Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter makes his closing statement during the April 2019 death penatly trial of Tiffany Moss. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gwinnett DA will stay with Republican Party for 2020 re-election bid

Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter will run for reelection as a Republican after all.

Porter was first elected as Gwinnett’s top prosecutor as a Republican in 1992. He has kept the GOP affiliation in six uncontested elections since.

But earlier this year Porter suggested he could mount his 2020 reelection bid as a Democrat, saying he would run with whichever party gave him the “best chance of success” in a county that’s no longer a conservative stronghold.

On Tuesday, Porter said that keeping an “R” next to his name — and using his track record to appeal to voters from both parties — would do just that. While he reiterated his belief that the district attorney’s job should be nonpartisan, he said running as a Democrat would have been “disingenuous.”

The decision also means he’ll steer clear of a Democratic primary.

“I wanted to avoid the argument about who’s the best Democrat,” Porter said, “and I wanted to focus the argument … on who’s the best DA.”

Being a 27-year incumbent certainly comes with advantages. But Gwinnett’s recent political history suggests Porter will nonetheless have an uphill battle to reelection.

In the 2018 Georgia governor’s race, Democrat Stacey Abrams won Gwinnett by a significant margin. The same election cycle saw Democrats seize control of Gwinnett’s delegation to the state legislature and win their first seats on the county commission since the 1980s.

Gwinnett’s current solicitor general is an upstart Democrat who ousted a longtime Republican incumbent in 2018.

“Republicans have lost in Gwinnett and will continue to do so,” Gwinnett Democratic Party chair Bianca Keaton said.

She and others in the party were skeptical when Porter floated the idea of running under their banner. Two Democrats – local attorney and activist Wesley Person and current assistant Gwinnett solicitor Patsy Austin-Gatson – had already announced their plans to run for district attorney.

“Personal and political values aren’t a product of party affiliation, it’s the other way around,” Keaton said. “… We have very capable Democratic candidates in that race, and on values alone, (Porter) would have a hard time running in a primary against them.”

Some Republican Gwinnett officials have grown increasingly accepting of more progressive policies on things like transit and homelessness in recent years. But Porter would’ve been the first high-profile figure to defect to the Democratic Party and seek re-election.

One former official, meanwhile, has already made the jump.

Roger Marmol, a former Snellville city councilman, did not run for re-election in the fall and does not have immediate plans to run for higher office. His city council position was also ostensibly nonpartisan.

But he announced this week that he was leaving the Republican Party for the Democrats.

“Over the years I have learned how many Republican politicians say one thing and do another,” Marmol wrote in a lengthy announcement. “Most have embraced an agenda and policies that are more about fighting against our changing country, and turning the clock back on progress.”

Porter, meanwhile, will rely on his track record to try and appeal to voters from both parties. Pointing to his office’s participation in diversion programs and accountability courts, he said he’s never fit the mold of a stereotypical, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” Republican prosecutor and is capable of having broad appeal.

At the same time, he’ll have to remain careful not to further rankle local Republicans, who were caught off guard by his public flirtation with leaving the party.

Gwinnett GOP chairman Edward Muldrow described that flirtation as a “bump in the road.” Porter recently spoke at the group’s monthly breakfast meeting and smoothed things over, he said.

“His explanation and apology was accepted and all was forgiven,” Muldrow said. “Now we move on to keeping great conservative people and ideas in Gwinnett.”

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