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Decision 2020: Georgia’s presidential contest heading to a recount

Joe Biden pulls slightly ahead of Donald Trump in Peach State

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CNN) — With unofficial results within 7,300 votes, Georgia election officials said Friday they will recount the ballots in the state’s presidential contest between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

“Interest in our election obviously goes far beyond Georgia’s borders,” said Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensburger. “The final tally in Georgia at this point has huge implications for the entire country.”

Trump built a significant lead as results of in-person voting came in on election night. But as mail-in ballots were counted in Democratic counties in metro Atlanta, Biden closed the gap and then surpassed the president.

Trump, Biden neck-and-neck in Georgia results

Saturday, Biden’s lead stood at just 7,264 votes, out of nearly 5 million cast, a close enough margin to trigger an automatic recount.

If Biden prevails in the recount, he will be the first Democrat in 28 years to carry the Peach State and win its 16 electoral votes.

However, the result in Georgia will not affect the outcome of the presidential race, as Biden captured the White House when Pennsylvania was declared on Saturday.

While the Trump campaign has vowed to pursue legal challenges in other Democrat-controlled states that he appears to have lost, that could be more difficult in Georgia, where the governor and secretary of state are both Republicans. The state’s voting manager, Gabriel Sterling, said Friday that “we’re not seeing any widespread irregularities” in the vote count.

In addition to the presidential race, the late count of mail-in ballots also affected one of the two U.S. Senate races. Republican incumbent U.S. Senator David Perdue still leads over his Democratic rival, Jon Ossoff, but he has fallen below the majority he needs to win under state law.

That will set up a January 5 runoff between Perdue and Ossoff, which will take place at the same time as a special election runoff for the state’s other Senate seat between Democrat Ralphael Warnock and incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler.

If Biden wins the presidency and both Democrats win in Georgia, control of the Senate will shift from Republican to Democratic hands.

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Decision 2020: Republicans’ red wall holds across the South

Though Joe Biden appears to have carried Georgia, Democrats failed to make gains in U.S. Senate, House

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Republican political dominance across the South largely held up in Tuesday’s election, winning 12 states in the presidential race, most of the contested U.S. Senate contests, and taking down four U.S. House Democratic freshmen who had flipped seats in 2018.

However, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a small lead in Georgia, pending a recount, and carried Virginia.

Republican incumbents appeared to have held on to Senate seats in Texas, Kentucky, and South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as flipping a seat in Alabama, where Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones lost to Republican Tommy Tuberville.

Two Senate seats in Georgia will be heading to January 5 runoffs. Republican incumbent David Perdue won a plurality against Democrat Jon Ossoff but not the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. In the other race, incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler will face Democrat Raphael Warnock.

Among the GOP senators who will return are two who were prime targets for Democrats — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who won a seventh term in Kentucky, and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who won in South Carolina despite more than $100 million spent to defeat him by his Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison.

McConnell defeated Democrat Amy McGrath by 20 points; Graham beat Harrison by 22.

Incumbents won both of the governor’s races in the South: Democrat Roy Cooper won in North Carolina and Republican Jim Justice won in West Virginia.

Republicans also retook several U.S. House seats that Democrats had won in 2018, ousting U.S. Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala in Florida; Joe Cunningham in South Carolina; and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma.

Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala, whose districts are in based in metro Miami-Dade, were swept up in a Republican wave of Cuban-American voters, who were also key to Trump’s victory in the Sunshine State.

Republican Tony Gonzales also picked up an open GOP-held seat in West Texas, defeating Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones

The news was better in Georgia, where Democrat Lucy McBath kept her seat in the northwest Atlanta suburbs and and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux was leading in a Republican-held district in the northeast suburbs.

In the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, Democrat Elaine Luria also kept her seat, and Abigail Spanberger held a small lead in her district in the Richmond suburbs. Democrats also picked up two seats in North Carolina that had become more Democratic after a court-ordered redraw of the state’s map.

But Democrats came up bone dry in Texas, where they had targeted 10 seats and lost them all. They also failed to flip targeted seats in North Carolina, Florida and Arkansas.

