vision 2020

Georgia Is Looking Like Trouble for Republicans in November

Georgia Republican allies Brian Kemp and Kelly Loeffler both have their problems in a key 2020 battleground state. Photo: Brynn Anderson/Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

In the early phases of the 2020 cycle, Democratic thinkers and gabbers spent a lot of time discussing two different geographical approaches to beating Donald Trump, as I noted back in November 2018, just after the Democratic gains in the midterms:

The two most obvious regional strategies for Democrats are to win back the heartland/Rust Belt (depending on how you think about them) states that Trump narrowly carried despite a strong history of going the other way: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. There are two similar additional states that Obama carried twice: Iowa and Ohio.

At the other end of the spectrum are Sunbelt states that were already quite close (Florida and North Carolina) or that have recently been trending Democratic (Arizona, Georgia, and Texas) at varying rates.

Until recently, the consensus was probably that the heartland states were the lowest-hanging fruit for Democrats, in part because of 2018 Democratic gubernatorial wins in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. More recently, polling from Arizona has been extremely promising for Democrats. And today, results from a poll commissioned by Georgia House Republicans from the respected Cygnal firm were published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, showing that recent GOP divisions may be undermining the party’s status in a state it’s carried in every presidential election since 1992. Greg Bluestein has the story:

An internal poll conducted for the Georgia House GOP Caucus points to troubling signs for Republican leaders: President Donald Trump is deadlocked with Joe Biden and voters aren’t giving the White House, Gov. Brian Kemp or the Legislature high marks for the coronavirus response. 

Trump and Brian Kemp recently had a much publicized spat over how quickly to revoke restrictions on Georgia businesses (imposed by Kemp very late in the coronavirus pandemic, which hit Georgia pretty hard). Trump, of course, has been all over the place on the question of balancing public health against economic concerns, while Kemp has pretty consistently been inclined to gamble on more infections and deaths if he can protect jobs and profits. The Cygnal poll suggests neither of their acts are going over very well:

* More Georgians said they were most concerned with public health (60%) than the economic impact (36%) of the pandemic.  

* A majority of voters disapprove of the way Trump (51%) and Kemp (54%) are handling the pandemic. The General Assembly barely breaks even on the question, and many voters signaled they don’t know what lawmakers are doing. 

* About 58% of voters said Georgia is moving “too quickly” to ease restrictions, though most (54%) back social-distancing measures and business closures. 

* A plurality of votes (34%) think the “worst is yet to come” from the pandemic, while only about 22% think the worst is over. About 30% feel “we’re in the middle of the worst right now.” 

* Most Georgians feel social-distancing policies should continue at least a few more weeks, if not months, and only about 15% contend the state should “open everything now.” 

In terms of November, the Cygnal poll shows Joe Biden and Trump in a statistical tie. Republican senator David Perdue has a 45-39 lead over Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff (they didn’t test the other Democrats running for this seat), with miles to go in that Senate race. But internal Republican disarray is indicated by the findings for Kemp’s appointee to the U.S. Senate, Kelly Loeffler, who has gotten a lot of bad publicity over stock sales by her and her Richie Rich husband early in her tenure. She’s in a November “jungle primary” including both Democratic and Republican challengers, with the top-two finishers (assuming no one wins a majority) proceeding to a January 2021 runoff:

The poll also suggests trouble for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, showing the former financial executive with 11% of the vote and essentially tied with Democrats Matt Lieberman and Raphael Warnock. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins leads the November field with 29% of the vote, and outdoes Loeffler among Republicans by a 62-18 margin.

Loeffler’s favorable-unfavorable rating is 20-47, even though she’s already running ads and is benefiting from visible support from Mitch McConnell’s PAC and from the conservative Club for Growth.

Doug Collins, Trump’s marquee defender during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings, was the president’s choice for the Senate appointment that went to Loeffler, and reportedly POTUS is still angry at Kemp for defying his wishes. It’s likely the poll was quickly leaked to the AJC by Collins allies (which include House Speaker David Ralston) to embarrass Loeffler, if not Kemp (whose approval-disapproval ratio is a meh 43-52). And, indeed, Collins’s campaign jumped on the findings:

After this story published, Collins spokesman Dan McLagan sent this statement: “She’s a sitting U.S. Senator who has already spent nearly $10 million and is in 4th place. Her campaign is deader than disco. No amount of money can fix this but her team is getting rich and won’t tell her the truth.”

“Deader than disco” is a bit premature (for Loeffler, and arguably for disco), but this entire poll is a sign that Georgia Republicans, who have won every Senate and gubernatorial race in the state during the 21st century, are not in great shape as they battle demographic changes that are making Georgia more competitive each day. If Kemp’s (or Trump’s) coronavirus policies backfire with deadly consequences for Georgians, look out in November.

Georgia Is Looking Like Trouble for Republicans in November