With a slew of open seats and increasingly competitive districts, Democrats say they’re positioned to pick up several seats in the Republican-dominated Georgia General Assembly.
An analysis of voting patterns by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also indicates that the electoral map might result in Democrats making gains this November.
The Republicans’ nearly two-thirds majority in the 236-person General Assembly isn’t in jeopardy, according to the AJC’s analysis.
There are 15 Republican-held legislative seats in districts where more voters backed Democrat Hillary Clinton than President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. By comparison, there are four Democrat-held seats in districts that supported Trump.
Looking beyond the presidential election, Democrats are within striking distance of Republicans in 13 districts where their average margin of defeat in all contested races two years ago was less than 10 percentage points, according to figures from the Georgia General Assembly’s Office of Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment. On the Republican side, there are six such districts.
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House Minority Leader Bob Trammell said local candidates will benefit from Democrats’ enthusiasm for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and more Democrats are competing for Republican-held House seats than in 2016 — 56 this year compared with 21 two years ago.
“We’re certainly going to gain seats in the election,” said Trammell, D-Luthersville. “Having as many competitive races as we have throughout the state gives that Democratic enthusiasm an opportunity to come together at the local level to win seats.”
But Republicans are looking to knock off incumbent Democrats as well, including Trammell. His district leans Republican and supported Trump over Clinton.
His Republican opponent in the race, former Grantville City Councilman Leonard Gomez, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The general election in November features 20 open seats, where incumbents aren’t seeking re-election. All but one of those seats are currently held by Republicans, creating an opening for Democrats to win undefended districts.
Republicans in Georgia have become a “victim of their own success,” said Mark Rountree, a GOP political consultant.
“At some point, it’s just hard for any political party to hold two-thirds of the seats,” he said. “The vast majority of the Republican seats are going to be Republican regardless of what the Democrats do.”
Still, he said Republicans could neuter Democrats’ potential gains by defending several swing districts and retaking House seats like those in the Athens area, where Democratic state Reps. Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace won special elections last year.
High turnout, driven by the race for governor between Abrams and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, would favor Democrats, said Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist.
“With all the momentum we see from the Abrams campaign on the Democratic side, I’m convinced that a lot of these candidates in competitive House districts will benefit,” he said. “The Abrams campaign brought out a lot of these sporadic voters who traditionally vote in presidential, not gubernatorial, elections.”
Many of the key battlegrounds are in metro Atlanta, where districts are growing more racially diverse and Trump received less support than in the rest of Georgia in the 2016 election. Trump won 51 percent of the vote statewide but lost to Clinton in Cobb and Gwinnett counties, where there are eight open seats.
In state Sen. Fran Millar’s northside Atlanta district, he’s running for re-election as a moderate Republican in an area where 54 percent of voters backed Clinton. He faces former state Rep. Sally Harrell in the general election.
“I demonstrated over the years that I pretty well am in touch with the district,” said Millar, who represents parts of DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. “The slogan they had for me is ‘far right Fran.’ If I’m far right, God help the rest of the Republican Party.”
Harrell, a social worker, said Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the Senate district in the May primary election, and she predicted Abrams’ candidacy will continue to fuel a Democratic surge in November.
“We are going to see Democrats get out and vote in numbers that we haven’t seen in the past,” she said. “Having a strong Democratic candidate will help that wave. She will motivate our base to come out. At the same time, there’s also a growing population of people who have traditionally voted Republican who are dissatisfied with their party.”