Overall across the South, Democrats lost a net of two seats, which would put the balance of power at 103 Republicans and 48 Democrats.

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Voters heading to polls as election day finally arrives across the South

Democrats poised to possibly have their best result in a generation

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Amid unprecedented levels of early voting, a deadly pandemic, racial unrest, and partisan political turmoil, voters across the South will give their final verdict Tuesday, as in-person voting brings the 2020 election to a conclusion.

The most watched story line will be whether Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden can flip some Southern states into his column and whether Republican incumbents in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House can hang on amid  the severe disruption to the nation’s political climate caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Four Southern states carried by President Donald Trump in 2016 are in play, including the traditional battlegrounds of North Carolina and Florida, joined by previously safe states Georgia and Texas. A Democrat hasn’t carried Texas in 44 years; Georgia, hasn’t gone for a Democrat in 28 years.

As many as six U.S. Senate seats could also change hands, five of which are held by Republicans. And Democrats are hoping to build on their gains made in the U.S. House in 2018, particularly in Texas, where as many as seven seats could be in play.

Democrats are also trying to flip state legislative chambers in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, which would increase their influence of the reapportionment process after this year’s census.

U.S. Senate

In Alabama, Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones is trying to keep his seat in a contest with the Republican nominee, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. Given the Yellowhammer State’s ruby red political leanings, Jones’s seat is seen as the GOP’s best opportunity nationally for a pick-up.

In North Carolina, Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis is trying to beat back a challenge from Democrat Cal Cunningham, who has led in the polls throughout the race. Cunningham is facing headwinds after admitting to an extramarital affair, although the revelations have not seemed to dent his poll numbers.

In South Carolina, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham is facing a spirited challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison, who has raised more money for this race than any Senate candidate in history. Graham’s transformation from being a critic of Trump to one of his biggest defenders has brought national attention to the contest.

In Georgia, both U.S. Senate seats are up this year. Republican U.S Senator David Perdue is being challenged by Democrat Jon Ossoff in one race; the second is an all-party special election with 20 candidates, which has narrowed down to a chase for runoff spots between Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, appointed to the seat last year;  Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who decided to challenge Loeffler after he was overlooked for the appointment, and Democrat Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, who making his political debut.

Because of a quirk in Georgia law, both of these races will head to a runoff in January if none of the candidates get a majority on Tuesday. Ossoff and Perdue have been neck-and-neck in the polls; Warnock leads the special election race but will likely fall short of avoiding the runoff.

In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn is facing Democrat MJ Hegar. This race has tightened as Biden’s numbers have gone up in the Lone Star State, although Cornyn still has an edge.

Two other Southern states have Senate races that have been competitive but appear unlikely to flip: Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing Democrat Amy McGrath, and Mississippi, where Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is facing Democrat Mike Espy.

U.S. House

Six Democrats who flipped Southern House seats in 2018 are in battles to keep their seats:

Republicans are trying to hang on to four open seats that are in danger of flipping:

A number of Republican incumbents are trying to keep their seats against strong Democratic challenges:

Decision 2020: Has Georgia finally arrived at a political tipping point?

Democrats are in contention in presidential, U.S. Senate races, poised to pick up another U.S. House seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — When the smoke clears from the 2020 election, a whole new political day may have dawned in Georgia.

Democrats appear ready to capture another U.S. House seat, which would give them six out of 14 seats in the state delegation, nearly at parity with Republicans. They also have a shot at both U.S. Senate seats and an outside chance of capturing a majority in the Georgia House.

And, in perhaps the biggest surprise of all, Joe Biden could become the first Democrat to carry the Peach State in 28 years.

That’s a best case, rosy scenario for the Democrats, one which Republicans would no doubt dismiss as wishful thinking. But even if this optimistic scenario doesn’t all pan out, 2020 is likely to go down as the best year state Democrats have had since they suffered a collapse in 2002, losing the governorship and control of the legislature after a decade in which they had lost their grip on the state’s federal offices.

Trump, Biden neck-and-neck in Georgia polls

In 2016, Donald Trump carried Georgia by 5 points–enough to get the state’s 16 electoral votes but the weakest showing by a Republican since Bob Dole in 1996. The biggest shock in that race was Hillary Clinton carried both Cobb and Gwinnett counties, which had for decades been impenetrable Republican redoubts in the Atlanta suburbs.

