Get ready for 2022, Georgia: It’s going to be wild

Georgia is headed for another high-profile election year, with Democrat Stacey Abrams and former Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue both running with plans to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. rightExperts, voters say Georgia's governor race will be intense

Georgia is headed for another high-profile election year, with Democrat Stacey Abrams and former Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue both running with plans to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. rightExperts, voters say Georgia's governor race will be intense

Georgia was already positioned to be one of the nation’s key 2022 battlegrounds, but the rapid-fire transformation of the governor’s race into a three-way battle between political giants only cemented the state’s consequential role in the next election.

The decisions by Democrat Stacey Abrams and former Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp assured Georgia of yet another high-profile matchup that will define the 2022 midterm and shape the next presidential vote.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats on the ballot, is readying for a general election battle that could pit him against former football star Herschel Walker in a race that will help decide control of the chamber.

Donald Trump has showered Georgia with borderline-obsessive attention, most recently by backing Perdue over Kemp in what could be the most significant test of the former president’s clout since his 2020 defeat.

Trump’s attacks on Georgia Republican leaders have seeped down the ticket, as the former president seeks to tip the scales for races for secretary of state and lieutenant governor by backing candidates who supported his attempt to reverse his defeat.

Democrats are not free from conflict, either. The redrawing of congressional maps sets up a battle between U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath that will double as an ideological clash between two congresswomen who converted what had been Republican strongholds.

At stake are important questions that will reverberate in Georgia and far beyond.

Is the political transformation of the suburbs a temporary shift toward Democrats, or is it the start of a more permanent realignment? Is Trump’s hold on conservatives on the wane as he prepares for a possible comeback?

And perhaps most important of all: Can Democrats prove they have built an enduring electable coalition, or were the upset victories in the last election cycle a momentary interruption amid an otherwise unbroken string of Republican wins?

A trend likely to continue is big spending that could rival the wave of campaign cash that flooded Georgia in 2020. Abrams, Kemp and Perdue are all accomplished fundraisers, and the state could draw the interests of countless political action committees thanks to the narrow majorities in Congress. Donors could give at levels similar to last year’s U.S. Senate runoffs, which racked up nearly $1 billion in spending by the Republican and Democratic campaigns, plus outside interests.

“It’s incredible that Georgia has remained at the center of American politics for the past three years, and the high-octane primaries on both sides of the aisle next year promise to elevate the state’s political theater to even greater heights,” said Howard Franklin, a veteran political strategist.

“Once we get to November,” he said, “I expect every pundit across America to be making wagers on Georgia.”

Georgia Democrats are also experiencing some infighting, thanks to redistricting, when the Republican-controlled General Assembly altered the districts currently held by U.S. Reps Carolyn Bourdeaux, left, and Lucy McBath. The two are now competing against each other in the 7th Congressional District.

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‘Popcorn ready’

What’s certain is that the monumental matchups guarantee even more attention will be devoted to the whims of Georgia voters who have quickly grown accustomed, if not entirely comfortable, with the center-of-the-political-universe narrative.

The tight election between Abrams and Kemp in 2018 put Democrats on the brink of flipping the state, a feat they pulled off two years later when Joe Biden captured Georgia and Jon Ossoff and Warnock swept the Senate runoffs.

This campaign, Abrams can leverage higher visibility and the state’s ever-changing electorate as she tries to continue the trend. Roughly 1.2 million new voters have entered the rolls since 2018, newcomers who tend to be younger and more diverse.

The ongoing Republican civil war has only complicated the GOP defense, guaranteeing that the fourth Georgia election in a row will be dominated by Trump-fueled infighting that state establishment leaders have fruitlessly failed to prevent.

Though Perdue’s leap into the GOP primary will further divide Republicans, Democrats face mounting headaches of their own, starting with a tough 2022 election climate and a president with souring approval ratings.

Democrats foundered in November in competitive contests across the nation, including the governor’s race in Virginia. Closer to home, Democrats flipped dozens of mayoral and council races but fell short in key Atlanta suburbs.

And the suburban clash between Bourdeaux, a centrist budget analyst, and McBath, a favorite of the liberal wing, will also contrast with the party’s unity at the top of the ticket.

Bourdeaux has blamed Republicans for putting both incumbents in a bind by turning McBath’s district into a conservative bastion, but she said she won’t back down from what could be an ugly brawl with her Democratic colleague.

“I’m very invested in this community. It’s one I love,” she said. “It’s one where I have a lot of the mayors and the county commissioners on my cellphone. We talk all the time. And I want to continue to serve it.”

Georgia is arguably home to the nation’s premier down-ticket statewide race, as Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger fights for another term against a Trump-backed rival after he refused the former president’s demand to reverse his defeat.

That recorded phone conversation will factor heavily in an ongoing criminal investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis into whether Trump committed election fraud that, if it moves forward, will attract plenty of media scrutiny.

So will an election-year legislative session that could pivot on fresh fights over voting laws, a new expansion of gun rights, debates over race and gender, and an attempt to allow the wealthy, white neighborhood of Buckhead to divorce from the city of Atlanta.

“No one has ever seen anything like what we are about to experience,” said state Rep. Al Williams, a Democrat from coastal Georgia. “I’ve got my popcorn waiting. I’m sitting on the front row.”