A banner is displayed outside of the Oprah Winfrey Stage for the MSNBC/The Washington Post Democratic Presidential debate at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Tuesday, November 19, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

The Jolt: A first word about tonight’s debate in Atlanta

We are apparently witness to a contest to see who can have the first last word before tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Tyler Perry’s house.

In today’s Washington Post, Democrat Stacey Abrams has an op-ed in partial defense of Georgia’s burgeoning movie industry:

During the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Vice President Pence came to Georgia. He campaigned for my opponent and, in an effort to dismiss me and the legitimacy of my supporters, told his audience, “This ain’t Hollywood. This is Georgia.”

Perhaps the vice president was not familiar with Georgia’s vibrant film industry, or perhaps he assumed workers in that booming sector here do not belong in the South.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Examiner, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., waves a red flag, warning that 10 disciples of Eugene Debs are about to infiltrate an old military base in south Atlanta:

Wednesday night, the country’s most liberal Democrats will descend on my home state of Georgia and flood the airwaves with their radical, socialist ideas.

Do not be fooled by catchy names like the “Green New Deal,” “Medicare For All,” and the “Freedom Dividend.” These are disguises for socialist policies that would fundamentally change the country as we know it.

And for the non-aligned, Emory University historian Joe Crespino has a New York Times op-ed reminding the world that Georgia is where you come to learn that America has a rich history of tolerating demagogues – who can be harder to shed than you might think:

In many ways, American politics today resemble an earlier era in Southern history, when candidates who only a few years before their election had been dismissed as jokes or nobodies stoked reactionary impulses to win the highest office in the state. That’s what happened in Georgia in 1966 when Lester Maddox, a folksy restaurateur and longtime failed candidate, was elected governor.

***

This from one of your Insiders might be the most important non-debate news of the day:

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said Wednesday he is “strongly” considering a run for the U.S. Senate if he isn’t appointed to the job by Gov. Brian Kemp, raising the possibility of a bitter Republican clash over next year’s nationally-watched race for the job.

One does not do something like this unless one senses a prize slipping away. Moreover, to the degree that a governor reading Collins’ statement interprets this news as a threat, his appointment becomes even less likely.

Collins had risen to prominence as a choice to replace U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retires on Dec. 31, via his position as President Donald Trump’s top defender on the House Judiciary Committee. If Collins is passed over, that could indicate some Republican concern over the impact of Trump’s presence on Georgia’s November 2020 ballot.

Meanwhile, over at Newsmax, former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño has written a piece encouraging Governor Kemp to tap a Latino for the U.S. Senate seat. We aren’t sure what prompted it, but we know of one potential Latino candidate with a lot of well-placed supporters: Jason Anavitarte, a Paulding County school board member with close ties to Kemp. 

***

A press release from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger arrived late Tuesday evening, claiming that Georgia’s new voting system “will provide greater voting access to Americans with disabilities.”

But it was the headline that grabbed our attention: “Secretary of State Raffensperger Works to Ensure Fair Fight for Voters with Disabilities.”

Fair Fight Action, of course, is the Stacey Abrams group that has filed a massive federal lawsuit challenging many aspects of Georgia voting policy and procedure. Raffensperger, as secretary of state, is named in the lawsuit.

What’s going on? By coincidence, a few hours later, University of Georgia political scientist Audrey Haynes posted this observation about the impeachment hearings on Facebook:

Anyone find that the use of the words "drug deal" (originated in this current hearing setting with Ambassador John Bolton describing what was going on in Ukraine (regarding the back channels, etc.) now being used by Rep. Nunes to describe the inquiry hearing a little odd? That is an actual technique in propaganda messaging. Whatever your opponent is saying, you say, so the source becomes opaque as well as the meaning.

***

But back to tonight’s debate: The AJC’s Rodney Ho has a YouTube look at the stage itself. A taste:

There was no stage, no seats, not much of anything inside the 40,000-square-foot soundstage. That meant MSNBC had to build much of it from scratch. They were able to recycle some pieces from the June event such as the lecterns but had to install carpeting, sundry sound and lighting equipment, 1,000 white fold-out chairs and 14 cameras over a span of four days.

If you think two hours on a debate stage is uncomfortable, think about spending two hours in one of those folding chairs. We’ll consider it just punishment for being one of the chosen few with tickets.

***

U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Riggs Amico held a conference call with union leaders on Tuesday to push the debate moderators to make labor a focus of today’s showdown. She’s one of four leading Democrats seeking to compete against U.S. Sen. David Perdue next year. 

***

Julián Castro, the former HUD secretary, won’t be on the debate stage. But last night, the Demcoratic presidential candidate was in Atlanta to meet voters at Paschal's — the historic restaurant known as the “kitchen of the civil rights movement.”

***

The anti-abortion group Created Equal will attempt to make its mark this afternoon with an airplane circling the area, trailing a giant photograph an aborted fetus.

***

Hundreds of GOP faithful packed a Sandy Springs venue for a group vow that none of the Democratic presidential candidates will make it to the White House, our AJC colleague Jennifer Brett reported:

“Tomorrow night, I’m so sorry Georgia, there is a group coming running to replace Donald Trump,” said Fox News host turned Trump campaign advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle, one of the speakers at a rally in Sandy Springs.

The crowd booed in response.

“The state of Georgia loves President Trump,” said Guilfoyle, who is dating Donald Trump Jr.

***

Your Insiders have a few debate-oriented activities planned as well:

-- Greg Bluestein will host a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” on the r/politics subreddit at noon.

-- Our live-blog for the day will launch on AJC.com around 2 p.m. We will keep our live blog running during the debate when it begins at 9 p.m., highlighting the questions and responses from the 10 candidates on stage.

-- Join the AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu and Joseph Ferguson on YouTube live for pre-debate coverage at 7:30 p.m.

-- That will be followed by a Facebook live show featuring all three of your Insiders at 8 p.m. After the debate, return to the AJC Facebook page for a live report from the “spin room.”

***

A day after U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson endorsed former congresswoman Karen Handel’s comeback bid, U.S. Sen. David Perdue has taken the same step, the Handel campaign announced Tuesday.

With the GOP field clearing in the Sixth District congressional contest, the Republican establishment apparently feels comfortable rejecting the only other candidate in the contest -- businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a self-funder who has emphasized gun rights as her No. 1 cause.

The winner of the next year’s GOP primary will face U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta.

***

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux said Wednesday her campaign for Georgia’s Seventh District congressional seat has raised more than $1 million, including donations from more than 3,700 individuals. Bourdeaux, who raised the cash without accepting corporate PAC money, is in the midst of another bid for the Gwinnett-based district after narrowly losing in 2018.

She’s one of a half-dozen Democrats in the contest, including state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, activist Nabilah Islam and John Eaves, a former Fulton County Commission chair. 

***

Nearly every member of Georgia’s delegation to the U.S. House participated in Tuesday’s tribute to Sen. Johnny Isakson. But it was his longtime friend U.S. Rep. John Lewis who provided the most emotional moment and evoked a bygone era in Washington politics.

Ending his remarks, Lewis said he would walk over to the Republican side of the room to greet his “brother.” Isakson instead rose from his seat and met Lewis halfway, where they hugged.

“I wish all of America could be here to see that: Two icons from Georgia embracing,” said U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican from Tifton who organized the tribute. “What a wonderful sight that I think is representative of days of past and the days to come and how we should work together.”

We have the video here.

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