These suburbs, which continued to swing toward the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, are key in the presidential race. Trump should get a sizable win in rural areas and small towns; Biden will easily carry the urban cores of the Atlanta and the state’s other cities; so the suburbs will be where this contest is won or lost.

Polls now show the race between Biden and Trump within the margin of error. The biggest sign the state is truly competitive: Both Trump and Biden are making October campaign stops in Georgia, which rarely gets a glimpse of presidential candidates outside of the primary season.

U.S. Senate

Because of the retirement of Republican Johnny Isakson at the end of last year, both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats are up this year. Republican David Perdue is seeking a second term, and Republican while Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta businesswoman and political newcomer appointed to fill Isakson’s seat by Governor Brian Kemp, will try to keep it in an all-party special election.

Perdue is facing Democrat Jon Ossoff, who rose to national prominence in an expensive but ultimately unsuccessful U.S. House race shortly after Trump’s election. At the beginning of the race, Perdue wasn’t thought to be in much trouble, but Ossoff has closed the gap, with polls showing the race within the margin of error.

A major source of contention in the race has been the coronavirus epidemic, with Ossoff hitting Perdue for downplaying the severity of the disease during the early days of the pandemic and voting to dismantle Obamacare, which Ossoff says has provided a lifeline to virus victims.

Perdue has hit Ossoff over his fundraising from out-of-state sources, charging that Ossoff’s contributors support a “radical socialist agenda” that he would pursue as a senator.

Ossoff has raised nearly $33 million, much of it in small dollar online contributions from Democratic donors across the country. Perdue has raised about $21 million.

Because of a quirk in Georgia law, if neither Perdue or Ossoff break 50%, they will face each other in a January runoff, which could happen if a Libertarian candidate also in the race draws off enough support.

In the special election, 20 candidates are running, and polls show three are competing for spots in a January runoff: Loeffler; Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins from Gainesville, who has been trying to run at Loeffler from the right; and Democrat Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, a pulpit once held by Martin Luther King Jr.

Warnock has surged to the front in the latest polls, consolidating Democratic support with an ad blitz. Loeffler and Collins are running neck-and-neck for the second spot, in a race that has divided state Republicans into two camps.

Collins, one of Trump’s most vocal defenders during last year’s impeachment fight, decided to challenge Loeffler after Kemp passed him over for the Senate appointment. But he has so far not gotten the president’s endorsement, and Loeffler has been battling him for supremacy on the right by firmly embracing Trump and taking conservative stands on social issues.

One key metric to look at on election night will be whether the Republicans in the race collectively attract more votes overall that the Democrats, which could be a sign of things to come in the runoff.

Warnock has raised the most money, at $22 million, but Loeffer has more money to spend, after tapping her considerable personal fortune for $23 million in loans. Collins trails at $6 million.

Depending on results in other states, control of the U.S. Senate could hinge on two runoff elections in Georgia in January — a circumstance that would attract massive amounts of money and national attention to the Peach State.

U.S. House

The focus in the U.S. House races with be the 6th District, in Atlanta’s near northwest suburbs, and the 7th District, in the near northeast suburbs.

Two years ago, Democrat Lucy McBath flipped the 6th District seat, defeating Republican Karen Handel, Handel is back for a rematch, but McBath — like other freshmen Democrats defending seats in districts Trump won in 2016 — has raised a mountain of money, nearly $8 million, to less than $3 million for Handel

Trump won this district by less than 2 points in 2020. Demographic changes, including more minority voters, are also contributing to its shift from red to purple, and most election handicappers are giving McBath the edge.

Handel will need a strong margin from East Cobb and North Fulton counties to offset McBath’s strength in more diverse areas such as Sandy Springs and Doraville.

In the 7th District, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who lost this race by just 400 voters in 2018,  is back for another try, facing Republican Rich McCormick, a physican and retired Marine pilot. (The Republican incumbent, Rob Woodall, retired.) Bourdeaux also enjoys a fundraising advantage, $4.7 million to $2.4 million.

