservative Republicans who are willing to take on the establishment of both parties,” said Williams.

Democrats privately saw the Athens-based seat as their biggest pickup opportunity. Athens is a liberal bastion, but the district encompasses only encompasses about half of the city – and stretches east to include conservative territory in nearby rural counties.

Republicans consolidated around Houston Gaines, a 22-year-old former student government president at the University of Georgia and budding political operative. He was the campaign manager for Athens Mayor Nancy Denson, and her support for him lead to her ouster from the local Democratic party.

But Democrat Deborah Gonzalez, a media and entertainment attorney, swept to a 6-point victory fueled by a two-to-one margin in Athens-Clarke County and solid support in other parts of the district.

The Watkinsville-based seat came as the bigger shock. Jonathan Wallace, a software engineer, trounced his three Republican opponents with 57 percent of the vote. He dominated the Athens sliver of that district and won a plurality of the vote in Oconee County, which Trump carried with two-thirds of the vote in November.

The results of Tuesday’s vote also seem likely to spark other Democrats to embark on campaigns once written off as longshots – and prod higher-profile potential candidates to take another look at their options.

Democrat Jon Ossoff, who lost this year’s epic battle for the 6th Congressional District, still hasn’t said whether he will challenge Republican Rep. Karen Handel next year. But he made clear on Tuesday that he was watching.

“This is a great night for our country,” he tweeted, adding: “Historic and decisive wins in Georgia tonight.”

Reader Comments 2

12 comments
TheCentrist
TheCentrist

Will Tom Price, with his great accomplishments as HHS Secretary will run for his old seat? Or, will Karen run on her record of voting for a healthcare insurance bill that had a 15% approval rating that Isakson said she alone would fix?

LibertyLibertarian
LibertyLibertarian

Notwithstanding the simplistic and superficial observations of liberal Democrats like Holcomb, this election is probably not the bellwether Dems hope it is.


Take, for example, State Senate District 6.  More Republican votes were cast than Democrat votes.  Five GOP candidates cannibalized the field, helping to lead--if not causing--the outcome there.  Had this not been a special election, the seat would probably have remained in GOP hands and might flip back next year.


Losing House District 117 certainly disappoints the GOP, but before Quick, the seat was won by a Democrat (who later flipped parties but still lost to Quick).  Athens is *heavily* Democratic and liberal, so it should not be surprising that a seat could be flipped in a special election where the GOP put up a 22-year-old candidate whose work experience seems to be limited to being the former campaign manager of the Athens then-Democrat mayor--hardly a rallying figure for most Republicans.  

Even House District 119, a seeming shocker, shows that liberal Athens-Clarke County made the difference.  In Oconee County, the Republicans picked up nearly 63% of the vote, so it is hard to conclude that this was some sort of wave election.  With that said, the Democrat would an outright majority, so an important question for the analysis is: did having three Republican candidates and a single Democrat affect voting patterns and numbers.  

Or I could be wrong, and the Democrats will run the state in '18.  God help us one and all.  

zekeI
zekeI

Cannot believe Georgia voters can be so dumb!

tesul
tesul

They have been dumb for years electing corrupt fascists. Finally learning

_Elaine..
_Elaine..

u̟p̟ t̟o̟ i̟ s̟a̟w̟ t̟h̟e̟ p̟a̟y̟c̟h̟e̟c̟k̟ o̟f̟ $8390 , i̟ d̟i̟d̟n̟t̟ b̟e̟l̟i̟e̟v̟e̟ t̟h̟a̟t̟…m̟y̟… f̟a̟t̟h̟e̟r̟ i̟n̟ l̟a̟w̟ w̟a̟s̟ l̟i̟k̟e̟ t̟h̟e̟y̟ s̟a̟y̟ r̟e̟a̟l̟e̟y̟ t̟a̟k̟i̟n̟g̟ h̟o̟m̟e̟ m̟o̟n̟e̟y̟ i̟n̟ t̟h̟e̟r̟e̟ s̟p̟a̟r̟e̟ t̟i̟m̟e̟ o̟n̟l̟i̟n̟e̟. . t̟h̟e̟r̟e̟ n̟e̟i̟g̟h̟b̟o̟u̟r̟ s̟t̟a̟r̟t̟e̟d̟ d̟o̟i̟n̟g̟ t̟h̟i̟s̟ 4 l̟e̟s̟s̟ t̟h̟a̟n̟ s̟e̟v̟e̟n̟t̟e̟e̟n̟ m̟o̟n̟t̟h̟s̟ a̟n̟d̟ r̟e̟s̟a̟n̟t̟l̟y̟ c̟l̟e̟a̟r̟d̟ t̟h̟e̟ d̟e̟p̟t̟ o̟n̟ t̟h̟e̟r̟e̟ v̟i̟l̟l̟a̟ a̟n̟d̟ g̟o̟t̟ a̟ t̟o̟p̟ o̟f̟ t̟h̟e̟ r̟a̟n̟g̟e̟ l̟a̟n̟d̟ r̟o̟v̟e̟r̟ r̟a̟n̟g̟e̟ r̟o̟v̟e̟r̟ . h̟a̟v̟e̟ a̟ p̟e̟e̟k̟ a̟t̟ t̟h̟i̟s̟ w̟e̟b̟-s̟i̟t̟e̟………………➜➜➜➜➜➜

        ░A░M░A░Z░I░N░G░ ░J░O░B░S░

°°°°°°http://ow.ly/pqaC30fgvnI 

flexdoc
flexdoc

This is what happens when Democrats actually get out and vote without Russian collusion or election rigging. 

Vespi Die
Vespi Die

The most telling statement in the entire article was made by Scott Holcomb, D - Atlanta, which wasn't the message per se, but the mindset of politicians in general.  They think that politics is a career choice, or at least a 2nd career.  That's why they are all full of it.

PeaceCorpsMeri
PeaceCorpsMeri

So let’s NAME the winners that flipped those seats! One of them is the indefatigable STATE REPRESENTATIVE DEBORAH GONZALEZ in District 117 (Athens/Watkinville). A first-time candidate, she is driven by a deep desire to serve with intelligence and heart.

Wingo
Wingo

Way to go Georgia Dems!  More to come in 2018. 

zekeI
zekeI

@Wingo 

GOD forbid! We need no more liberal socialists in political offices!

ariescounselor
ariescounselor

@zekeI @Wingo  God help us!  We need more liberals to win and affirm our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and work for ALL Americans, not just the wealthy!

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