Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

The Jolt: ‘Rural Georgia ain’t going down easy’


Pry your eyes away from the tedious fight for votes underway in the Georgia governor’s race long enough to ponder this: If he hasn’t won it, Republican Brian Kemp at least gained the upper hand in this gubernatorial contest by campaigning almost exclusively in a rural Georgia that’s rapidly shedding people.

Democrat Stacey Abrams drew her support from a metro Atlanta whose population won’t stop growing. “So what’s up with that?” you may ask yourself.

If you didn’t, Charlie Hayslett did. Ages ago, Hayslett was a political reporter for this newspaper, but reformed and became a public relations specialist. He has developed a sub-specialty as an expert on the problems of rural Georgia, and has a blog with the apt title of “Trouble in God’s Country.”

Hayslett crunched the numbers, and found that the intensity of identity politics in rural Georgia was Kemp’s key to winning the 50.23 percent of the vote that he has now – which has created the closest race for governor that Georgia has seen since Lester Maddox and Howard “Bo” Callaway had their face-off in ’66. The executive summary: “Rural Georgia ain’t going down easy.” From Hayslett’s blog:  

As of the results posted on the Secretary of State’s site Monday morning, November 12, Republican gubernatorial nominee Brian Kemp is leading in 130 mostly rural counties while Abrams is ahead in the other largely urban 29 counties. The counties Kemp is carrying are home to 2.9 million registered voters versus 3.5 million in the Abrams counties.

With that kind of numerical advantage, you have to wonder how Abrams can be losing. Two answers. The first is turnout. Kemp got a 61.5 percent turnout in his 130 counties versus 59.8 percent in the Abrams counties – not huge, but important in a race as close as this one is. (As of this writing, the Secretary of State’s website is showing Kemp leading 1,975,843 to 1,916,943.)

The second obvious factor was margin. Kemp is winning bigger in his small rural counties than Abrams is in her big urban ones. Which is saying something, because Abrams is ahead by a margin of 66.7 percent to 33.3 percent, or 2:1. Kemp, though, is running up the score in his 130 counties by a margin of 71.4 percent to 28.6 percent.

Hayslett has much, much more, and it’s well worth a look.

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It wasn’t exactly a call to concede, but former congressman Buddy Darden on Wednesday became the first prominent Democrat in Georgia to urge Stacey Abrams to start looking beyond the race for governor.

Saying that it’s “pretty evident” the race will be certified for Republican Brian Kemp, Darden said on GPB’s “Political Rewind” that Abrams should begin putting a focus on a 2020 run against U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.

“Never stop. Keep using this energy,” he said. “Keep using these new voters.” 

That came even as more national Democrats are picking up on Abrams’ line of attack questioning the legitimacy of Kemp’s possible victory. 

Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey have both declared Abrams the victim of an unfair process.

And U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told a group in Washington, “if Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia, they stole it.”

Some conservatives see a double standard. Gov. Rick Scott, for instance, has been roundly criticized for crying fraud in Florida’s race for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, took to social media: “I guess the lack of media outrage,” she wrote, “means losing graciously is only for Republicans.”

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Gov. Nathan Deal’s tax breaks for tree farmers and airlines, plus his plan to spend $270 million helping to clean up and rebuild southwest Georgia after Hurricane Michael devastated the area, is expected to pass the full House today. Our AJC colleague James Salzer says a Senate committee will quickly begin its work today.

So far, there has been little vocal opposition to ratifying Deal’s action, taken earlier this year, to exempt Delta Air Lines and others aviation operators from a sales tax on jet fuel. You’ll recall the tax break was rejected by the Legislature this spring, after the airline broke some ties with the NRA, a move prompted by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

But Wednesday did produce the first public opposition to the Delta tax break from Michael Harden, state director of the Georgia chapter of Americans For Prosperity, an anti-tax group. From the press release:

“The state sales tax on jet-fuel should not be used by any company as a cornerstone bargaining chip for which taxpayers foot the bill. You will never find a better example of corporate welfare than this sweetheart tax break and we hope that lawmakers will put a stop to it.”

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Funeral services for John Meadows, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, have been set for 2 p.m. Saturday at the First Baptist Church in Calhoun. Interment will follow in Fain Cemetery with military rites.

Meadows, a former Marine, died Monday of stomach cancer. He was 74. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Boys and Girls Club at 10001 South Wall Street, Calhoun, GA 30701.

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We told you that state Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, had been arrested Tuesday at a State Capitol protest supporting the vote-counting efforts of Democrat Stacey Abrams. Williams gave a tearful account of her time in jail from the Senate well the next day. “I did not deserve to be there,” she said.  We noted the lack of reaction from Williams’ Republican colleagues, but that silence was broken Wednesday afternoon by this tight-rope of a statement from Senate President pro tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville:

“While I was not at the Capitol when certain events transpired yesterday, I understand that emotions are high regarding the outcome of events. While all parties are trying to sort out what exactly took place, I stand in support of my colleague Senator Nikema Williams and law enforcement whose duty is to protect us all.

“ I commend Lt. Governor Casey Cagle for his proposal to have both sides heard and understood so we can have a clear understanding of what happened. We need to look into events like this to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected, along with peace and order being secured. No harm should come to anyone or any forum involved and that includes law enforcement.”

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At their caucus meeting on Wednesday, state Senate Democrats retained Steve Henson of Tucker as their leader. Other officers:

-- Gloria Butler of Stone Mountain, caucus chair;

-- Emanuel Jones of Decatur, caucus first vice chair;

-- Harold Jones of Augusta, caucus whip;

-- Elena Parent of Atlanta, caucus vice chair for campaigns and fundraising;

-- Nan Orrock of Atlanta, caucus secretary.

House Democrats are expected to elect their leadership on Monday.

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In Washington, President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed a bipartisan criminal justice overhaul that would relax some mandatory minimum sentencing laws and beef up anti-recidivism programs. The effort, spearheaded in the House by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has been in the making for more than a year, and mirrors some of the changes Georgia has made at the state level. 

The measure could face some resistance from tough-on-crime conservatives in the Senate. One person to watch is Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue. The first-term Republican helped kill a criminal justice bill in 2016 and telegraphed earlier this year that he’d prefer a narrower measure that would just tackle recidivism rates. He has not said definitively where he stands on this broader Trump-backed effort, but his office says he would like to get to a “yes.” 

Perdue rarely breaks with the president, but it’s possible that this could be one of those instances.

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Congratulations are due to our WSB Radio colleague Jamie Dupree, who last night accepted the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association’s career achievement award for distinguished reporting on Congress. The award recognizes “rare, exceptional careers and signifies the admiration of the many broadcasters who follow behind and benefit from the work of the recipient.”

Dupree admits the occasion was fraught with emotion. He lost his voice in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, and it has yet to return. Dupree has continued working with the help of a computer program that translates keyboarded words into spoken ones, drawn from a database of his past broadcasts.

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