Atlanta World Series gives Georgia Republicans a chance to play hardball

GOP officials say it’s ‘poetic justice’ after All-Star game snub to protest voting law
When the Atlanta Braves defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, it meant that baseball's biggest moment would be coming to Truist Park in Cobb County after the stadium earlier this year lost its chance to host the All-Star game because of a protest over Georgia's new voting law. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

When the Atlanta Braves defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, it meant that baseball's biggest moment would be coming to Truist Park in Cobb County after the stadium earlier this year lost its chance to host the All-Star game because of a protest over Georgia's new voting law. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

It’s been called “sweet revenge” and “glorious karmic justice” for Georgia Republicans.

And when the Braves host the World Series at Truist Park on Friday, there will be plenty of talk of cosmic payback with Major League Baseball holding its premier event in a state it snubbed a few months ago.

Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republican state leaders have used the Braves’ berth in the championship round to take fresh political swings at the league for pulling the All-Star game out of Georgia in April in protest of the state’s new election law.

And former President Donald Trump will bring more attention to the hardball feud simply by showing up at Truist Park on Saturday, where he could post up in a luxury suite not far from where MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will watch the Braves take on the Astros.

Indeed, the team’s postseason success resurfaces one of the league’s most controversial decisions, one that managed to infuriate both Democrats and Republicans in a polarizing political era.

State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Democrat who represents Truist Park in the Legislature, still remembers that she was shopping for snacks for her kids at a grocery store when she heard of the brewing decision in April.

“Instead of channeling the frustration with the new law into action in Georgia, the league just decided to leave,” Anulewicz said. “And it was really disappointing.”

At the time, Manfred and the league were facing immense pressure from players and politicians to yank the game. President Joe Biden had even endorsed a boycott of the game, describing the state’s new law as “Jim Crow on steroids.” Within days, the league decided to shift the event to Denver.

The new law was passed by Republicans after repeated falsehoods about widespread voter fraud were promoted by Trump and his allies.

A fan -- wearing a Braves jersey and a Cubs hat -- holds a sign thanking Major League Baseball for "supporting voting rights" during a game April 26 at Truist Park following the decision to move the All-Star game out of Atlanta to protest against the state's new voting law, Senate Bill 202. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Reeling from devastating defeats in November and January, Georgia Republicans quickly painted Democrats as fearmongers who deprived metro Atlanta of a premier showcase. The return of the World Series to Georgia for the first time since 1999 has only breathed new life into the back-and-forth.

Even as the Braves were celebrating their playoff victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers before a sold-out Truist Park crowd late Saturday, Kemp fired off a tweet maligning the league and his archrival, Democrat Stacey Abrams, over the All-Star move.

Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican who like Kemp is up for reelection next year, traveled to the ballpark earlier this week to wind up a partisan pitch.

“Isn’t it poetic justice that after Stacey Abrams and Joe Biden and their supporters had the All-Star game stolen from us, to now have the World Series being played right here?” he said.

 Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr called it "poetic justice" that the World Series is coming to Atlanta after Major League Baseball chose earlier this year to protest Georgia's new voting law by moving the All-Star game from the Braves' Truist Park to Denver. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Abrams and other Democrats reject that characterization and call the GOP swipes needlessly partisan and petty. Shortly after Kemp signed the measure into law, Abrams urged the league not to pull the game. Since then, she and other Democrats have encouraged companies critical of the law to fight the restrictions rather than boycott the state.

“As Braves fans across the country were celebrating, Brian Kemp swung and missed again with his bizarre deflection of blame for the harm to Georgians resulting from a bill that he signed,” said Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Abrams.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, the head of the state Democratic Party, put Kemp’s late-night criticism a different way in response to his broadside.

“Don’t you have a state to run???”

‘Can’t we have this one thing?’

Trump’s visit will only add to the heat. The former president called on his supporters to “boycott baseball” in April after the league snubbed Atlanta. So when Trump reached out to the league earlier this week, Braves Chief Executive Terry McGuirk said he was caught off guard.

“We were very surprised. Of course, we said yes,” he told USA Today, adding: “We are apolitical. We’re open to anyone coming. It’s great that he wants to come to our game.”

It puts Manfred in an even more awkward spot. He’s already vilified by Astros fans for how he handled the team’s rampant, past cheating. And he can expect a rude greeting over the weekend by many Braves fans upset with his stance on the All-Star game.

“We always have tried to be apolitical,” he told reporters. “Obviously, there was a notable exception this year. I think our desire is to try to avoid another exception to that general rule. We have a fan base that’s diverse, has different points of view, and we’d like to keep the focus on the field, on the game.”

His decision came days after Kemp signed into law the measure, which includes a new ID requirement for mail-in votes, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes and gives the Republican-controlled Legislature more oversight of local elections. It also bans outside groups from handing out food and water to voters in lines, and it expands weekend voting in some rural counties.

Major League Baseball's decision to move its All-Star game out of metro Atlanta in protest against the state's new voting law came only days after Gov. Brian Kemp signed the measure into law.

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Opponents have brought a string of legal challenges to the law, including a lawsuit filed in June by the U.S. Justice Department. And the law has divided Georgia’s corporate world, spurring Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines to publicly oppose the overhaul.

Coca-Cola’s stance so enraged House Speaker David Ralston that he cracked open a Pepsi in front of a bank of television cameras. Other Georgia Republicans refused to serve the soft drink to visitors.

Now, Ralston and other Republicans are savoring the moment.

“Georgia Republicans are the high school kid who got singled out, called names and had his lunch stolen,” said Brian Robinson, a veteran Republican operative. “Then later he shows up at the reunion in a private jet with his glamorous spouse.”

Marci McCarthy, the chair of the DeKalb County GOP, spoke for many Republicans when she asked: “Who needs the MLB All Star Game when you get to play in the World Series?”

Anulewicz, the Democrat who represents a slice of Cobb County, offered a different pitch as she prepared for an epic weekend of baseball.

“Let’s all cheer on the Braves to a World Series title. This should be a moment of unity,” she said. “Can’t we have this one thing to bring us together?”

Atlanta Braves fans cheer as Atlanta Braves players work out on the field Wednesday prior to Game 2 of baseball's World Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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