The Jolt: Democrats wrestle with the possibility of Bernie Sanders as a ticket-topper

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to supporters at a caucus night campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Combined ShapeCaption
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to supporters at a caucus night campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

News and analysis from the AJC politics team

If you want to see a knot of Democrats in the state Capitol sweat today, ask them what they thought of last night's presidential debate in Las Vegas.

Michael Bloomberg had a bad night, courtesy of Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden did so-so. Bernie Sanders profited as a result. And that, to the thinking of many self-interested Georgia Democrats, doesn’t bode well for November.

If you missed the fireworks, read the recap here or go deeper by revisiting our live blog. Among the points being made elsewhere, here's a paragraph from the New York Times:

In his first appearance in a presidential debate, Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, struggled from the start to address his past support for stop-and-frisk policing and the allegations he has faced over the years of crude and disrespectful behavior toward women. Time and again, Mr. Bloomberg had obvious difficulty countering criticism that could threaten him in a Democratic Party that counts women and African-Americans among its most important constituencies.

ExploreFrom the Wall Street Journal:

The debate included some of the fiercest exchanges of the Democratic primary, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders savaging Mr. Bloomberg's wealth and the workplace environment at his company.

ExploreAnd from

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the person who is leading in polls for this week's Nevada caucus, as well as some national polls, was only occasionally at the center of the evening's drama. This was likely fine with him. He made familiar arguments in a familiar style, and nothing seemed likely to change the dynamic going into the evening: The Democratic contest likely has room for Sanders and one principal competitor, and the sprint now is to see who that competitor will be.

And speaking for the right is Erick Erickson:

Last night, Humpty Dumpty Bloomberg sat on the stage, had a great fall in prestige, and is going to have to spend even more to try to put himself back together again. Each day he does prevents the Democratic field from consolidating around someone other than Bernie.

This is 2016 all over again, but for the Democrats.

At the state Capitol, House Democrats are within 16 seats of controlling that chamber. Redistricting looms next year, so a seat at the table is at stake. Senate Democrats, too, would like to pad their numbers with wins in suburbia. Putting Sanders, who is entirely comfortable with the word “socialist,” at the top of the Democratic ticket could make both tasks harder.

This morning, over at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman take a look at a report by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group to examine the constituencies of both Sanders and Biden. The latter is currently the official favorite of the likes of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and state Reps. Calvin Smyre of Columbus and Billy Mitchell of Stone Mountain. Kondik and Coleman are addressing U.S. Senate dynamics, but their analysis could just as easily apply further down the ballot:

Sanders does better with younger and less affluent voters, while Biden does better with older and more affluent ones. Biden also performs better with white voters -- two points better among whites without a college degree and eight points better among whites with a four-year degree. The latter group's voting power is evident in some of the Sun Belt places where Hillary Clinton performed markedly better in 2016 than Barack Obama did in 2012: places like metro Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and Raleigh.

All of these big urban areas are in states (Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas) that host Senate races this year, with Arizona and North Carolina standing out as our only two states rated as Toss-ups. For now, Sanders appears to be weaker though still competitive in these states.

This is part of the reason why some Democratic leaders worry about a potential Sanders nomination, because they fear he would cede some recent Democratic gains in well-off suburban areas due to his strongly progressive/liberal policy proposals.

The writers, by the way, have shifted the race for the seat currently occupied by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., to “likely Republican.”


Already posted: Former federal prosecutor Ed Tarver, a Democrat, entered the race against U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler on Thursday with a focus on bipartisan policies he hopes will distinguish him in a jumbled and polarizing field of candidates in the November race.


But wait, there's more: Allen Buckley, a former member of the Libertarian Party of Georgia who now describes himself simply as a "fiscal conservative," sends word this morning that he's joining the race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. He'll be running as an independent.

“My campaign will offer solutions to problems that the major party candidates, who have sold out or been sold out to special interest groups, won’t offer,” he wrote in his note.

Buckley ran against Johnny Isakson in 2016 as a Libertarian, receiving 4% of the vote. He tells us that he has since severed ties with the Libertarian Party: “I was always a very moderate libertarian. For many years, I tried to cause the Georgia LP to become more moderate. It didn’t work. I believe there are many really good people in the Georgia LP.”


A few hours after we popped a story about how Stacey Abrams is expanding her voting rights group's focus to target Gov. Brian Kemp's criminal justice policy, a lengthy note landed in our inbox.

It was from Rich Golick, the former Republican legislator who former Gov. Nathan Deal asked to shepherd many of his criminal justice initiatives through the statehouse.

And not surprisingly, he took issue with Abrams’ warning that Kemp’s budget cuts could imperil the eight-year overhaul that he helped Deal orchestrate, starting with her warnings about proposed cuts to accountability courts. Wrote Golick:

"Contrary to Abrams' hyperventilating which is designed to do nothing more than to keep her relevant, accountability courts aren't going anywhere. To be sure budget pressure will create ebbs and flows of funding year-to-year, but accountability courts are now a part of the fabric of our criminal justice system, and that's not going to change. She knows that.

He said that Kemp was delivering on a promise to rehabilitate non-violent offenders and use prison beds for the “truly dangerous among us.” More from Golick:

"Nathan Deal addressed saving the ones who could be saved, and now Brian Kemp is going after the ones who present the single largest threat to public safety in this state - the truly dangerous and sophisticated criminal street gangs that are growing by the day in Georgia and are recruiting pre-teens in our schools. Kemp is following through on exactly what we told the people and the General Assembly would be the next phase of criminal justice reform."


Hedging its bets: Atlanta-based shipping giant UPS made campaign contributions through its PAC to both U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.


This is far from a scientific poll, but interesting nonetheless: Verdaillia Turner, head of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, asked her group's members to select their two favorite White House hopefuls. She reports that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders slightly edged out former Vice President Joe Biden. President Donald Trump, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren were at the bottom of the heap.


U.S. Rep. Jody Hice accompanied U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler to various campaign stops on Presidents Day. But he made clear to a local newspaper that it is not to be interpreted as an endorsement.

"I'm not taking sides publicly," he told The Covington News. "The people of the State of Georgia will work that out. But we have two phenomenal candidates and I'm very proud of both of them."

Hice, a Republican from Monroe, was questioned by the paper after he appeared with Loeffler at the Stanton Springs Industrial Park.

Her campaign put out a press release that also highlighted his attendance at other campaign events, including meet-and-greets in Greensboro and Madison and the Morgan County Republican Party’s annual Presidents Day dinner. Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife, Marty, were also in attendance, and they are solidly in Loeffler’s corner.

The stakes of a Hice endorsement are even higher now that Loeffler’s competition includes another House member, Doug Collins. Hice is neutral for now.


Apparently, the death of Mr. Peanut has created a job opening.

State Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, has introduced legislation to designate the pecan as the official state nut of Georgia, according to our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu. From the text of Senate Bill 396:

The pecan is the only edible nut native to North America and is this country's most successful homegrown tree nut crop. It is known for its health benefits; scientists have discovered that pecans' golden kernels are good for the heart, with antioxidants and cholesterol-lowering effects.

The pecan traces its origins back to the 16th century, and the name 'pecan' is derived from the Native American word 'pacane' that translates as 'nut requiring a stone to crack.'

The domestication of the pecan is attributed in large part to a Louisiana plantation slave known as Antoine, a master gardener who developed a method of grafting that led to the birth of the commercial pecan industry.

By 1920, Georgia was producing 2.517 million pounds of pecans; half a century later, the Georgia nut had grown so iconic that organizers for the 1996 Olympics crafted Muhammad Ali's torch handle out of pecan wood.