The largest population center in this district is Gwinnett County, where Democrats have been winning legislative seats and county offices in recent years. White voters are also now a minority here, which should help Bourdeaux.

If both McBath and Bourdeaux win, the Georgia delegation will be split 8R and 6D, closer than it has been since 1994.

State Legislature

In the battle for the state House, Democrats need to pick up 15 seats in the 180-member House to gain control, after picking up 11 seats in 2018. The party is targeting seats in the Atlanta suburbs, where Democrats have been making gains in recent years, although it is unclear if enough flippable seats remain to get to 15.

Democrats would need to pick up eight seats in the 56-member Senate to take control, which is considered much less likely.

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Decision 2020: Can Joe Biden break through and make the South matter?

Texas and Georgia join North Carolina and Florida on list of 2020 presidential swing states

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Twenty years ago, George W. Bush became the first Republican to sweep the entire South in a non-landslide election, and in the five presidential elections since, a Democrat has carried Virginia three times, Florida twice, and North Carolina once.

Every other state in the region went for the Republican, every time. If you add it up, that’s 64 state wins for the Republican, to just six for the Democrat.

The candidates for president

But if the pre-election polls are correct, the GOP’s lock on the South — which has been a bedrock of the party’s Electoral College fortunes — appears to be loosening, albeit slightly, in 2020. So election night may not be as much of an afterthought in the South as it has been for the past two decades.

Indeed, the results in three Southern states that report results early could point toward who is going to win the White House, even as the rest of the country finishes casting ballots.

Virginia seems almost certain to go Democratic for the fourth election in a row. North Carolina and Florida are, as expected, toss-ups, as they have been in the last three elections. But in 2020, the races in both Texas and Georgia are within the margin of error, which could complicate–if not end–Donald Trump’s hopes of winning re-election if Joe Biden wins either one.

Polls even show that in South Carolina, which hasn’t gone for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976, Trump’s lead may be in single digits. And while a win in the Palmetto State still seems like a stretch, a close race between Trump and Biden would be a sign that the president’s political fortunes have dipped even in a region he swept four years ago.

The 2020 race is also unusual in another respect — it is the first presidential race since 1972 where neither party has a Southerner on its ticket.

The list of four Southern swing states in 2020 echoes 2016, when Trump took them by single-digit margins while rolling up double-digit victories everywhere else. He won Florida by 1 point, North Carolina by 4, Georgia by 5, and Texas by 9.

In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats made gains in the suburbs around major cities in Georgia and Texas, which is the template Democrats are using for 2020. However, they had less success in North Carolina, where Republican candidates held up better.

The Biden campaign has been up with ads in Georgia and has spent a token amount in Texas, although it has yet to commit any substantial resources to either state. Both Biden and Trump have campaigned in Georgia, although they have not yet barnstormed Texas.

These Southern states are much more important to Trump than they are to Biden, who can win the White House without them if he flips Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan back into the blue column. While Trump could survive losing either Georgia or North Carolina, if he can hold the line in the Upper Midwest, a loss in either Florida or Texas would be catastrophic.

Florida and Georgia have two of the earliest poll closing times in the country, at 7 p.m. Eastern (the Florida Panhandle stays open another hour), and North Carolina closes a half hour later. So those three states could be among the first places where winners can be declared, unless the races are extremely close.

If Trump wins these states, the result won’t tell us much about the eventual outcome. But a Biden win in any of them — particularly Florida — will point to a Democratic victory, and we will likely know the Florida result before the results in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

No matter what happens in 2020, the results will almost certainly change how the presidential game is played in the South in 2024.

Four years from now, Texas and Georgia will be seriously contested by both sides, particularly if Biden wins or comes close this year. That will add two new large states where campaigns have to add significant resources, particularly in Texas, which has more than 20 TV markets.

For Republicans, who have not had to worry about the South at the presidential level for decades, more competition in the region complicates their path to the White House. For Democrats, the ability to win in the South gives them additional paths to 270 that reduce the number of must-win states elsewhere. So the long-term consequences of this election could be enormous.

That’s why, on Nov. 3, the South will matter as it hasn’t mattered in the last 20 years.

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