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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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Georgia Primary: Jon Ossoff avoids runoff, wins Democratic U.S. Senate race

Republican Karen Handel gets her rematch in 6th U.S. House district; Democratic U.S. Rep David Scott barely escapes getting forced into a runoff

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Three years after coming up on the short end in the most expensive House race in U.S. history, Democrat Jon Ossoff revived his political fortunes by winning Georgia’s U.S. Senate primary and earning the right to challenge Republican to U.S. Senator David Perdue in the fall.

Offoss took 51 percent over the vote, defeating Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, who came in second with 15.2 percent, and Sarah Riggs Amico, a Marietta businesswoman who was the party’s unsuccessful nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, at 12.6 percent.

Jon Ossoff

On election night, Ossoff had been under the 50 percent threshold he needed to avoid a runoff but moved into a majority as tens of thousands of absentee ballots were counted.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the state had mailed absentee ballot applications to every voter in the state to increase mail-in voting. Tuesday’s vote in the Peach State was still marred by long lines and technical issues with the state’s new touch screen voting machines, which forced poll times to be extended up to three hours in parts of metro Atlanta.

Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, rose to national prominence in 2017 in a special election for the 6th District seat in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, in which he turned Democratic anger at President Donald Trump’s election into a $30 million fundraising haul but was edged out for the seat by Karen Handel.

Handel, who subsequently lost the seat in 2018 to Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, will get a rematch after she easily cleared the Republican primary Tuesday. McBath was unopposed in the Democratic primary

The 6th District race is at the top of the Republican target list, with McBath’s support of Trump’s impeachment likely to be front and center in the fall. Trump carried the district by just 1.5 points in 2016.

The breakout performance in Georgia Tuesday came from political newcomer Rich McCormick, an emergency room doctor and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot won the GOP nomination in the 7th U.S. House District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs without a runoff.

He won 55 percent and defeated six other candidates, including State Senator Renee Unterman, a former mayor who has spent two decades in the legislature, who finished in second with 17 percent.

Democrats in the 7th District nominated Carolyn Bourdeaux, who came within 400 votes of winning the seat in 2018 against Republican Rob Woodall, who decided not to run again. She carried 53 percent of the vote, ahead of State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero and Nabilah Islam, a political consultant, both at 12 percent.

Veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott, running for his 10th term, survived a scare after he was nearly forced into a runoff against former State Rep. Keisha Waites for his seat in Atlanta’s southern and western suburbs. On election night, Scott only stood at 48 percent, but he went over the 50 percent threshold on Thursday, after the remaining absentee ballots were counted.

Republicans also filled runoff slots for two of their safest Georgia U.S. House seats — the 9th District in the north Georgia mountains, which U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is giving up to run for the state’s other Senate seat, and the 14th District in northwest Georgia, where Tom Graves is retiring.

In the 9th District, the GOP runoff will pit State Rep. Matt Gurtler of Tiger, who came in on top with 22 percent, against Andrew Clyde, a retired Navy officer and firearms instructor from Jackson County, who finished in second at 19 percent. Former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, who represented a neighboring district from 2007 until 2015, came in fourth.

In the 14th District, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Milton businesswoman, will face John Cowan, a neurosurgeon from Rome, in the Republican runoff. Greene, who had originally filed to run in the 6th District but switched to the 14th when Graves retired, took 41 percent to 20 percent for Cowan.

Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican Kelly Loeffler,  is also up for election in 2020; however, because that contest is to fill the remainder of a term, a special election will be held until November in which Loeffler will run against candidates from all parties, including Collins, who has launched an intra-party fight to push Loeffler out of the seat.

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4 Southern U.S. House Democrats in Trump seats break with party on coronavirus vote

Georgia’s Lucy McBath is only Southern Democrat in a seat Trump carried to vote for $3 trillion spending bill

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Four of the five Southern Democrats trying to hold seats from U.S. House districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 have voted against a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package pushed through the House by Democratic leaders late Friday.

The lone Southern Democrat in a Trump seat who voted for the measure was U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who represents a district in Atlanta’s near northwest suburbs. She came under immediate fire from her leading GOP opponent for supporting “her San Francisco buddy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the vote.

Voting no were U.S. Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger, both from Virginia.

Five other Democrats who in 2018 flipped Republican-held districts that Trump didn’t carry in 2016 voted for the measure, including Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas.

The measure, dubbed as the HEROES Act by its sponsors, passed the House on a mostly party-line vote of 208-199. It would provide nearly $1 billion to state, local and tribal governments that have seen their tax revenues plunge during the coronavirus shutdown, along with $100 billion for farmers who have faced market dislocations.

The measure would also provide another round of $1,200 stimulus payments to Americans, including undocumented immigrants; extend supplemental federal unemployment payments until January; forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for every borrower; provide money for election security; and inject $25 billion into the U.S. Postal Service.

The $3 trillion price tag for the package — along with the provisions on student loan debt, election security, and including undocumented immigrants in stimulus payments — have drawn strong opposition from Republican leaders in the Senate, who have pronounced the plan dead on arrival.

