Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration last year, Democrats have been forecasting a massive backlash in November 2018.
But waves don’t just happen. Candidates are required. They must be recruited and somewhat trained in their would-be profession. They must learn the fine art of asking friends for money.
And though we have nearly a day and a half of qualifying left, it seems as if Democrats have been busy. Democratic women, in particular.
In 2016, after five days of qualifying, 90 candidates qualified in 56 state Senate races. Nineteen were women, and 13 of those were Democrats.
As of Wednesday afternoon, according to the secretary of state’s website, a total of 75 candidates had signed up for state Senate races. Of those 75, 27 are women – already a 40 percent increase over 2016. Of those 27 women, 22 are Democrats – a 70 percent increase over 2016.
Qualifying stretches to noon Friday, but at this rate, the number of GOP women running for the state Senate has dropped from six in 2016 to five this year.
While we lacked the time to make a mid-week inspection of state House races, we did have a quick sit down with
House Minority Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville.
In 2016, Trammell said Democrats competed in 82 of 180 House races. This year, they’ll have candidates in 99 contests. Their chances will be boosted by the fact that 17 current House members aren’t seeking re-election – a relatively high rate of turnover. Of those, 16 are Republicans. (And of those, eight are committee chairmen, which means a sea change in leadership next year.)
A Democrat, entrepreneur Rick Day, has even signed up to run against Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who also has primary opposition.
Trammell told us Wednesday that this year’s crop of candidate recruits have two things in common. One is their gender. By far, he said, the majority of recruits are women. And first-time office-seekers. “That’s certainly a common thread. They haven’t done this before, but can’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” he said.
Trammell said House Democrats were giving particular attention to the 14 House districts that Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential contest – many of them in the northern ‘burbs of Atlanta. The minority leader pointed to Cobb County Democrats as a particularly active bunch who have fielded candidates for all state House races.
Lucy McBath, an anti-gun violence activist, had been queued up to run against state Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, but has decided to enter the race against U.S. Rep. Karen Handel instead. Trammell said he anticipates another candidate will be found for the Teasley contest.
House Democrats haven’t been completely successful. State Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, occupies a majority African-American district in south Georgia. He’s likely to escape without a challenge.
Many of the women candidates qualifying this week have been recruited and trained by the Georgia WIN List, a group that supports pro-choice candidates. The WIN List was founded 18 years ago by Melita Easters. She told us Wednesday that prior to Donald Trump’s election, a year-long training class in running for office normally numbered 20 women.
In 2017, the WIN List class size jumped to 80.
This building female wave isn’t wholly Democratic. State Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, indeed has a Democratic challenger, Bill Lightle, a retired teacher. But Harbin also has a GOP primary challenger. Tricia Stearns is a local Realtor – she penned this story of coping with the Great Recession and death of a child in this 2017 piece for the AJC.
Both in May and November, this race could get interesting. Harbin’s district includes Pinewood Studios, which has become an economic powerhouse in the region. And Harbin has been a backer of “religious liberty” legislation opposed by the movie industry.
As mentioned, anti-gun violence activist Lucy McBath has decided to enter the Democratic primary for the right to challenge U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell.
This guarantees a rather dramatic Democratic contest. McBath’s son was shot and killed at a gas station in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2012 by a man objecting to the music he was playing in his car. Former CBS 46 anchor Bobby Kaple qualified early this week – his prematurely born twins required extensive care, which has put his focus on health care.
On Thursday, businessman Kevin Abel qualified as a Democrat for the Sixth District contest. Abel is a native of South Africa, brought here by his immigrant parents in 1979 at the age of 14.
Able sold his IT consulting business two years ago. I asked him what was to be learned from the Jon Ossoff/Karen Handel confrontation of last year.
“There is a path to victory for a Democrat,” he said. “We need the right kind of candidate at the right time.” Abel said he’ll be focusing on his business background and his 25-year roots in north Fulton County.
Abel said that, by November, 22 months of the Trump administration will have undercut Handel’s advantage in what still must be considered a strong GOP district. “Last year, people were willing to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt and by extension, Karen Handel. That won’t be the case in November,” he said.
Abel listed Medicaid expansion, immigration reform and gun violence as his top issues. His son, a senior at North Springs High School, will be one of those leading a March 14 walkout to protest gun violence in schools – with his dad’s support.
Abel condemned last week’s decision by Republicans in the Legislature to strip Delta of a jet fuel tax break as punishment for criticizing the NRA in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., school massacre. “It was so easy to weigh in on that. It was such an idiotic thing to do,” Abel said.
More on the female front: Heads were turned this week when Republican John Barge filed his paperwork listing his occupation: “State School Superintendent.” He did once hold that title, and now wants it back.
But Barge may not be alone. We’re also hearing that former state school superintendent Kathy Cox, who left that post in 2010, is contemplating a run against GOP incumbent Richard Woods. Cox recently moved back to Georgia to care for her ailing mother -- and we did spot her at the state Capitol last month, scouting her old terrain.
As of Wednesday afternoon, state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, had not signed up for re-election, so we pinged him to see what was up. What with the DeKalb County water situation, he’d been so quick to leave his house that he’d forgotten his checkbook, he said. Holcomb admitted to being a procrastinator, anyway, and so will hand in his paperwork on Friday.
The mega-hit movie “Black Panther” is officially influencing Georgia politics.
While most candidates play it straight on the paperwork the file when qualifying for office, R.J. Hadley, a Democratic contender for secretary of state, had some fun with his.
On it, he wrote “WAKANDA FOREVER” -- an homage to the fictional, high-tech African kingdom lionized in the film.
Hadley isn’t a fringe candidate. He is a former Rockdale County tax commissioner. But he has been a frustrated office-seeker, having run for statewide office six times.
“I've got the organizational, tech and people skills to do an excellent job as Secretary,” he said. “That line was just a call to Democratic primary voters to look toward the future, not the past, not campaign reports, not NRA ratings, to see that R.J. Hadley is best prepared for the job.”
Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow, too, has qualified to run in the Democratic primary. Four Republicans are also gunning for the open seat.
The Republican Governors Association aimed for two birds with one stone with its first Georgia radio ad of the 2018 cycle.
The spot features two women talking about the two Democrats running for governor - former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans - and confused about which one was which.
The phrases “liberal Democrat,” “real liberal,” “Stacey was for Hillary,” “fancy lawyer” and “expand Obamacare” were each invoked. At the end, one of the narrators “forgets” the candidates’ last names.
“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter,” says the other speaker. “Stacey Whoever is wrong for Georgia.”
At least two Georgia members of Congress will be on hand today when House Speaker Paul Ryan tours a Home Depot facility near Vinings. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, Karen Handel, R-Roswell, will accompany the speaker as he watches a product demo and participates in an employee town hall, all in the name of touting the GOP’s tax overhaul bill ahead of the midterm elections.
Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson signed onto a Republican school safety proposal on Wednesday, one of several bills looking to respond to last month’s mass shooting at a south Florida high school. The measure would let 100,000 public schools use federal dollars for alarm systems, security cameras, crisis intervention training and school counselors while steering clear of gun control. “Keeping our schools safe requires a multi-pronged approach and all of us working together at the local, state and federal levels,” Isakson said.