The election Tuesday will feature hundreds of races across Georgia headlined by the biggest prize: A cantankerous battle between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp for governor.
It’s difficult to paint Georgia’s vote with a sweeping brushstroke since so many disparate factors influence the race, including Abrams’ history-making bid to be the nation’s first black female governor, Kemp’s rural-focused strategy and the increasingly competitive suburbs.
Still, many analysts center on three broad scenarios that could dominate the headlines when the books are closed on Tuesday’s vote. Below, we take a look at each one of them, and how they could play out in Georgia.
A blue wave
How it plays out: This is the scenario Democrats have been dreaming of since President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory – a surge of liberal energy sweeps through Georgia, swamping Republicans in deep-blue areas and more competitive territory in the suburbs. If this plays out, Democrats are likely to hold both Cobb and Gwinnett counties – which both flipped blue two years ago – and threaten in unlikelier areas, like Fayette and Lowndes counties.
Reading the tea leaves: For Democrats pining for a wave, the early-voting numbers are encouraging. About 2.1 million early votes were cast from voters who were broadly more diverse, younger and more female than past midterm electorates. Turnout soared in some of the state’s bluest bastions, and roughly 800,000 of the voters – many of them in Democratic counties - skipped the last midterm.
Not so fast: Turnout was also significantly higher in Kemp’s biggest strongholds, and voters over 65 still composed the biggest single bloc of voters. Kemp’s allies long figured they could struggle in the early-vote and overwhelm Democrats on Election Day, when more traditional voters tend to cast ballots.
Who gains and who loses: Abrams could win the race outright, or at least force a runoff, and many of the down-ticket statewide candidates would also excel. The Republican incumbents in both competitive U.S. House seats in suburban Atlanta would be swept away, along with more than a dozen GOP-controlled state legislative offices.
Races to watch: If there’s a blue wave, look for Democrats to hold one of their unlikeliest pickups of last year’s special election: The victory by Jonathan Wallace, who won a Watkinsville-district in a staunchly conservative district in Kemp’s backyard. Another sign would be a serious threat to state Rep. Ron Stephens, a Savannah-area Republican who has rarely faced a serious challenge but represents a mix of affluent suburbs and rural areas that could be trending toward Democrats.
A blue wave with a red undertow
How it plays out: With apologies to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who coined the term, this is the scenario analysts say could be likeliest to unfold in Georgia. A Democratic wave surfs through parts of the state, but high Republican turnout dampens the electoral effect. If this happens, expect the wave to be most forceful in metro Atlanta’s suburbs – and the undertow to be strongest in north Georgia, home to the most reliable trove of votes for Republicans.
Reading the tea leaves: The best evidence this could happen lies in the campaign strategies. Kemp has largely avoided stumping in metro Atlanta’s suburbs, save for a visit by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and a few stops on his final bus tour. Some down-ticket Republicans in those areas have not aggressively tied themselves to Kemp or Trump, and many skipped the president’s visit to Macon.
Not so fast: Republicans are hoping to reawaken conservatives in competitive places like Gwinnett and Henry counties with relentless attacks painting Abrams and Democrats as “extremists” who will erase Republican-led accomplishments. Polls suggest the bombardment of Abrams has driven up her negatives, and show GOP enthusiasm has shot upward, if not to the levels of Democrats.
Who gains and who loses: This is the same scenario that Trump rode to victory in Georgia in 2016, relying on huge margins in rural Georgia to counteract what once would have been a devastating GOP defeat in much of metro Atlanta. Kemp has tried to follow the same playbook to brace for this scenario, which gives him a path for a narrow victory. The suburban U.S. House races could be particularly close, with U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in particular danger of getting ousted from a Gwinnett-based district. Runoffs could also be possibilities in down-ticket races, including secretary of state and Public Service Commission.
What races to watch: A raft of suburban seats could flip in this scenario while Republicans hold pat in other parts of the state. Watch El-Mahdi Holly and Mike Wilensky, two Democrats hailing from the same high school running in very different districts. Holly would flip a fast-changing south metro Atlanta district under this scenario, while Wilensky would capture a Dunwoody-based seat long held by Republicans if this plays out.
A red wall
How it plays out: At his rally with Trump, Kemp drew a roar of applause with his prediction of a “beautiful red wall” to smash any hopes of a Democratic wave. In this scenario, soaring GOP turnout on Election Day soars, fueled by the president’s attempts to make this midterm a referendum on his performance. Even Democratic margins in liberal bastions like Dougherty and Richmond counties are undercut if this happens, while Kemp matches or outperforms Trump’s percentages in Hall County and other Republican strongholds he’s depending on to win.
Reading the tea leaves: Look no further than the thousands of Republicans who waited for hours to catch a glimpse of Trump on Sunday in Macon, where they heard the president say a vote for Kemp is a vote for him. Kemp is relying on massive turnout from these voters, some of whom also often skipped midterm elections until Trump’s 2016 victory.
Not so fast: There would have to be soaring Election Day turnout to negate what appears to be an early-voting advantage for Democrats. Abrams has long focused on building up party infrastructure in Republican territory, if only to cut into GOP margins in areas where Democrats have long struggled.
Who gains and who loses: Kemp would win the race outright under this scenario – and so would a sweep of down-ticket candidates. Woodall and U.S. Rep. Karen Handel would likely coast and Democratic gains in the suburbs would be limited to a handful of state legislative seats. And Public Service Commissioners Chuck Eaton and Tricia Pridemore easily avoid a runoff.
What races to watch: Some of the most vulnerable GOP down-ticket incumbents would eke out victories, including Gerald Greene, the only Republican representing a majority-black House district, and Mike Cheokas, waging a comeback bid to represent a district that includes Jimmy Carter’s hometown. House Minority Leader Bob Trammell – one of the only Democrats representing a district Trump won – would be in jeopardy.
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