The Jolt: Suburban women are drifting away, and Republicans are worried

Beth Freeman, center, of Marietta, and Amy Jeffs, of Roswell, both with Moms Demand Action, watch election returns during the Lucy McBath watch party in Sandy Springs last week. McBath defeated Republican incumbent Karen Handel in the Sixth District congressional contest. JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Beth Freeman, center, of Marietta, and Amy Jeffs, of Roswell, both with Moms Demand Action, watch election returns during the Lucy McBath watch party in Sandy Springs last week. McBath defeated Republican incumbent Karen Handel in the Sixth District congressional contest. JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC

In today's print column on the runoff for secretary of state, we noted that the north Fulton County seat given up by soon-to-be-ex state Rep. Brad Raffensperger, R-Johns Creek, had been won by Democrat Angelika Kausche.

"They just had a very strong ground game," Raffensperger told us.

But ground games don’t just happen. They’re allowed to happen, too. And much attention is now being paid to the decision by Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor, to concentrate his general election efforts outside metro Atlanta.

We told you that former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, whose old Sixth District seat fell into Democratic hands on Nov. 6, weighed in over the weekend. "Brian Kemp, who did a very effective job in the primary, ran a primary election in the general election," said Gingrich, quoted by the Washington Examiner. "He spent almost no energy trying to reach suburban and exurban women and he came close to losing."

But Kemp was following the 2002 path laid down by Republican Sonny Perdue in Georgia -- the same path that Donald Trump took in 2016. And that worries some Republicans looking at 2020.

The New York Times has published two op-eds by two GOP members of Congress who were defeated in primaries – and whose seats drifted into the Democratic column last week.

House majority leader Eric Cantor lost his seat in 2014 to tea partyist David Brat, who on Nov. 6 was done in by Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer. Writes Cantor in the NYT:

For Republicans, losing the House majority in last week's midterm elections is a clear demonstration that the party must do more to appeal to suburban voters, especially college-educated women. Once a Republican mainstay, this group has been slowly moving away from us for the past few cycles….

Cantor’s recipe:

A suburban agenda would not just address pre-existing conditions in insurance coverage but also commit to medical research that offers treatments for a child with a chronic disease or a cure for a parent's Alzheimer's. Republicans also need to unify around a plan to ensure that every woman who needs it has access to paid maternity leave from her job and addresses the cost of child care for working families. You wouldn't know it from most 2018 campaigns, but Republicans actually doubled the child tax credit in last year's tax bill.

Then there's former South Carolina governor and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, who lost a GOP primary to Trump supporter Katie Arrington – who was beaten last week by Democrat Joe Cunningham. In his NYT op-ed, Sanford pointed to the GOP drift away from environmentalism (his district is a coastal one) and fiscal restraint, but he also pointed to a Trump-generated climate of incivility:

I heard it from young soccer moms and longtime Republican voters alike. They don't want to condone behavior that is counter to what they've taught their children.

In this district, my former opponent adopted Mr. Trump's highly combative style. It worked in the primary, but it fell flat in the general election. Mr. Cunningham presented himself as warm and affable.

In the Washington Post, Dan Balz builds a column around this quote from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, another South Carolinian:

"We've got to address the suburban-woman problem, because it's real," he said on Fox News as Democrats were claiming the majority in the House.

Graham conceded that "style does matter, and sometimes it can drown out substance." He said he thought President Trump was moving to address the issue of his tone. But there's little evidence to back that up. Trump is the principal reason for the GOP's woeful performance in competitive suburban House districts.


Jamie Dupree of WSB Radio fame has sent us audio from two Tuesday encounters in the U.S. Capitol, both on the topic of ballot-counting in Georgia governor's race. The first from U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.:

"I think this is much ado about getting press. I think it's very dangerous. It's a bad precedent, frankly. We want an accurate outcome, but we've had an accurate counting to this point. I think it's time to get past this and move on to the transition."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is often mentioned as a 2020 presidential contender, took the opposite view at a (D-Minnesota) in front of a civil rights group led by the Rev. Al Sharpton:

"When every vote is counted, then it's right. You look at Georgia, where the wait at one polling location was over four hours long. This in America today, when election officials open the polls.

"You look at the candidate on the Republican side. The secretary of state, while running for governor, held up the registration of 53,000 people, including in one case, a hyphen in a name. Well, you know what? In Georgia, every vote should be counted. And that is how our candidate can have a fair shot. That's what's got to happen."


Down in Georgia, a member of the General Assembly was charged with obstruction -- and disrupting the General Assembly.

State Sen. Nikema Williams’ arrest and release about five hours later earned national attention, as it should.

The Atlanta lawmaker was one of 100 or so demonstrators who gathered under the Capitol rotunda to demand that every absentee and provisional ballot to be counted in the race for governor and other contests.

Williams said she was standing peacefully with several constituents when Capitol cops slapped plastic ties on her wrists and took her and a dozen or so protestors to Fulton County Jail.

What we heard next were biting critiques from much of Georgia’s Democratic leadership -- which continue this morning. But Republicans were largely silent.


In the aftermath of's decision to divide its second headquarters between New York and Virginia, certain factions of the Twitter-verse are now saying Georgia business opposition to "religious liberty" legislation was something of a hoax.

This morning, we received a note from Tanya Ditty, state director of the Georgia chapter of Concerned Women for America. It included the names of religious conservative leaders known to inhabit the state Capitol. In part:

This development demonstrates yet again that major corporations locate in areas that are best for their bottom line. They consider business climate, taxes, transportation, workforce, and numerous other factors – but they don't make multi-billion-dollar decisions based on whether religious liberty is protected by a particular statute.

Then again, the Marietta Daily Journal has taken a look at the defeat of state Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, an early proponent of "religious liberty" legislation. Teasley lost to Democrat Mary Frances Williams. From the MDJ:

Williams, who opposes RFRA legislation, said it came up on the campaign trail among Mariettans who believe it to be discriminatory, although she also said she didn't make it the principal topic of her campaign.

"I know business hates it," she said. "I'm certain business in Cobb feel the way business in the rest of the state feel and that is that kind of legislation scares business away."


Republican Geoff Duncan has assembled his leadership team after winning the race for lieutenant governor.

Veteran strategist Chip Lake serve as his chief of staff, while his campaign manager John Porter will be a top deputy. And former state lawmaker Mike Dudgeon will be his policy director.

Lake has a long history of working with congressional Republicans, includingTom Price and Lynn Westmoreland.


Politico reports that President Donald Trump is getting involved in the fight over who will lead House Republicans during their new minority status. Trump is supporting Kevin McCarthy of California, who is currently majority leader. But the president is also urging that Jim Jordan of Ohio, founder of the Freedom Caucus faction, be given a consolation prize – the ranking position on the House Judiciary Committee.

That would be bad news for Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who has been campaigning hard for the top GOP position on that committee.


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