Absentee ballots, envelopes and privacy sleaves are being mailed to Georgia voters for the state's primary on June 9, 2020.

The Jolt: Signs of Democratic enthusiasm in Georgia

The ballot box is today’s lead topic. According to georgiavotes.com, well over 1 million voters have requested absentee ballots for the June 9 primaries, roughly 200,000 more than the number of total votes cast in the 2018 primaries.

The processing of these requests is far from over – Fulton County has yet to reach the half-way mark. But late last week, we swapped emails with a Democratic number-cruncher, who pointed out some of the developing trends.

The three specific congressional districts where absentee ballot requests have already surpassed the 2018 votes are the 14th (U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger), the 11th (U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville), and Ninth (U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville).

Some measures of enthusiasm: In the 14th District, 44% more Democratic ballots have been requested than were cast in 2018. On the GOP side, the number is 22%.

In the 11th, which includes Cobb County, 32% more Democratic ballots have been requested than were cast two years ago. GOP ballot requests are running 6% over 2018.

In the Ninth, which has a highly contested GOP primary to replace Collins, Republican ballot requests were 6% below 2018. Democratic requests were 34% above ballots cast two years ago.

As we said, Fulton County has processed 35,500 absentee ballot applications, out of 135,000 that were told have been requested, so the picture in the Sixth District congressional contest, where U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, is on defense, is incomplete.

But if you examine the east Cobb County portion of the Sixth, we find that requests for Democratic ballots are 30% over the number cast in 2018, while GOP requests are 10%.

The Second District in south Georgia is the one place where Democratic ballot requests are lagging, our number-cruncher said. It includes Albany and Dougherty County, a national hot zone for the coronavirus pandemic. Republican ballot requests are lagging there, too.

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Last month, Democrats condemned the push by Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature to continue with in-person voting for that state’s April 7 presidential primary.

Now they’re seeing one aspect of the court fight that preceded the balloting as a major victory that could have national impact, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court. In allowing the vote to proceed, justices also ruled that election officials include in the count mailed ballots that arrived after April 7 but were postmarked by that date. From the Washington Post:

In Milwaukee and Madison alone, the state’s two largest cities, more than 10 percent of all votes counted, nearly 21,000 ballots, arrived by mail after April 7, according to data provided by local election officials.

…Democrats think they have secured a game-changing precedent from the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 order. In the past week alone, lawsuits bankrolled by Democratic committees have been filed in four states seeking similar postmark rules and citing the Wisconsin opinion to bolster their argument. More cases are expected in the coming week.

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Count former Georgia congressman and U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich among those Republicans will be casting aspersions on the shift to mail-in ballots across the country. From Gingrich, who is in Italy with his wife, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, in a Saturday podcast:

“There are 462 counties in the United States which have more registered voters than they have eligible people to vote. So they literally have either dead people, people who have moved on – you name it, but they have a huge pool of unverifiable people registered.

“And if you go to vote by mail, and you add into that vote harvesting, or ballot harvesting, it is a ripe field for Democrats to simply drown the system.”

Gingrich appears to be drawing the number from a 2017 article in the National Review, which itself was based on numbers compiled by Judicial Watch. Snopes.com, a myth-busting website, had this account:

Judicial Watch’s claim rests on its inclusion of “inactive voters” – people who have been removed from active rolls after a mail ballot, voter guide or other official document was returned as undeliverable – usually as a result of moving. They aren’t reflected in turnout tallies or signature-gathering requirements, don’t receive election materials, and are ignored by campaigns.

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The Savannah Morning News greeted us with this eye-opener today:

Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA) bought a large undeveloped piece of land down the road from a proposed spaceport in Camden County in May of 2018. A month later he led the U.S. House of Representatives Georgia delegation in urging the Federal Aviation Administration to move the project forward.

…He said recently he bought it for hunting and fishing, not as an investment. As such, he did not need to disclose the purchase to the FAA, other Congressmen or to constituents through his Congressional financial disclosure forms, he said.

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U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., released her long-delayed financial disclosure on Friday. Assets include three homes -- a Buckhead estate, and oceanside condos in Sea Island and Boca Raton -- plus a private jet and a piece of a WNBA team.

