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The Jolt: Suddenly, the Democratic race for president could be over before it hits Georgia

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill, speaks to members of the press at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill, speaks to members of the press at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Credit: Matt Rourke

Credit: Matt Rourke

Georgia may have missed its moment by pushing back its 2020 presidential primaries. The contest could be over before it gets here. From the Associated Press:

Joe Biden decisively won Michigan's Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, seizing a key battleground state that helped propel Bernie Sanders' insurgent candidacy four years ago. The former vice president's victory there, as well as in Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho, dealt a serious blow to Sanders and substantially widened Biden's path to the nomination.

Sanders carried North Dakota, and Washington state remains too close to call. The next big event will be Sunday’s one-on-one debate in Phoenix, which will be held without an audience – a nod to the impact of the coronavirus.

Then comes next Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Florida. Georgia’s Democratic vote is now less than two weeks away, pushed three weeks beyond its traditional Super Tuesday slot -- out of a concern for the installation of new voting machines. (Early voting in Georgia began last week.)

Tuesday’s results in both Michigan and Mississippi point to the likely outcome. Again, from the AP:

About 70% of Mississippi's Democratic primary voters were African American, and 86% of them supported Biden, according to an AP VoteCast survey of the electorate.

After Sanders upset Hillary Clinton in Michigan four years ago, his loss there Tuesday was particularly sobering. It undermined his argument that he could appeal to working-class voters and that he could expand the electorate with new young voters.

One of the few bright notes for Sanders was his strength among young voters, but even that has a downside because they didn't turn out enough to keep him competitive. Sanders won 72% of those under 30 in Missouri and 65% in Michigan, according to AP VoteCast. The senator was also about even with Biden among voters ages 30 to 44.

It's possible that the Georgia vote could be called off. The Washington Post has these two intriguing paragraphs:

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), a top Biden ally, called on the Democratic National Committee to halt further primaries and any additional debates if Sanders failed to carry any states on Tuesday.

"If the night ends the way it has begun, I think it is time for us to shut this primary down, it is time for us to cancel the rest of these debates," he told NPR. "because you don't do anything but get yourself in trouble if you continue in this contest when it's obvious that the numbers will not shake out for you."

As stated, Sanders won North Dakota last night. But a drubbing in delegate-rich Florida next week could revive calls to declare the contest at an end, if Sanders doesn't do it himself. Meanwhile, this was posted earlier this morning:

A new wave of Georgia Democrats backed Joe Biden's campaign for president on Wednesday as he tries to lock down the party's establishment wing ahead of the state's March 24 primary.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, ex-U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden and about three dozen current and former state lawmakers endorsed the former vice president as he races toward a possible match-up against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in less than two weeks.

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But wait, there's more: Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign has reserved is first wave of airtime in Georgia ahead of the March 24 primary, and has scheduled a March 22 fundraiser in Buckhead. His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, will also visit this weekend.

Bernie Sanders campaign, too, is making moves here.

The Vermont senator’s operation will open a state headquarters in southwest Atlanta on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. featuring former state Sen. Vincent Fort and South Fulton City Councilman Khalid Kamau.

The campaign’s state director, Ernest Boston, said it was a sign that “no candidate is more committed” to Georgia than Sanders, who spoke at a black church PAC forum here last year and later unveiled an HBCU plan.

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U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has managed to turn his "self-quarantine" from the coronavirus into a campaign event for U.S. Senate.

The Gainesville congressman began isolating himself Monday, after he was informed he had interacted with someone at the CPAC conference in late February who had contracted coronavirus.

On Tuesday, from his Gainesville home, the congressman held court on Facebook Live for about 40 minutes, railing against Sen. Kelly Loeffler and touting his support for President Donald Trump. A taste:

"She's going to spend a lot of money. We know that she's already said she's going to spend $20 million, and I think that was a very large decision about her viability as a candidate. But in Georgia we let elections speak."

He also recorded Skype interviews with a string of television outlets around the state and Fox News, giving him a free media boost from the coronavirus scare. It hasn’t been all fun and games. Last Saturday, after that CDC press conference with President Donald Trump, Collins was in Columbus to open a local campaign headquarters.

Chuck Williams of WRBL News 3 asked whether local residents who shook Collins' hand should be worried:

"That they are fine," he said. "The CDC has said contact with someone like myself, who had contact with someone who actually tested positive for the virus, that someone who's in my condition, that past the incubation phase, has not shown any symptoms or any signs of flu-like symptoms or anything going on."

