Former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend the unveiling of their official portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in February. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS
Photo: Olivier Douliery/TNS
Photo: Olivier Douliery/TNS

The Jolt: With 99 days to go, might Michelle Obama show up in Georgia?

We are now 99 days away from finding out whether Democrat Stacey Abrams’ gamble on a new playbook for winning a governor’s race in Georgia will pay off.

We’ve already told you elsewhere that the Georgia contest is likely to be a testing ground for the 2020 presidential contest between incumbent Donald Trump and any one of an army of Democrats currently positioning themselves.

We’re not alone. Over the weekend, the Washington Post’s Dan Balz referred to the contest between Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp as “the purest example of politics in the Trump era.”

Balz drew a parallel between Georgia’s contest and Democratic wins last year in statewide votes in Alabama and Virginia, but also injected a note of Democratic uncertainty:

Republicans recognize the potential for all this to take place: After Virginia especially but also after Alabama, they are mindful of how Democratic energy and enthusiasm could cut this fall. But they see differences between Georgia and those other two elections.

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, noted that while the Atlanta suburbs are not as conservative as the rest of the state, they are more conservative than the precincts in Northern Virginia that are becoming Democratic strongholds. A Democrat who was senior in Clinton’s campaign also expressed skepticism that Georgia is as ripe for the Democrats as some others want to believe.

Ayres also pointed to another difference: “Brian Kemp is not Roy Moore. Stacey Abrams is not Ralph Northam.” By that he meant that Kemp carries none of the baggage of Moore, who was accused of molesting a young woman many years ago, and that Abrams is considerably more liberal than Northam.

Abrams’ strategy has been to concentrate on bringing inactive and new voters into the fray – upping minority turnout. That could shift at least slightly if, come September and October, her campaign senses movement among white suburban women in metro Atlanta.

What You Need To Know: Stacey Abrams

But how to tell?

There will be polls, of course. But there’s another way: Watch who comes to Abrams’ side over the next three months.

We can be pretty sure that President Donald Trump, now heavily invested in Kemp, will make an appearance in Georgia. Perhaps downstate. Vice President Mike Pence, with top aide Nick Ayers by his side, will be here, too.

And because of the 2020 implications, we can also count on seeing more of several Democratic hopefuls, including former vice president Joe Biden, U.S. Sens. Kamela Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Any one of them might juice one segment of the Democratic coalition, but it’s more difficult to see them lifting all boats – especially those belonging to suburban moms who usually vote Republican.

Who might fit that role? Michelle Obama for one. Her average approval rating stood at 65 percent when she left the White House in ’16. Putting her at Abrams side would also be a statement of Democratic confidence in Georgia’s possibilities.

We’ve heard the former first lady’s name mentioned here and there, but there’s a hitch. Earlier this month, Michelle Obama and several other prominent Obama administration figures threw themselves behind a non-partisan voter registration effort. From a Politico advance on the launch:

For years, Michelle Obama has been the most sought-after surrogate for Democratic candidates. She has consistently disappointed them and their operatives, however, by agreeing to only a handful of appearances each cycle.

With Democrats on high alert going into the midterms — desperate to push Republicans from power, but deeply anxious that they will come up short — questions are circulating among party activists and operatives about Michelle Obama’s decision to take herself off the campaign trail directly as a player.

On the other hand, voter registration efforts have hard and early deadlines. In Georgia, that’s Oct. 9. So there would be plenty of time for Michelle Obama to change course and join what’s likely to be a brutal partisan contest here in Georgia.

***

The Gainesville Times has taken a deeper look at the north Georgia town’s fall from grace, given the imminent departure of both Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. A taste: 

After the primary, Cagle redoubled his efforts in Hall County — from the small stuff, marching in the Memorial Day Parade, to the big, opening a field headquarters on Green Street in addition to his campaign headquarters in Atlanta.

But with all of the staff, signs and volunteers, Cagle added only 679 votes in the nine weeks between the primary and the runoff. Kemp added 7,300.

The last man standing in the Gainesville triumvirate: Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller -- whom, we are told, is set to soon hold a GOP caucus meeting to hash out all the election fallout in his chamber.

***

Here’s a Georgia connection we never knew existed in the Trump-Russia saga. Former Savannah congressman Jack Kingston is apparently a friend of one-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen. The Daily Beast quotes the Georgia Republican and Trump surrogate as saying he felt “sorry” for Cohen, who has gotten on the bad side of the president after releasing a secret recording of the two: 

“It would appear to me that if I’m [White House chief of staff John] Kelly, I would say to the president, ‘Do not talk to Michael Cohen anymore, it’s not in your interest,’” Kingston added. “But I would have someone else talk to Michael Cohen…so he wouldn’t feel like he was out on a limb, and that the limb was being sawed off.”

***

The conservative group calling itself the Judicial Crisis Network is putting a few million dollars behind the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 30-second ad we saw over the weekend urges viewers to call their U.S. senator -- and closes with an image of Kavanaugh shaking hands with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Georgia’s senior senator has already expressed support for the Trump nominee.

***

According to Marietta Daily Journal, the Cobb County Commission is disavowing earlier reports that it was considering the establishment of a “tent city” to deal with suburban homelessness.

***

Never miss a minute of what’s happening in Georgia Politics. Subscribe to PoliticallyGeorgia.com

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X