Photo: The Blade/Samantha Madar
Photo: The Blade/Samantha Madar

Capitol Recap: Polls reveal lay of the land in battleground Georgia

Expectations are that Georgia will be a battleground in the 2020 elections, but recent polls show it’s hardly an even field that red and blue armies will traverse.

Republicans hold some high ground, according to a Morning Consult poll that showed both Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Sen. David Perdue in the 50% range. An NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll gave Kemp an approval rating of 61% — with 30% strongly approving. Those disapproving accounted for 37%.

But President Donald Trump is in a hole, although the depth varies by survey.

That NBC News poll showed 48% approve of the president’s job performance. He’s trending upward: When the same surveyors polled the state a year ago, they put him at 44%.

His favorability rating was slightly lower, at 45%, in a survey of 602 Georgia voters conducted by the left-leaning Public Policy Polls. His disapproval rating was 49%.

Those are better numbers than what an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found in April, when 40% approved of the president’s performance. An AJC poll in January put Trump’s favorability rating at 38%.

What does this mean for 2020? The Magic 8 Ball would probably say, “Ask again later.” The elections are a long way off, more than 15 months, and polls are just snapshots at a specific moment in time with plenty of capacity for change.

But at the moment, the Morning Consult poll also showed Trump losing Georgia to a generic Democrat, as if there were such a thing, by 50% to 46%.

The NBC News poll offered a little insight into who that Democrat might be, at least if it were up to Georgians.

Former Vice President Joe Biden led the field at 31%. A pack of three other candidates came in after that: U.S. Kamala Harris (15%), U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (13%) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (12%). No other Democrat rose above single digits.

An issue that could shape the field: Abortion was also covered in the NBC News poll. It did not, however, deal specifically with House Bill 481, the state anti-abortion law set to go into effect in January that would ban most abortions once fetal cardiac activity has been detected — about six weeks into pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.

The NBC News poll found that 60% of Georgia voters oppose “completely” overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

For the sake of comparison, the AJC poll in April found that 70% of Georgia voters opposed overturning Roe v. Wade.

In the same poll, 26% said abortion should be illegal in most cases. An additional 10% said it should be illegal in all cases.

Unlike the NBC News poll, that April AJC poll did ask Georgia voters to weigh in on the new anti-abortion law. It found that 48% strongly opposed or somewhat opposed HB 481, compared with 43 percent who strongly supported or somewhat supported the law.

Fiscal friction: Perdue campaigned on fixing a broken budget process, and in the past he’s voted against agreements like the one the White House and congressional Democrats just reached to suspend the debt limit until August 2021.

There have been exceptions, especially for deals pushed by the Trump administration. Perdue is one of the president’s closest allies in the U.S. Senate.

But it was still a bit surprising that he supported this new two-year deal, which would raise federal spending limits by $320 billion.

It was apparently a matter of timing.

“In a compromise, neither side gets 100 percent of what they want. The bottom line is with just 15 working days until the end of the fiscal year on September 30, Congress cannot afford to waste any more time,” Perdue said in a statement.

That wasn’t enough for everybody interested in the process, such as FreedomWorks, a group whose views have often aligned with those of Perdue, especially in the case of fiscal matters.

“With this ‘deal,’ GOP ‘leadership’ has ceded its ground on fiscal responsibility, which for years was supposed to be a core tenet of the party,” said Adam Brandon, the group’s president.

Those quote marks around “deal” and “leadership” carry some sting.

Israel vote, two approaches: Whether to condemn a movement to boycott Israel over its policies toward Palestinians has been an issue that has divided the Democratic Party.

At its center are U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashia Tlaib of Michigan, two Muslim freshmen who have faced accusations of anti-Semitism over public remarks they have made concerning Israel and the Holocaust. They are also two of the four Democratic congresswoman that Trump singled out in tweets telling them to “go back” to their own countries, even though three were born in the U.S. and Omar is a naturalized citizen.

Two Georgia Democrats chose their own paths on a U.S. House vote this past week to condemn the boycott movement.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta co-sponsored a separate resolution with Omar and Tlaib that “affirms that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

But on the House resolution to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Lewis voted aye.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia has his own history regarding Israel. One of the more liberal members of Georgia’s congressional delegation, he has voiced concerns in the past about how the Israeli government has treated Palestinians. Three years ago, he had to issue apologies after he likened that nation’s settlement policy in the West Bank to “a steady (stream), almost like termites can get into a residence and eat before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself.”

During this week’s House vote, Johnson voted “present,” meaning he voted neither for nor against the resolution.

Get it on paper: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearances before the U.S. House Judiciary and Intelligence committees drew the most attention, but he wasn’t the only person to testify before Congress this past week about election meddling.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, a former Atlanta attorney, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Washington Post reported that Wray said he had been involved in meetings within the Trump administration — that the president also attended — that described “Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2018 midterm elections and elections going forward.”

“Wray said he would also support elections officials using backup paper ballots during elections,” the Post wrote.

Here’s another nugget from Wray’s testimony: He reported that the FBI had recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects over the past nine months. Most were alleged to be white supremacists.

Priorities: When it comes to Trump, policy and legislation aren’t really at the top of his agenda. That’s what his friends are saying.

In a New York Times article examining the president’s record, Newt Gingrich — a former Georgia congressman, onetime U.S. House speaker and close ally to the president — had this to say about Trump’s interest in policy accomplishments:

“I think he doesn’t mind if it happens, but it’s not his primary focus. His primary focus is to so thoroughly define Democrats as the party of the radical left. I think that matters much more to him than any particular bill.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Republican Philip Singleton, a candidate in the Sept. 3 special election to represent state House District 71, has gained the support of the anti-abortion group Georgia Right to Life. To help you keep track of which anti-abortion group is which, GRTL is the one that withdrew endorsements for legislators who supported HB 481. It opposed exceptions included in the law that would allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, provided the woman had filed a police report. The District 71 seat opened up when state Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan, resigned earlier this summer.

— John King, the state’s newly appointed interim insurance commissioner, is showing signs he'd like to shed "interim" from his title. King filed paperwork this past week to start raising money for a likely run in 2022. He told the AJC earlier this month that he planned to run for the job in the next election. There is the matter of Jim Beck, who added “suspended” to his title as insurance commissioner while he faces federal fraud charges. Beck is still getting paid $120,000 a year (as is King), so he may not want to get out of the way, provided he successfully wends his way through the court system.

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