Sugar Hill City Hall. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres
Photo: Bob Andres

Capitol Recap: Georgia Democrats make a push for municipal offices

Georgia’s Democratic Party, in its approach to municipal elections, is taking its cue from the state lottery: You’ve got to play to win.

The local-level races are technically nonpartisan, but state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikema Williams says voters often know “who is a Democrat and who is not.”

So the party launched a pilot program to persuade left-leaning voters to run for that job down at City Hall or that county position. With that encouragement comes the party’s offer to help.

The effort will target elections in at least 50 counties and 100 cities across the state.

Other liberal groups, including MoveOn.org, are apparently also participating.

Getting candidates involved at the local level might help the party build a bench for bigger things down the road. Or at least deny the opposing party that opportunity.

“We’re not going to support Republicans,” said Williams, who is also a state senator from Atlanta, “because they use these as steppingstones.”

It’s a pilot program, so there are a few kinks in the system that need to be worked out.

Among those contacted and urged to run was Dan Coats. But he already has a job that keeps him pretty busy: He’s the head of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in Georgia.

Growing approval: Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Sen. David Perdue came out reasonably well in a massive poll from The Morning Consult that ranks the popularity of the nation's governors and senators.

Kemp made the top half of the nation’s 50 governors, coming in at No. 22 with an approval rating of 52% and a disapproval rating of 29%.

That may not be enough to make the cool table, but Kemp appears to be trending upward.

Back in January, shortly after he won a tight and tough election against Democrat Stacey Abrams, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed Kemp with an approval rating of 37.2%.

That got better: An AJC poll in April pegged his favorability rating at 46%.

One factor the Morning Consult survey may not have measured completely is the impact Georgia’s new anti-abortion law may have had on Kemp’s popularity. He signed the bill on May 6, roughly halfway through the polling that took place from April 1 to June 30. (As a note of comparison, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed an even more restrictive anti-abortion bill. Her rankings took a dive, falling 17 percentage points between the first and second quarters of the year.)

Perdue, who’s up for re-election next year, placed within the upper third of all U.S. senators. He had an approval rating of 48%, with a disapproval rating of 26%.

Stacking cash: Perdue’s re-election bid is off to a good start money wise.

Axios has ranked the top U.S. House and Senate fundraisers across the country, and Perdue tied for the 10th position by taking in $1.9 million in the second quarter of the year.

Since July 1, 2018, it says he has raised $90,000 in donations of less than $200, $1.3 million in donations of $200 or more and $3.1 million from other sources, such as political action committees and loans.

On the Democratic side, only one Georgian in the Senate race, Teresa Tomlinson, is listed. She came in at No. 43, with $551,000. That includes $50,000 in donations of less than $200, $470,000 in donations of $200 or more and $31,000 from other sources.

Tomlinson’s contributors include some of the state Democratic Party's notables: former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Gordon Giffin, former state Rep. Ronnie Mabra, longtime party operative David Worley and ex-insurance commissioner candidate Cindy Zeldin.

Just joining the race is Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico, who lost last year’s contest for lieutenant governor. Also running for the Senate on the Democratic side is Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry.

Mulling a run: Others could join the Senate race, and an interesting name that popped up this past week was Matt Lieberman.

Lieberman, an entrepreneur, author and former educator, is the son of former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Joseph Lieberman may be best know for running for vice president as a Democrat in 2000 as Al Gore’s running mate. He later declared himself an independent and was a confidant of Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential candidate in 2008.

Matt Lieberman moved to Atlanta in 2005 to head a Jewish day school. Two years later, he started a group benefits consulting firm, and after that, two tech startups.

Kicking sand:State Sen. Brandon Beach resorted to tough talk about a fellow GOP competitor in the 6th Congressional District race: former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel.

Beach, appearing on a radio show in Virginia, said Handel — who stepped down as the Fulton County Commission chairwoman after one term to run for Georgia secretary of state and then, again after one term, left that office to make an unsuccessful bid for governor — has “never been re-elected to an office in her career.”

He doesn’t see that changing if she faces off against U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, the Democrat from Marietta who beat Handel in November. He explained that in part by slapping a “Never Trumper” label on Handel, who campaigned with Trump when she won a 2017 special election in the 6th District.

“I think one of the reasons she lost (to McBath in the 2018 midterms) is that she distanced herself from Trump, and on immigration,” Beach said, adding: “We have to embrace the president on his policies.”

Beach’s radio host, former Georgia broadcaster John Fredericks, jumped in by saying Handel has a “bizarre” campaign style.

He also falsely claimed that Handel opposed the GOP tax cut plan, which she backed and made a central part of her re-election bid.

“Not only did she run away from the president as a Never Trumper,” Fredericks said, “she ran away from his tax cut, the core of the economic boom.”

Handel’s campaign team shot back, aiming at Beach’s record in the state Senate.

“With his record of tax increases, casino gambling, MARTA expansion and the Equal Rights Amendment, it’s no wonder Brandon is campaigning in Virginia,” said Chris Broyles, Handel’s campaign manager. “Because conservatives in Georgia’s 6th sure as heck aren’t going to buy it.”

The U.S. House Democratic campaign effort also chimed in, highlighting McBath’s fundraising. She took in $670,000 in the second quarter of this year, placing her among the top 30 House incumbents.

“Representative McBath outraised the entire Republican field (which also includes motivational speaker Donnie Bolena, businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and former Merchant Marine Nicole Rodden) combined — and with no significant financial support, Georgia Republicans are once again stumbling over themselves to saddle up with President Trump and lob nasty attacks at each other,” said Avery Jaffe of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Owe my: The push by some Democratic presidential candidates for free college tuition might find some sympathetic ears in Greater Atlanta.

The website studentloanhero.com, in its analysis of nearly half a million credit reports from the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, ranked Atlanta as No. 2 in student debt.

With a median balance of $28,706, Atlanta trailed only Washington at $29,314.

Charleston, S.C., placed third at $27,591.

In and out: The Sept. 3 special election in state House District 71 has seen a shuffling of candidates.

This past week saw a Democrat, Peachtree City library administrator Jill Prouty, join what had been an all-GOP affair.

Meanwhile, a Republican who had been running, Sam Anders, has dropped out of the race and thrown his support behind Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison.

Philip Singleton, another of the Republicans, also picked up an endorsement — his coming from onetime GOP gubernatorial candidate Hunter Hill.

Nina Blackwelder also remains in the race.

The seat opened last month when state Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan, resigned.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux can once again claim the support of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn as she pursues the 7th Congressional District seat. Nunn also backed the Georgia State University professor in last year’s midterm election, when she lost by 433 votes to U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, in the nation’s closest U.S. House race. Woodall has since announced that he is leaving Congress.

— The 7th District race also picked up a new Democratic competitor, Rashid Malik of Lawrenceville. Malik, who unsuccessfully challenged Woodall in 2016, is the former president of a medical trade school. Since that last congressional run, Malik has admitted paying bribes to boost enrollment and tuition income at the school, which operated in Chamblee before shutting down in 2017. Malik has said he was blackmailed to pay the bribe.

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