Geoff Duncan aims to fortify Senate with ‘Advance Georgia’ plan

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan created a task force to study health care access and costs. It could lead to legislation being proposed in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan created a task force to study health care access and costs. It could lead to legislation being proposed in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has quietly raised $300,000 for a new initiative to keep the Georgia Senate in Republican control and take aim at a pair of Democratic-held seats up for grabs next year.

The “Advance Georgia” independent committee, which launched with a fundraiser at SunTrust Park in September, targets the state Senate’s eight most competitive districts. All eight of the seats are in fast-changing parts of metro Atlanta’s suburbs.

Duncan said in an interview that the group is “focused on protecting potentially vulnerable districts and looking for ways to build the caucus” with a message that will tout the $3,000 teacher pay raise and trumpet recently-passed tax cuts.

“These are things happening under conservative leadership,” he said, “and we want to continue to remind those districts about them.”

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, the top Democrat in the chamber, said the new fund is a clear signal that Republicans are fearful of their chances in 2020 with President Donald Trump on the ballot.

“We’ve been outspent by Republicans for years,” he said. “But it’s apparent that the leadership knows the policies they’re pushing – not expanding Medicaid, under-funding education – is eroding support for their party.”

It's the latest high-dollar program aimed at down-ticket elections in 2020, though most of the focus has so far been on the House. That's where Republicans hold a narrowing 105-75 advantage – and Democrats are targeting at least 16 seats.

The GOP Majority Outreach – known as GOPMojo – wants to spend $10 million on about 30 competitive House seats. And Democrats formed a Legislative Victory Fund to target a group of mostly House seats.

Georgia Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) filed a legal challenge Friday to a Consent Agreement between the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sterigenics, a Cobb County company that emits the carcinogen ethylene oxide during operations that sterilize medical equipment. (Hyosub Shin /

The Georgia Senate is far safer territory for the GOP. Republicans hold a 35-21 majority in the chamber and Democrats would have to pull off multiple upsets to flip seven Senate districts.

Still, Duncan said Republicans don’t want to take any chances next year in a volatile political climate. He said he wants to leverage the same team of advisers that helped him pull off an underdog victory in last year’s election.

“We worked hard, were efficient with the dollars we spent and were smart about the ways we used data,” said Duncan. “Our political apparatus knows what it’s doing, and we’re excited about this opportunity.”

The financial haul could also help Duncan exert more influence over a fractious Republican caucus that sporadically sparred during his first legislative session. Duncan said he preferred to view it as a “partnership” to support Republicans.

“This is about partnering with the caucus and getting to play quarterback, to some extent, and incorporating that into each and every play that we run,” he said.

The group will devote resources to defend four incumbent Republicans: John Albers of Roswell, Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta, P.K. Martin of Lilburn and Brian Strickland of McDonough.

It will also seek to hold two seats held lawmakers who are running for U.S. House: Brandon Beach of Alpharetta and Renee Unterman of Buford.

And it will aim to win back two seats recently flipped by Democrats. State Sen. Zahra Karinshak, who is running for Congress, carried a Duluth-based district in 2018. And state Sen. Jen Jordan of Sandy Springs captured her district in a 2017 special election.

“They might not be with us on every single issue, but I believe they’re on board for a majority of them,” he said of swing voters in those areas. “I want us to be the technology capital of the East Coast, and those districts would be a huge part of it.”

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