By voting against the bill, the Southern Democrats in Trump districts were trying to avoid being tagged with support for a doomed, partisan spending plan that could be weaponized by their Republican opponents in the fall.

Cunningham, who represents the 1st District in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, called the bill “Washington politics at its worst.”

“While South Carolina families, small business owners, and workers are struggling, now is not the time to advance a partisan wish list or refuse to come to the negotiating table,” Cunningham said in a statement. “At a time when our country is in real trouble, we should not be spending precious time on one-sided solutions that aren’t going anywhere.

Horn, who represents the 5th District in and around Oklahoma City, called the measure “a messaging bill” that lacked bi-partisan support and was “a disservice to the American people, especially during a time of crisis.”

“This is not the time for partisan gamesmanship, this is the time to find common ground and deliver help where it is needed most,” Horn said in a statement.  “In response to COVID-19, our relief efforts must be targeted, timely, and transparent. The HEROES Act does not meet those standards.”

Luria, who represents Virginia’s 2nd district in the Hampton Roads area, noted that the bill would double federal spending this year “and spending of this scale requires careful consideration and input from all members, not just one party.”

“Relief legislation must address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as pave the path to economic recovery,” Luria said in a statement. “Unfortunately, there are many elements of the bill that are unrelated to addressing Americans’ most immediate needs associated with COVID-19, which distract from addressing our most urgent priorities during this pandemic.”

Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in and around Richmond, said some of her Democratic colleagues “have decided to use this package as an opportunity to make political statements and propose a bill that goes far beyond pandemic relief and has no chance at becoming law, further delaying the help so many need.”

“We must come together to build a targeted, timely relief package that avoids partisan posturing and instead prioritizes combating our nationwide public health emergency, addressing catastrophic unemployment rates, and protecting the security of the next generation,” Spanberger said in a statement.

After the vote, McBath released a statement in which she did not offer a detailed explanation for her support of the bill, beyond saying that she was “fighting” for more funding for hospitals, first responders and the unemployed.

“This pandemic has caused grief for thousands, financial difficulty for millions, and drastic changes to the lives of every American,” she said. “Families across the country agree that more must be done to protect the health and financial well-being of our loved ones.”

But her leading Republican opponent, Karen Handel, charged that McBath “voted with the far left of her party to approve a $3 trillion partisan spending spree on out-of-touch, liberal priorities.”

“Nancy Pelosi has a true and loyal friend in Lucy McBath,” Handel said in a statement posted on Twitter. “When faced with backing the Speaker’s extreme agenda or representing the interests of [her district], McBath chooses her San Francisco buddy every time.”

McBath unseated Handel in 2018 in the 6th District, which Trump narrowly carried in 2016. Handel will face four other GOP candidates in the June 9 primary for the right to take on McBath again in November.

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2 Southern U.S. House Democrats in GOP-targeted seats support impeachment in Judiciary Committee

U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath of Georgia and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell vote to remove President Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern freshman U.S. House Democrats who are on the Republicans’ 2020 target list — Lucy McBath of Georgia and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida — voted with their party Thursday in favor of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump that were approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee vote on articles of impeachment, after a contentious debate that stretched across three days, was the first formal legislative step in the process of trying to remove Trump from office. The full House is expected to vote next week on the articles, which accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Lucy McBath (left) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

McBath represents the 6th District in the northwestern Atlanta suburbs that Trump narrowly carried in 2016. The president lost Mucarsel-Powell’s 26th District, which includes the southern part of metro Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, by 16 points.

Republicans are targeting both seats in 2020.

During the debate on the impeachment articles, McBath said she was supporting them with “a heavy heart and a grieving soul.”

“I am greatly saddened by what we have learned, and I am forced to face a solemn conclusion — I believe the president abused the power of his office, putting his own interests above the needs of our nation, above the needs of the people that I love and serve,” she said.

“This is not why I came to Washington. I came to Washington because I love my country. I came to Washington full of hope, empowered by my community to serve them in Congress,” she said.

McBath also invoked the memory of her son, Jordan, whose murder in a racially charged shooting in 2012 started her down a road of activism that led her to Congress.

“I made a promise to my community that I would act. I promised that I would take that sense of protection, that love a mother has for her son, and I would use it for my community, for the American people,” she said.

McBath’s chief 2020 Republican opponent Karen Handel — whom McBath defeated in 2018 — said Americans remain “unmoved” by the “impeachment scam” and accused McBath of being “more interested in finding ways to take down President Trump than she is in finding the facts.”

“Lucy — it’s time to get back to work for GA6 and end these games,” Handel said in a Facebook post.

In her debate remarks, Mucarsel-Powell said she “did not come [to Congress] to impeach the president, but this president has violated the rule of law.”

“It is undeniable that this president has violated his oath of office, abused his power and obstructed Congress,” she said. “This is a clear and present danger to the future of our democracy.”

Mucarsel-Powell also said the issue of impeachment is “bigger than party, and the Constitution has no partisan allegiance.”

