Opinion Columns & Blogs

Yes, Kemp won, and he didn’t cheat, either. But not all news is good for Republicans

Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp gestures as he steps onstage to speak to supporters Wednesday in Athens.
Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp gestures as he steps onstage to speak to supporters Wednesday in Athens. AP

If you are a Republican, the good news is Brian Kemp will be the governor of Georgia. Stacey Abrams ran the most competitive race in recent memory, but it was not enough. Though she brought more new voters and young voters to the polls than other recent candidates, Kemp found new voters as well and got them out to vote.

The Kemp campaign strategy was simple and effective. They maximized their turnout in south Georgia to add cushion to losses in the metro Atlanta counties. In many counties in Georgia, Kemp exceeded Nathan Deal’s margins by over 10 percent. That the race was so close is, in part, a measure of how engaged Democrats are.

It is a bit of mythology to claim the state has moved very blue over the last four years or even the last two years. Yes, Georgia has been trending very slowly to the Democrats. No, it has not been enough. That is bad news for Democrats. The Democrats’ claims of voter suppression are false, but designed to provide a sense of grievance and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the race. It is an unfortunate new tactic of progressives to claim that any election or institution is illegitimate unless they win.

There is good news for the Democrats. Kemp padded his margins outside Atlanta with significant pro-Trump voters, but in doing so he lost voters in the metropolitan Atlanta area because he was so tied to Donald Trump. Republicans are going to have to weigh carefully the benefits of tying themselves to Trump in statewide races. In places like Tennessee, it certainly helped. Increasingly, in places like Georgia, it can hurt.

Looking at the adjusted exit polling data, Kemp received 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, which is a good number for a Republican in Georgia. If Republicans can make further inroads into the Hispanic vote in Georgia, the GOP could have a new mechanism by which to forestall Democrat advances.

Without new voters, however, the GOP in Georgia is in decline. It lost significant seats in the state legislature. It saw two longtime Republican congressional districts go wobbly. It will have to find money for runoffs in several statewide races. But it will keep the Governor’s Mansion. That will matter when it comes to redistricting in 2021.

Pulling out from Georgia and looking nationwide, the same situation is happening elsewhere. In heavily Republican Kansas and Oklahoma, Republicans lost suburbs there, too. Upper income white voters are losing their taste for Trump. He told them to think of him as on the ballot and they did by voting Democrat. In South Carolina, Trump voters rallied to beat Mark Sanford, the Trump-critical Republican congressman, but then the voters of Sanford’s district rejected the Trump replacement handing a Republican seat to the Democrats.

One should not look at this shift and think it means the Democrats will win the presidency in 2020. After the 2010 defeat of Democrats by Republicans, lots of Republicans presumed it meant Barack Obama was beatable in 2012. He wasn’t. With Republicans in charge of the House, Obama had someone to run against. Now Trump has Nancy Pelosi to run against and she is more unpopular in the country than him.

Still, Trump would not have won in 2016 without the voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. For those keeping score at home, the voters in those states just shifted Democrat. That is the brightest warning sign Republicans must pay attention to.

Erick Erickson is host of Atlanta’s Evening News on WSB Radio.

  Comments