Who’s to blame for the Republican losses in Georgia’s runoff elections? In large part, experts point the finger at President Donald Trump.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” said Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. He faulted the outgoing Republican president’s “behavior since the November election and his obsession with trying to overturn the election.” Abramowitz said Trump has shown “complete disinterest in trying to address the real crisis in this country — the coronavirus pandemic.”
Trump often expressed disdain in the past two months for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, as they resisted his push to reverse Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s narrow November victory in the Peach State. That hurt the Republican Party’s efforts during the runoffs, said Robert M. Howard, a professor of political science at Georgia State University.
“It appears a lot of Republicans in the state
and in the U.S. Senate think so, too, and are angry at Trump,” Howard said. “Turnout
was lower in rural counties — attributable in part to a message that the
election is/was rigged.”
A Republican official in Georgia, Gabriel Sterling, attacked Trump in a CNN interview on Wednesday, saying the president was responsible for the results of the runoffs. Incumbent GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue lost to Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the Associated Press projected on Wednesday.
“The president of the United States is 100%,
foursquare responsible, with a little added assist from Doug Collins, who
decided to run in that Senate ‘jungle primary’ which helped split the party,”
said Sterling, who is Georgia’s manager for voting system implementation.
“I mean when you tell people, ‘Your vote didn’t count, this is all part of
crazy town, and people are stealing things,’ you undermine people’s confidence
in the vote. Then you create a civil war within the GOP at a time when the GOP
probably wanted to unite their vote to turn out.”
Kurt Young, a professor of political science
at Clark Atlanta University, also said Trump bears some responsibility for the Republican
defeats, which have left the Democratic Party in control of the U.S. Senate.
“Trump contributed to a major split in the
party by attacking Kemp and Raffensperger,” Young said. “That created schisms
and fractures within the party and apparently with voters.”
Raffensperger and his staff were evacuated from the Georgia state capitol on Wednesday as a precautionary measure while armed protesters gathered there. That coincided with a storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., by a mob of Trump supporters after the president egged them on.
The wins by Ossoff and Warnock illustrate how Georgia politics have been heading in a new direction. Warnock is Georgia’s first Black senator from Georgia, while Ossoff is the state’s first Jewish senator.
Their victories come after Democrat Stacey
Abrams came close to beating Kemp in the state’s 2018 gubernatorial race.
“Remember Georgia was the state that gave this
country significant Democratic leaders like former President Jimmy Carter,” Young
said. “What you are looking at is a significant swing in the pendulum.”
“Georgia is a purple state now,” said Georgia State’s Howard. “The trends that have been growing for a while.”
“The suburban counties — with both changing demographics and a highly educated population — are firmly blue,” he added. “By 2028, Georgia is scheduled to be majority minority.”
Abrams has been getting credit for firing up Democratic voters in Georgia following her loss to Kemp in 2018. Does she deserve some recognition for the victories by Ossoff and Warnock?
Howard thinks so.
“Her organizing, her litigation allowing greater
early voting and chances to correct provisional ballots played a critical role,”
he said. “She is the most important Democratic politician in the state of
Georgia, more so than any elected official, including Warnock and Ossoff. Her
seal of approval will be critical to any candidate for any office in the future,
and the 2022 gubernatorial race should be a barn burner.”
“Abrams’s star has been shining brightly since her gubernatorial race, and she will continue to skyrocket,” Young said. “I think she has the momentum at her back.”
“The Democrats are essentially following Abrams’s playbook by heavily emphasizing voter turnout and strengthening the voter base,” said Emory’s Abramowitz. “Once the Democratic Party won the presidential election, they were inspired and this gives Democratic voters inspiration to continue this movement. Heading towards 2022, Brian Kemp has got big problems.”
MarketWatch’s Victor Reklaitis contributed to this report.