But the bulk of the wealth belonging to Loeffler and husband Jeff Sprecher are in tens of millions of dollars invested in stocks and bonds.

Because Senate rules only require Loeffler to list her assets in ranges (the jet is worth between $5 million or $25 million) and because in some instances the report doesn’t indicate the upper limit of Sprecher’s holdings, it’s still impossible to pinpoint how wealthy the couple is.

News reports often list it at $500 million, although recently Loeffler circulated an article that says the couple is worth $800 million. Her financial disclosure provides enough detail to account for $300 million.

Accompanying what one New York Times report described as the “Friday night news dump” was a strongly worded statement from Loeffler who said any criticism about her disclosure would only be motivated by envy or partisanship. So far, the reaction has been muted, although we expect this report will be dissected by her Republican and Democratic opponents, as well as watchdog groups.

“The Left, The Swamp, and career politicians will use my success to attack me – in the same way they’ve attacked our President and his family – because we reject socialism, champion freedom, and unapologetically support the free enterprise system that made this country great,” Loeffler’s statement said.

We also learned Friday night that the senator filed a separate Periodic Transaction Report detailing stock trading on her behalf over the past month. The bulk of that report consisted of Loeffler’s advisers selling off her holdings in individual companies, an attempt to move past the controversy surrounding her trading during the coronavirus pandemic.

On this report, we learned that Loeffler and Sprecher once held shares in China-based companies like JD.com and Alibaba, often referred to as “the Amazon of China.”

It wasn’t much, no more than $15,000. But it’s notable because Loeffler is among the many conservatives who have been critical of China during the COVID-19 outbreak and Alibaba is one of its most prominent and successful companies. She recently said that the United States should restructure its trade and commerce agreements with Chinese.

***

Over at the Capitol Beat News Service, Dave Williams marks a slight shift on the immigration front:

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., is planning to introduce bipartisan legislation aimed at relieving the nation’s shortage of doctors and nurses critically needed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill would recapture and reallocate 25,000 unused immigrant visas for nurses and 15,000 for doctors and instruct the State Department and Department of Homeland Security to expedite processing them.

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Last week, Taliaferro County in east Georgia -- whose health care system consists of a clinic at the local K-12 school -- reported its first case of coronavirus. That leaves Glascock County as the only one out of 159 left unscathed. Over at Trouble In God’s Country, Charlie Hayslett has come up with one more reason that COVID-19 is likely to be felt hardest in rural Georgia:

As of 2018, 79 of Georgia’s 159 counties reported more deaths than births. Of those, 78 are outside Metro Atlanta and the vast majority are small rural counties...

The only metro Atlanta county to make this group was Fayette County, long recognized as a redoubt for retirees well beyond child-bearing age.

**

Gov. Brian Kemp didn’t appoint a district attorney for the judicial circuit that includes his hometown of Athens by Sunday, which meant the current election for the empty seat vanishes. It won’t be held until 2022. 

Democrats have pressed Kemp to fill the local vacancy for the prosecutor gig by Sunday — six months before the Nov. 3 general election — but delaying gives Republicans a better chance at holding a district that spans left-leaning Athens-Clarke County and neighboring Oconee County. 

We have written about this before. In 2018, Republicans adopted a law that puts district attorneys under the same replacement system that governs superior court and other judges -- even though district attorney races are partisan, and judicial elections are mostly nonpartisan.

Local prosecutor Ken Mauldin resigned effective Feb. 29. Democrats who have signed up for the contest include Deborah Gonzalez, a former state House member and interim Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brian Patterson.

***

You can read state Sen. Renee Unterman’s latest congressional ad at least two different ways: 

-- One one hand, it’s a measure of how important loyalty to Donald Trump remains in the Seventh District, the nation’s closest U.S. House race in 2018. 

-- On the other, it’s yet another example of a GOP congressional candidate cozying up to U.S. Rep. Doug Collins’ bid for U.S. Senate.

Her 30-second spot contends rival Dr. Rich McCormick “refused to vote for President Trump over Hillary” in 2016. And then the narrator adds: “No wonder he’s financed by the same swamp creatures who spent millions attacking President Trump and Doug Collins.” 

