November 1, 2018 Dalton - Vice President Mike Pence and GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp wave to supporters at Dalton Convention Center in Dalton on Thursday, November 1, 2018. The nationally-watched Georgia race for governor is about to get even more attention. Vice President Mike Pence is headed to Georgia on Thursday for a trio of events in conservative areas for Brian Kemp. Democrats are countering with a visit by Oprah Winfrey, who will appear with Stacey Abrams at a pair of town hall meetings. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Jolt: Mike Pence, Brian Kemp meet for a mutual morale boost

Vice President Mike Pence will be in Atlanta today to lunch Gov. Brian Kemp. Both will then dash to Waffle House’s headquarters in Norcross to discuss the state's aggressive approach to reopening the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump’s critique of Kemp’s push for an early abandonment of a shelter-in-place strategy – it happened precisely one month ago – is no longer operative. And just who will benefit more from the vice president’s visit – Trump or Kemp – is something of an open question.

From a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released this morning:

Only 39% of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the crisis - driven, largely, by waning support among independents - compared to 60% who disapprove. Just over one-third of independents (35%) approve of the president’s response to the coronavirus, a dip from one month ago, when 42% of independents approved.

In that same poll, released on April 17, 44% of Americans approved of Trump’s management of the pandemic, compared to 54% who disapproved. His newest marks are also a sharp decline from mid-March when his approval stood at 55%.

But you’ll remember that just two days ago, the Washington Post noted that 49 of 50 governors were polling higher than the man in the White House. The outlier was Georgia’s governor.

Controversy over Georgia’s early opening – the state’s mostly Democratic mayors weren’t consulted – is one likely factor for Kemp’s numbers. Repeated testing lapses might be another. From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday he has ordered a review of how the state is reporting coronavirus figures, and he asked the public to have patience with health officials after a string of missteps raised questions about the accuracy of the latest data about the outbreak.

“We’re not perfect. We make mistakes,” said Kemp of the criticism over mistakes in reporting data on COVID-19 in the state public health data website. He said increased pressure to more quickly update the data has likely contributed to the errors.

… The governor’s remarks came as the state’s problems reporting COVID-19 data have made leaders the target of ridicule – and sparked criticism from Democrats and some public health experts who have accused his office of distorting the numbers to paint a sunnier picture of the state’s coronavirus approach.

One day earlier, state’s top public health officer acknowledged that a measure that tracked the number of tests completed for COVID-19 included 57,000 procedures that are not designed to detect active cases. It is not a problem specific to Georgia. From NPR:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged that it is mixing the results of two different kinds of tests in the agency's tally of testing for the coronavirus, raising concerns among some scientists that it could be creating an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic in the United States.

…Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, expressed concern that adding the two types of tests together could leave the impression that more testing of active cases had been conducted than was actually the case.

***

On Thursday, Politico.com had a 25-minute sit-down with Kelly Loeffler, which the U.S. senator used to beat back talk that some Republicans have been urging her to declare herself a caretaker and pull out of the Nov. 3 election. Said Loeffler:

“Not only am I not dropping out, but I'm gonna win,” Loeffler said Thursday. “And no one's going to intimidate me into thinking that that's the right course for our party, for our state, for our country. I'm working hard to help reelect the president. I'm working hard to win my seat and keep the Senate in Republican hands.”

Her stock trades remain a central, damaging issue. Loeffler again declined to say whether the FBI has contacted her, or whether she’s requested a Senate Ethics Committee to pass judgment on her actions. Politico also spoke to U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, her chief GOP rival in the all-comers contest:

Collins, who has done work as a defense attorney, isn’t buying it: “When somebody won’t say they’re under investigation, the probable answer is they’re under investigation.”

Earlier this morning, we told you that Loeffler had launched a series of three TV ads, each blaming the media for her troubles – in part as a means of comparing herself favorably to President Donald Trump. But in the Politico interview, Georgia’s junior senator was more upfront about her situation:

“I knew I'd be attacked for my success, and I knew it would come from the left,” she said. “What's been surprising is it’s come from the right, as well. And I think that's shameful.”

***

In what may be a sign of her growing national clout, Democrat Stacey Abrams on Thursday endorsed seven candidates for U.S. Senate -- none of them in Georgia.

They were Abrams’ first endorsements of candidates outside the state (aside from presumptive nominee Joe Biden,) and they followed her support for the Rev. Raphael Warnock’s bid to oust U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. 

Another notable tidbit: She has stayed steadfastly neutral in Georgia’s other U.S. Senate race, the seven-way Democratic contest to unseat Republican incumbent David Perdue.

With three top Democrats in the hunt -- including her quasi-running mate in 2018, lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico -- Abrams still hasn’t picked sides and is unlikely to change her approach before the June 9 vote. 

***

The political action committee attached to the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials sends word that it has endorsed attorney Zulma Lopez in the race for House District 86 in the Stone Mountain area.

The seat is currently occupied by state Rep. Michelle Henson, also a Democrat, who was first elected in 1990.

Two other Democrats are in the primary fight: forensic chemist Ladena Bolton and retiree Joscelyn O’Neil.

***

Despite the pandemic and shelter-at-home orders, voter registration is increasing in Georgia at a normal pace, the AJC’s Mark Niesse reports:

About 72,000 voters registered in the two months after Gov. Brian Kemp declared a public health emergency March 14, an expansion comparable to prior registration rates, according to voter lists obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

There are now more than 7.3 million registered voters in Georgia ahead of the state’s June 9 primary.

Historically, most new voter registrations in Georgia occur when people apply for or renew driver licenses. Data was not immediately available showing if those numbers had subsided any. Niesse reports that some organizations focused on voter registration have changed their approach:

Instead of knocking on doors at a time when people are avoiding human contact, New Georgia Project contacted voters by phone, text messages and the internet. The group registered 21,000 people since Martin Luther King Day in January, said Nse Ufot, executive director for New Georgia Project, founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2014.

“We prioritize high-quality face-to-face conversations. In the absence of that, we’ve had to shift,” Ufot said. “People are at home and thinking about ways to make sure that they have leadership that’s accountable to them and their communities and families.”

***

Ad watch:

-- Georgia First PAC, which is supporting Matt Laughridge in the 14th District congressional race, is out with an ad attacking rival John Cowan over his toy business’s ties to China. A spokesman for the committee said the ad will run on the radio, Fox News channel, and during the live NASCAR races over the next three weeks, as well as online.

-- Seventh District congressional Mark Gonsalves’s new ad takes shots at his two main competitors in the GOP primary: State Sen. Renee Unterman and Dr. Rich McCormick. The ad, titled “Stop the Nonsense,” is running on Fox News.

***

Yours truly – i.e., all three of us – are hosting a virtual town hall next week to discuss all things political ahead of the June 9 primary. While we can’t meet for our traditional Pints & Politics, we hope you can join AJC Editor Kevin Riley and us for an in-depth conversation streamed live through Facebook and YouTube.

Meet Insiders Greg Bluestein, Jim Galloway and Tia Mitchell and hear the latest election news, what congressional and legislative races to watch – plus, we’ll answer your questions about state and local politics.

The town hall will stream live on Wednesday, May 27, from 5-6 p.m. We encourage you to register (it’s free) at AJC.com/conversation.

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