FILE - This Nov. 2, 2009, file photo shows a Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H. Food safety experts say raw turkeys shouldn’t be rinsed, since that can spread harmful bacteria. Cooking should kill any germs. But bacteria can still spread in other ways, so washing and sanitizing hands and surfaces is still important. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe, File)
Photo: Larry Crowe/AP
Photo: Larry Crowe/AP

Why Thanksgiving dinner might not be as contentious as you fear

By now, you’ve been counseled several times — perhaps by your siblings, your children or your spouse — to keep a lid on political debates at the Thanksgiving table.

Don’t sweat it. It won’t be that hard. The chances of you being forced to break bread or share a drumstick with someone you disagree with are diminishing quickly. Mentally and geographically, Georgia is rushing into two different corners.

The impact of the stampede can be seen in the recent Republican effort to clear the field for Karen Handel and her bid to reclaim the 6th Congressional District seat from Democrat Lucy McBath.

State Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta abruptly withdrew from the contest two weeks ago. Nicole Rodden, a first-time candidate, abandoned the north metro Atlanta race a few days later. Businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene remains in the GOP hunt but has little institutional support.

Party consolidation behind a single candidate is a strategy of the underdog — in this case, a quiet acknowledgement that McBath’s 2018 victory wasn’t a one-off anomaly, and so resources must be hoarded. Democrats have done the same in past gubernatorial contests. They will do it again in next year’s campaign to replace Republican Johnny Isakson in the U.S. Senate.

Early this week, Charlie Hayslett described Georgia’s stampede in the broadest terms possible. I’ve mentioned Hayslett in this space before. He’s a former newspaperman-turned-publicist who in retirement has become a pretty good political demographer — specifically as statistics apply to rural Georgia.

On his blog, Trouble in God’s Country, Hayslett examined the results of the 1990 governor’s race between Democrat Zell Miller and the aforementioned Isakson — and came up with the statistic that tells the story. That November, Georgia’s 159 counties were a partisan stew.

“Sixty percent was the ceiling in 103 of the state’s 159 counties — the most either Miller or Isakson got in any of those counties,” Hayslett wrote. Meaning that the other candidate got a healthy 40%.

That wasn’t the case in last year’s gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abram and Republican Brian Kemp. “In 2018, 60 percent was the floor in 105 counties — the least either Kemp or Abrams got,” Hayslett wrote.

Kemp’s margin soared above 90% in two rural counties. Two metro Atlanta counties — Clayton and DeKalb — went 80% for Abrams. We are separating ourselves by political philosophy, and the opposition is going quiet in red spaces and blue ones.

The voter pool was smaller, but the trend continued in this month’s ostensibly nonpartisan municipal elections. Runoffs in several contests will be held Tuesday.

Much has been written about the election of a mayor who leans Democratic in Dunwoody. But if you were Beach or Rodden and examining 6th District tea leaves, two other cities held portents of hard sledding to come.

In Doraville, former City Councilman Joseph Geierman, a gay real estate director for a local law firm, finished first with 39% of the vote in a four-way race for mayor. He’ll be in a runoff with Donna Portman, the incumbent, who finished second with 28%.

Portman endorsed Handel in her 2017 6th District race against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Geierman has the backing of several Democratic lawmakers, including state Sen. Sally Harrell and state Rep. Scott Holcomb.

Then there is Johns Creek, where all three City Council races are to be decided in Tuesday’s runoffs. Only one involves an incumbent, Chris Coughlin.

Party identification isn’t an issue, but transportation is — and might be viewed as a stand-in. In 2015, the Johns Creek City Council approved a nonbinding resolution opposing the expansion of MARTA rail into north Fulton County.

Coughlin took office immediately after that vote, but his extensive campaign website contains no mention of MARTA. Rather, he advocates “applying smart traffic congestion relief strategies.”

In the runoff, Coughlin faces Marybeth Cooper. She has listed several reasons for running, but this one stands out: “I’m running because TSPLOST passed, whether you voted for it or against it. You can’t rewrite the vote; you can’t ignore the vote.”

Then we have Smyrna, which isn’t in the 6th District but does sit in a rapidly changing swath of north metro Atlanta. After three decades, Mayor Max Bacon is retiring.

Mayor Pro Tem Derek Norton led the November vote with 47%. Norton is a former staffer for Johnny Isakson and director of government relations for the Medical Association of Georgia. He has friends in the state Capitol.

Even so, Norton has been pulled into a runoff against 26-year-old Ryan Campbell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, part owner of a local bistro and a two-degreed graduate of the University of Alabama. Campbell is also a member of the advocacy group Cobb for Transit.

Also in Smyrna, veteran Councilwoman Andrea Blustein has been drawn into a do-over Tuesday. She and challenger Austin Wagner, a 29-year-old Democratic consultant, won identical vote totals Nov. 5. Again, transit is one of Wagner’s issues.

You might think the above contests are nothing usual. But Georgia’s political world moves at a glacial pace — with only the occasional light-switch moment. The last was in 2002, when Sonny Perdue first lured rural Georgia into the Republican camp and away from Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

We are in the midst of another speeded-up sorting of our population today, with President Donald Trump as the accelerant. Rural Georgia is going scarlet, while suburbia is on its way to becoming a reliable home for blue voters.

This doesn’t bode well for statewide political contests, which are likely to become more pointed confrontations between entrenched foes.

On the upside, local Thanksgiving dinners are more likely to be peopled by the like-minded, and thus easier to survive.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.
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