Collins says the CDC has said you go on with your life.

***

With the possibility of school closures across the country looming, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Tuesday announced measures to ensure that students can still receive free meals.

Perdue said states can apply for waivers allowing them to serve lunches outside of the group settings federal regulations now require. The temporary change applies to any school that shuts its doors before June 30.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, the Albany Democrat who chairs the House committee that heard from Perdue on Tuesday, had requested that exact rule change in a letter he sent to the former Georgia governor on Monday.

In it, Bishop noted that 22 million American children receive free or reduced school lunches every day. Bishop has also requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture delay planned changes to the food stamp program that could kick families off its rolls.

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Back in Atlanta, we've picked up word that two of Gov. Brian Kemp's floor leaders -- state Sen. Brian Strickland of McDonough and state Rep. Dominic LaRiccia of Douglas -- introduced identical measures Tuesday to amend the Open Records Act.

The proposals would include the General Assembly, state lawmakers and legislative committees under the definition of a state agency -- meaning that sunshine laws would apply to the legislative branch, which has long been exempt.

Given the timing - shortly before Thursday’s “Crossover Day” deadline - leaders of both chambers would have had to suspend the rules on Tuesday to get the measures moving through the system this year. Neither chamber would do so.

There’s still a chance that one version or the other could pass. The sponsors, with Kemp’s support, could still attach the measure to another bill that’s moving through the Legislature.

But gosh, why do it at all?

Possibly because also on Tuesday, the House passed -- with a veto-proof margin -- House Bill 1112, which would put guard rails on one of the most prized weapons in a governor's quiver -- his ability to name the anticipated amount of tax revenue available to state government each year. It's the key to his control over his budget.

And when a governor requires state department heads to make steep budget cuts, as happened last September, the legislation requires those bureaucrats to send duplicates of those plans to the House and Senate. Which wasn’t done last September. From a February post:

[O]n Sept. 5, David Dove, the governor's executive counsel, sent out a memo in which he declared that state lawmakers – which by then included members of the Senate, too – were to be told nothing, given no documents for the early hearings.

If there is one sentence that gave birth to the current situation in the state Capitol, it may be this one in Dove's memo: "Further, the law contemplates that no submission is made to the General Assembly until it is organized for a legislative session."

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The corona-elbow bump is spreading across the state Capitol. The official state Senate recommendation:

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Meanwhile, we've got this:

Five left-leaning Georgia groups urged Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican legislative leaders on Wednesday to "do the right thing" and postpone a key legislative deadline and shutter the Georgia Capitol until public health concerns over coronavirus subside.

The organizations called for the delay of Thursday's Crossover Day - the last day for most legislation to pass one chamber to advance - hours after House Speaker David Ralston suspended the teenage page program and advised the public to watch proceedings at home rather than join the jumble at the Gold Dome.

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In the gentlemanly language of the state Capitol, jabs and jeers can be well disguised. But there's no covering up House Speaker David Ralston's disdain for state Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, a constant "no" vote now running for Congress.

On Tuesday, when Gurtler took the well of the House to criticize the spending plan, Ralston essentially shooed him off the podium. When Gurtler declined to take questions, Ralston said curtly that he “fled the well.”

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Our AJC colleague Tyler Estep came across another test of state Capitol decorum on Tuesday:

Stephe Koontz became Georgia's only transgender elected official when she won a seat on the Doraville City Council in 2017. Koontz said she was at the Capitol on Tuesday when she saw Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia, and tried to talk with him about why he signed onto a piece of legislation targeting so-called "sanctuary cities."

Koontz said a heated discussion ensued and Jones began yelling. The conversation turned into a rant "about how LGBTQ rights are not civil rights," Koontz said.

"You might be a man one day and a woman the next, I don't even know who you are," Koontz quoted Jones as saying.

Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his "recollection of the conversation is different."

***

Her preferred candidate no longer in the running, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath announced this morning that she had endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination.

McBath was among the elected officials who had initially endorsed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s gun control group, Everytown USA, had funded McBath’s previous advocacy work after the death of her son, Jordan Davis, and later spent $4.5 million helping her get elected to Congress in 2018. Everytown USA endorsed Biden earlier this week.

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