Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar found out that Democratic presidential candidates will have to change their ways when coming to Georgia. The state is no longer merely a source of campaign cash, Georgia Democrats feel. The new protocol apparently calls for presidential hopefuls to hold rallies and other campaign events that match up candidates and voters, not just fundraisers. It also looks like it would be a good idea to meet with Stacey Abrams. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Photo: Scott Olson
Photo: Scott Olson

Capitol Recap: Democratic presidential hopefuls face a new Georgia

Stacey Abrams may not have to worry so much about keeping the refrigerator stocked. She’s becoming an important dinner date for Democratic presidential contenders when they come to Georgia.

A new protocol appears to be in place as Georgia shifts seats in the Electoral College from Republican stronghold to a place where it looks like Democrats stand a chance.

Meeting with Abrams seems to be one of the first required steps after her narrow loss in last year’s race for governor — Georgia’s closest such contest in almost five decades — helped energize the state party after years of humbling losses.

Presidential hopefuls are also expected to treat the state differently. It’s no longer acceptable to just fly into metro Atlanta to tap donors’ fat wallets before rushing to spend that cash somewhere else. They’re to stage campaign events here to meet with real live Georgia voters.

This new order came to light when Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of the most recent Democrats to announce a bid for the White House, apparently riled some of Abrams' followers by making her first effort in Georgia a fundraiser at the home of Gordon Giffin, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada.

Her guest list helped spur the grumbling because it uncovered the rift among Georgia Democrats.

Abrams’ acolytes feel there’s a new way to seek office in Georgia, following the path she took by pushing a liberal agenda to bring out voters who normally skip a trip to the polls.

That puts them at odds with the party’s “old guard,” the type of Democrats who sought statewide office by playing to the middle, a strategy of hoping moderates would choose them over Republicans that led to far more convincing losses than what Abrams suffered.To Abrams’ people, that’s so 2002.

The poster boy of the old guard would be former Gov. Roy Barnes, the last Democrat to hold the state’s top job but also the loser of two races while trying to keep it or regain it.

He was only for Abrams after he was against her. In last year’s Democratic primary, he was firmly in the column backing former state Rep. Stacey Evans, like Barnes, a lawyer from Cobb County. He also was a prominent invitee to the Klobuchar fundraiser.

That set her up for criticism.

“If you’re running for president and making your Georgia debut, you embrace Abrams, you embrace the new Democratic voter coalition and you don’t treat the state like an ATM,” said a national party operative with ties to Georgia.

A little scrambling apparently followed.

Klobuchar set up a meeting with Abrams, who was also invited to the fundraiser days in advance.

That put Klobuchar on a similar course to one U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren followed after announcing her own bid for the presidency.

Warren held a fundraiser hosted by several of Evans’ backers before returning to Georgia for a rally earlier this month.

And then she had dinner with Abrams.

More Barnes: His recent failures at the ballot box have forced Barnes to pursue work in the courtroom for fun and profit.

But he just withdrew from a case that, to say the least, offered interesting optics.

He is no longer Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawyer.

Barnes and John Salter, his law partner and son-in-law, pulled in $250 an hour as Kemp’s defense team in a voting rights lawsuit while he was Georgia’s secretary of state. The Barnes firm took over for then-newly appointed Attorney General Chris Carr in the suit that alleged the secretary of state allowed Georgia’s electronic elections system to deteriorate to the point that it endangered accurate results.

At the time, while running in a crowded field in the Republican primary for governor, Kemp offered a testimonial for Barnes. “I definitely don’t see eye to eye with Governor Barnes on a lot of issues,” he said, “but I think anyone would tell you he’s a damn good lawyer.”

Barnes couldn’t do the same for Kemp. Bucking the adage that the customer is always right, he chose to back Abrams instead of Kemp in the governor’s race.

Taking over for Barnes and Salter, according to The Daily Report, is Vincent Russo, a partner at Atlanta’s The Robbins Firm and counsel to Kemp during the gubernatorial campaign, and Bryan Tyson, a partner at Atlanta’s Strickland Brockington Lewis.

Table talk: What wasn’t said was at least as interesting as what was said this past week at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual legislative luncheon.

As many as 500 people came for a nosh, including some of the top bigwigs in the state’s Republican Party.

Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Carr all gave speeches, as did state House Speaker David Ralston.

There were promises to oppose abortion rights legislation and expansion of the state’s law on medical marijuana. Author Alex Berenson, who wrote a book pointing to a possible link between drug use and mental illness, also was there to emphasize the anti-drug theme.

But there wasn’t nearly as much talk about an issue of long importance to the coalition, “religious liberty” legislation. Casinos and gambling in general, other subjects that have stirred up the opposition of the Faith and Freedom faithful in the past, also drew little comment.

When’s the primary? Georgia is a destination location for presidential contenders with an eye on next year’s primary.

But they haven’t circled the date on their calendars yet.

That’s because new Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has yet to set a date.

The state is expected to hold its presidential primary on March 3, which would put it in company with some tall neighbors, including California, Massachusetts and Texas, as well as a number of Southern states that have already picked that date.

Kemp, who as Georgia secretary of state engineered the “SEC primary” of Southern states in 2016, says he’d like to see that return.

Raffensperger is likely to agree, but he hasn’t said anything about it. His staff is equally mum.

A right of way wronged? A collision between local and state government occurred this past week when the Alpharetta City Council expressed its displeasure with state lawmakers over House Bill 184, which would give telecom companies greater ease in setting up new equipment in a public right of way.

Alpharetta devoted a lot of effort last year to working with businesses about where to place equipment in deploying 5G wireless technology.

Mayor Jim Gilvin, according to The Alpharetta Herald, said HB 184 “shreds everything we did to protect our residents — and the right of way that they own.”

Councilman Ben Burnett got into process and personalities.

“I know how the special interest lobby works,” he said. “I know how people down there get elected. Unless you’re running for elected office and you need the support of your locally elected official … the only time you see them is if they’re running for Congress or on the back of a milk carton.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Next year’s 7th Congressional District race continues to draw candidates. Nabilah Islam of Lawrenceville is the newest hopeful, and she pledges to support “Medicare for all” and a $15-an-hour minimum wage while rejecting corporate donations. She joins fellow Democrats Carolyn Bourdeaux, who lost in November to U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall by a margin of 433 votes, and Snellville attorney Marquis Cole.

Republicans have not moved as quickly to declare their candidacies following Woodall’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election. But state Sen. Renee Unterman appears to be the closest to putting on her track shoes in preparation for a run.

“I’ve kind of got a little discovery committee going on out there, and we’re talking about it,” Unterman said recently. “And the results we’re getting are very good and favorable.”

She added, “I’m trying to convince my husband.”

Other Republicans who could launch a bid include state Rep. David Clark, businessman Rick Desai and former state Sen. David Shafer.

— Gabe Okoye, a former chairman of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, has announced plans to run against state Sen. P.K. Martin, R-Lawrenceville. Martin was first elected to the Senate in 2014 with two-thirds of the vote. His victory in November was far less convincing, with a margin of 3,000 votes.

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