Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Georgia Republicans pick up a win in an unexpected place


 

While you were sleeping, a Republican won in what's increasingly considered Democratic territory within metro Atlanta. From my colleagues at the Political Insider blog :

"Republicans claimed a big victory late Tuesday in the runoff to decide who fill a Democrat-leaning Georgia Senate seat representing parts of DeKalb, Rockdale and Newton counties.

"The early returns showed ex-Rockdale commissioner JaNice Van Ness, a Republican from Conyers, leading former Democratic state Rep. Tonya Anderson of Lithonia.

"That means the GOP will expand the party’s advantage in the Senate to beyond-supermajority status, since the seat was held by Democratic Sen. Ronald Ramsey. He was tapped by Gov. Nathan Deal in July to a judgeship.

"'Tonight's victory in Senate District 43 proves that Georgia Republicans can win anywhere,' declared Georgia GOP chair John Padgett."

 

When you talk to Georgia Republicans who think beyond the next election cycle to the future of the party, one of the examples they often mention about an area that is seemingly lost to Democrats is Rockdale County. A rule of thumb is that any district where at least 30 percent of the voters are black is a tough one for Republicans to win. According to the latest registration statistics, that figure in Rockdale is 46 percent. Rockdale's state House delegation includes four Democrats to two Republicans.

What's more, the district includes a large chunk of Newton County, where the local GOP in recent years has featured a great deal of infighting . And on the other side of the district lie Lithonia and southeast DeKalb. The areas represented by this Senate district make up a big chunk of Georgia's 4th Congressional District, where incumbent Hank Johnson didn't even face a Republican opponent last year; the last time he had general-election opposition, in 2012, he won by a margin of 3-to-1.

So to see a Republican not only win last night, but do so by taking a 1,000-vote margin in Rockdale to erase her Democratic opponent's lead in DeKalb, is noteworthy. Even if the difference between the two was barely more than 1 percentage point. Even if it was a special election -- and a special-election runoff at that.

It may well be that in next year's normal cycle, with a far larger turnout due to the presidential election, a Democrat will unseat Van Ness. In fact, that's the most likely outcome. But at the very least, her victory last night will force the Democrats to go on offense in a district where a Republican hadn't even contested the race since 2010. And, win or lose, Georgia Republicans may also see the district as an opportunity to test the effectiveness of some potential inroads into the African-American electorate, from school choice (Van Ness leads a private school) to cityhood in traditionally Democratic areas (she pledged to sponsor legislation to create a city of Stonecrest in DeKalb).

If they don't see that opportunity, they will have missed a good one.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.