Records show her campaign has put about $20,000 behind the commercial to run on cable outlets. Watch it here.

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In an interview with Emma Hurt of WABE (90.1 FM) on Friday, Gov. Brian Kemp sharpened his economic case for rolling back more coronavirus restrictions. 

He pointed to the “drastic budget effect” that’s forced state agencies to plan to cut at least $3.5 billion. From WABE: 

“It’s going to flow down to the local level,” Kemp said of the state’s finances. “So we’re going to have to make some very difficult choices in our state. Which is another reason that we’ve got to figure out a way to restart our economy in a safe way.”

“There’s going to be a new norm when we do that. You know, people are going to have to get used to wearing a mask in public,” he said. “We’re going to have to have some of these orders that we have in place now for businesses to be able to open.”

The governor has also started to take his own guidance into consideration and is now wearing a mask at public appearances. Your visual evidence can be found here. 

***

Georgia House candidate Alex Wan received a contribution over the weekend from Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action group, which wouldn’t normally merit a mention ahead of the June 9 primary.

But Wan faces Stacey Evans — a former state lawmaker who also was Abrams’ primary challenger in the 2018 gubernatorial contest. 

We’re told that Fair Fight also gave to several other candidates in the five-candidate Democratic field - but Evans was not one of them. 

***

In other endorsement news, the left-leaning NOW PAC has endorsed Democratic state Sen. Zahra Karinshak’s bid for Georgia’s 7th District bid. 


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Our most sincere condolences to Bill Nigut, host of GPB’s “Political Rewind,” and his wife Janece Shaffer. Her father, Max Shaffer, died over the weekend. Read about his remarkable life here.

***

The Atlanta Press Club continues its two-day marathon of primary debates today, and the AJC has you covered if you missed yesterday’s events featuring candidates in congressional districts 7 and 9 and Democrats running for the U.S. Senate.

A few excerpts from our write-ups of each debate, starting with the Senate primary. Here is how one testy exchange between Jon Ossoff and Teresa Tomlinson went down:

Ossoff was forced to again defend his decision to run for Senate after a bruising and unsuccessful U.S. House bid in 2017. That closely watched special election gave him national name recognition.

“People know you, but not enough to want to vote for you,” Tomlinson said, referencing GOP polling that showed him trailing GOP Senator David Perdue in a matchup. “How can we afford to make you our nominee when you lack public service experience, couldn’t win your home district and have very little statewide appeal?”

Ossoff countered that he didn’t put high value in those numbers while also reminding Tomlinson that he is still the perceived front-runner in the Democratic primary.

“Your campaign is so weak they didn’t even bother polling your name in that poll,” he responded.

Three current state legislators and one former congressman are among the GOP candidates for the Ninth District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. The combination made for some interesting exchanges in that debate:

State Rep. Matt Gurtler was questioned by his opponents for voting “no” more times than any other state legislator.

“Voting ‘no’ does not mean you are the most conservative. It means you can’t get to a consensus to give people what they need,” candidate and attorney Ethan Underwood said. 

“Well voting ‘yes’ does not help reduce the size on government, I’ll tell you that,” Gurtler shot back. 

Gurtler also alleged that state Rep. Kevin Tanner had supported tax increases in the past.

“I know it’s hard to wrap your head around accomplishing anything in office,” Tanner said.

One of the odder features of that virtual debate was the background chosen by Kellie Weeks, a Gainesville gun store owner:

The Seventh District congressional race will be among the most watched in the county, with competitive primaries for both parties in the swing suburban Atlanta district. On the Democratic side, the candidates were generally polite to one another although Carolyn Bourdeaux faced questions about whether voters should give her the nomination again, given that she fell short in 2018.

The Republicans were more testy. State Sen. Renee Unterman was shaded as too extreme to win a general election in that district, while various candidates hammered physician Rich McCormick on whether he voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Trump in 2018.

McCormick pivoted to his military service and said questions along these lines were a distraction from issues that matter.

***

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s campaign said she has moved to Rome, an attempt to improve her chances of winning the 14th District congressional contest.

Greene originally announced her candidacy for Georgia’s Sixth District. She dropped out of the race in mid-December and became the first better known candidate to enter the 14th District after U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, made a surprise retirement announcement.

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