“We all agree that we cannot allow this president, or any future president, to abuse the power of the office,” she said. “We cannot accept a president who says, ‘America First,’ but really puts his own interest before the country.”

Mucarsel-Powell’s Republican opponent, Irina Vilariño, said “it saddens me that during this Christmas season, we are watching one party driven by politics and a personal agenda attempt to derail the American Presidency.”

“Unlike my opponent, I’m not interested in being a part of a political clique or spending all of my time trying to drag someone else down,” she said in a Facebook post. “I am interested in delivering common sense, practical leadership for our constituents and for our district.”

Eight other Southern Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who represent safe seats also voted for the articles of impeachment, including Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Hank Johnson of Georgia; Cedric Richmond of Louisiana; Ted Deutch and Val Demings of Florida; and Shelia Jackson Lee, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar of Texas.

All eight Republicans on the committee voted against the impeachment articles, including Doug Collins of Georgia; Martha Roby of Alabama; Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube of Florida; Ben Cline of Virginia; Mike Johnson of Louisiana; and Louie Gohmert and John Ratcliffe of Texas.

Watch McBath’s full statement in the Judiciary Committee

Watch Mucarel-Powell’s full statement in the Judiciary Committee

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Casting call: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp holding public auditions for U.S. Senate

Applicants include one of Donald Trump’s biggest defenders in the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich’s daughter and a man who kills hogs for a living

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

Married white governor seeks senatorial companion who is interested but not too eager. Must enjoy gridlock and prickly egos. Prudes OK, but no Democrats. One-year commitment, may go longer if things work out.

OK, so Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp didn’t really place a personal ad to fill U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s soon-to-be vacant seat. But he did launch a process that perhaps unprecedented in Senate history — inviting any Georgian who is at least 30 years old (the constitutionally required age to be a senator) to apply for the job.

Clockwise from top left: Doug Colllins, Jan Jones, Tom Price, Martha Zoller

And apply they have — nearly 500 people have gone online and submitted their resumes, which have been posted on the governor’s website.

Kemp has not said when the application process will close, nor when he will name a replacement for Isakson, who is leaving at the end of the year due to ill health. The governor has also not committed himself to picking one of applicants.

It’s a good bet that the governor won’t bestow the prize on some of the more obscure candidates, including the front man for a band called Big Mike and the Booty Papas or the owner of a hog-killing business, who presumably knows a thing or two about pork-barrel politics.

A number of Democrats have also applied, bless their hearts, almost certainly to no avail.

Whoever is appointed will also have to hold the seat in a special election next year, which argues for a candidate who has the political and fundraising chops to win a statewide election on short notice. The winner in 2020 will also face election again in 2022, when Isakson’s term will be up.

Perhaps the most high-profile applicant is U.S. Rep. Doug Collins from Gainesville, who, as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, has become one of the most zealous House defenders of President Donald Trump. None of the state’s other eight Republican House members has so far applied.

Another applicant with a Trump connection is Tom Price from Roswell, who left Congress in 2017 to become Trump’s health secretary, only to resign after less than seven months in office amid criticism of his high-flying travel practices.

Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg, Randy Evans, a well-connected lawyer who has represented both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Governor Sonny Perdue, has also applied, as has Jackie Gingrich Cushman, Gingrich’s daughter who is (perhaps not coincidentally) also promoting a new book arguing for more civility in politics.

Also among the applicants are Jack Kingston and Paul Broun, two former House members who were defeated in the GOP primary the last time a Senate seat opened in Georgia in 2014. Kingston finished second in that race behind the eventual winner, U.S. Senator David Purdue; Broun finished fifth.

Another name to keep an eye on: Jack Markwalter, a politically connected Atlanta business executive who applied late in the process. While Markwalter has no political experience, his resume is very similar to that of Perdue, who came out of the business world to claim a Senate seat in 2014.

However, one salient demographic fact may shape the process — every previous U.S. Senator who has represented the Peach State in its long and illustrious history, save one, has been a white man, giving Kemp the opportunity to make history with his appointment. (The lone exception was Rebecca Latimer Felton, who was picked in 1922, at the age of 87, to serve just one day by a governor using the appointment to pique a political rival.)

Topping the list of female applicants is State Rep. Jan Jones from Milton, who as speaker pro tem, is the legislature’s highest-ranking Republican woman.

Another possibility is former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission who narrowly lost statewide races for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014. However, Handel has not applied, as she’s running to reclaim the House seat she lost in 2018.

While Handel has valuable statewide name recognition, her won-loss record in statewide races (one win, two losses)  and her 2018 defeat would likely give Kemp pause if he’s trying to pick someone who can hold the seat.

Another notable woman among the applicants is Martha Zoller, a former conservative talk show host from Gainesville who has worked as an adviser to both Perdue and Kemp. She lost a primary runoff to Collins in 2012.

Democrats have so far mostly held their fire on this race, waiting for Kemp’s appointment to be made before committing to running in the special election. The only Democrat who has jumped in so far is Mark Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.

Perdue’s term is also up in 2020, which means both of Georgia’s Senate seats will be on the ballot next year as Republicans try to preserve their three-seat majority.

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