Political Insider

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The Jolt: Stacey Abrams, Georgia Dems double down on ‘exact match’


Stacey Abrams and Georgia Democrats are doubling – even tripling -- down on attacks aimed at Georgia’s “exact match” voter registration mandate, which has placed 53,000 voters in a kind of purgatory.

A new Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News poll shows the race for governor to be a statistical dead heat at this point.

And 6.9 million voters are now registered in Georgia. The state has seen a sharp increase in new voters, with 253,902 people signed up since April.

All three developments are intertwined.

An Associated Press article sparked the situation with a Tuesday look at the impact of a legislatively backed measure that went into effect in February, requiring that voter applications precisely match information on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration:

An analysis of the records obtained by The Associated Press reveals racial disparity in the process. Georgia’s population is approximately 32 percent black, according to the U.S. Census, but the list of voter registrations on hold with Kemp’s office is nearly 70 percent black.

Kemp’s office blamed that disparity on the New Georgia Project, a voter registration group founded by Abrams in 2013.

Kemp accuses the organization of being sloppy in registering voters, and says they submitted inadequate forms for a batch of applicants that was predominantly black. His office has said the New Georgia Project used primarily paper forms and “did not adequately train canvassers to ensure legible, complete forms ....”

Our AJC colleague Mark Neisse notes the federal lawsuit filed Thursday by a network of civil rights groups, challenging the “exact-match” law:

The lawsuit alleges that the law, passed by the Georgia General Assembly last year, has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans who want to become registered voters. About 80 percent of applications put on pending status were submitted by those minority groups, according to the lawsuit.

To highlight the issue, Abrams has been leveraging those national media contacts she’s built over the last two years. She professed herself “deeply worried” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday.  (This may be one of the more important, ground-breaking aspects of the Abrams campaign – an implicit recognition that, with local media outlets in decline and shorn of personnel, national news niches become more important.)

The Abrams campaign has called for Kemp to resign his job as secretary of state, which puts him in charge of much election machinery in Georgia – though not all of it. The state Democratic party released a statement from Max Cleland, who served as secretary of state before his election to the U.S. Senate in 1996. In part:

When I decided to run for higher office, I stepped down from my position as Secretary of State because I recognized that it would not be fair to Georgia voters if I oversaw an election in which I was a candidate for higher office. It is time for Brian Kemp to do the same.”

The Abrams campaign has also launched a small-dollar fundraising effort on the back of the “exact-match” issue, to launch “the most expansive and aggressive voter protection team in the state’s history.”

Social media chatter on “exact match” became so heated on Thursday that the ACLU of Georgia felt it necessary to assure voters whose registrations have been deemed “pending” that they can still vote – if they bring photo ID “which substantially reflects the name you used on your voter registration form.”

The debate over the “exact match” policy is well-deserved and overdue. But political campaigns aren’t debating clubs. Something else is going on, too.

Voter registration closed on Tuesday. Campaigns are no longer focused on making sure sympathizers join the electoral pool. The next three weeks and change is all about GOTV.

You’ve seen Brian Kemp and his Republican associates slap the label of “extremist” and “socialist” on Abrams. The language is designed to motivate the GOP base, and push them to the polls.

This is the other side of that coin. To win on Nov. 6, Abrams needs an a black turnout that produces 32 or 33 percent of all ballots. Give or take.

We’ve said it before: If you want to motivate African-Americans to vote, tell them that someone is trying to stop them.

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Georgia Trend magazine notes that the Georgia Chamber has endorsed several Republican incumbents on the Nov. 6 ballot, but hasn’t made a pick in the race for governor – and won’t:

The chamber will not be making endorsements in the governor’s or lieutenant governor’s races. A spokesperson says the “chamber leadership agreed earlier this year not to endorse in open statewide races,” those in which no incumbent is running.

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Steve Phillips, the progressive civil rights attorney, is out with a blistering take on the Democratic Governors Association’s strategy in Georgia. 

In the Nation, he writes the group’s $90 million spending plan should allocate roughly $7.5 million to Georgia and 11 other competitive states.  Writes Phillips: 

Even where DGA is spending the most to support the nominees of color, it has still only allocated less than $4 million in each state (reports are that it has spent roughly $3 million in Florida and $1.3 million in Georgia). Campaign filings as of September 30 show just $765,000 from DGA going to support Abrams in Georgia. In Maryland, one of the most Democratic states in the country, DGA has invested nothing.   

He blames an over-reliance on polls that look at who voted in 2014 and not who is likely to vote in this year’s election: 

That’s why pollsters missed the Gillum surge in Florida and the size of the Abrams margin in Georgia. And it’s why they’re underestimating the strength and potential of Ben Jealous’s running in Maryland, a state with twice as many Democrats as Republicans.

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We told you last weekend about the newest attack that U.S. Rep. Karen Handel has leveled against her Democratic opponent, raising questions about Lucy McBath’s residency in the Sixth District and whether she’s been dodging taxes.

Handel has specifically highlighted the fact that Curtis McBath, Lucy’s husband, has been receiving the homestead exemption on his Cobb County home despite his wife’s past statement in a TV debate that he’s a permanent resident of Tennessee.

That isn’t kosher under local law, which requires a homeowner to be a permanent legal resident of the state and county to claim the exemption.

The McBath campaign has dismissed Handel’s offensive as “baseless” and outlined Lucy’s longstanding ties to the district. It has refused, however, to address the specific accusations involving the Democrat’s husband, including where the flight attendant primarily resides -- the central factor used to determine whether he can receive the exemption. 

Yesterday afternoon, though, our partners at the Georgia News Lab got their hands on a copy of Curtis McBath’s voter registration. It shows that he has been registered to vote in Blount County, Tenn., since 1991. That makes it pretty hard to square with his Cobb County tax exemption.

The McBath campaign pointed us to its earlier statement, which called Handel’s accusations “a new low.”

“This is last year’s playbook written by a consultant somewhere in DC,” spokesman Jake Orvis told us Monday.

The Handel campaign has raised the stakes in recent days, asking McBath to prove where she and her husband have been filing their income tax returns. From a release her campaign circulated this morning: 

“Tennessee does not tax personal income, while Georgia does. In Georgia, the income tax funds half our state’s annual budget. That’s funding for our schools, for law enforcement, for all the state programs we depend on. Have the McBaths been paying taxes as residents of Georgia? Or have they been dodging taxes by claiming to be residents of Tennessee?”

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Olivia Nuzzi’s latest White House dispatch in New York magazine is worth a read, even if only for the highly awkward interaction involving former Georgia GOP operative and Mike Pence Chief of Staff Nick Ayers at the end. (Spoiler: The president called him into his office to refute rumors of a promotion.) 

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