Much at stake for Georgia’s legislative races

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, speaks from the well of the Georgia House chamber. Democrats are making a push this year to break the Republican Party's 15-year hold on the state's three  branches of government. Republicans, meanwhile, aim to regain legislative seats they lost in 2018 while shoring up on defense, particularly in a number of districts in metro Atlanta.  PHOTO / JASON GETZ
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, speaks from the well of the Georgia House chamber. Democrats are making a push this year to break the Republican Party's 15-year hold on the state's three branches of government. Republicans, meanwhile, aim to regain legislative seats they lost in 2018 while shoring up on defense, particularly in a number of districts in metro Atlanta. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

With every seat in the Georgia General Assembly in play, the outcome of the 2020 elections could shape the next decade of Statehouse politics.

Democrats are fighting to break the 15-year hold Republicans have had on the state’s three branches of government by winning at least 16 seats in the House. Republicans are battling back to hold onto the power they’ve had since 2005.

And there are several competitive contests, the bulk of which are in metro Atlanta. All but six of the state’s 30 closest 2018 races were in the region.

Six state senators won with less than 55% of votes cast. There were even more close races in the House, with 24 of the chamber’s 180 members winning with less than 55% of the vote. Eleven House members and one senator each won with less than 52% of votes cast in 2018.

Many of those close wins helped Democrats pick up 11 seats in the House and two in the Senate — the biggest gains by the party in about 20 years. And in 2016, Republicans narrowly lost both Cobb and Gwinnett counties in the presidential election for the first time since Jimmy Carter was on the ballot.

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Every legislative race counts heading into November because the majority party next year will control the redrawing of district lines based on results from the 2020 census.

The General Assembly gets to pick its own districts, meaning the process could cement GOP control throughout the 2020s or give Democrats hope of eventually regaining the House and Senate.

This year, both parties are focusing on Atlanta’s northern suburbs, where Democrats say demographic shifts and disillusionment with President Donald Trump have loosened the grip of Republican control.

Republicans plan to launch a defense aimed at protecting seats in both chambers while also trying to take a few back that went to Democratic lawmakers in recent elections.

Democrats have set their sights on several seats they believe they can win from Republicans, including those held by state Reps. Brett Harrell of Snellville, Chuck Efstration of Dacula and Houston Gaines of Athens, and state Sens. John Albers of Roswell and P.K. Martin of Lawrenceville.

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To stave off any potential Democratic gains in the House, Republicans pledged to spend $10 million on 30 of the state’s most competitive seats.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who serves as president of the Senate, established an independent fund to funnel money to protect the chamber’s Republicans and target seats that were recently won by Democrats.

Republican political operatives are not only confident they’ll hold onto their majorities in both chambers, but believe they’ll also pick up a few Democratic seats.

One of those targets is House Democratic Leader Bob Trammell, one of few rural Democratic lawmakers — and only rural white male Democrat — left in the General Assembly. His race has attracted national attention.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington group, has named Trammell its No. 1 legislative target in 2020 and said it plans to invest $1 million in the race to defeat the Luthersville Democrat.

Trammell won in 2018 with just more than 52% of the vote. His other recent races have been close, with him bringing in between 53% and 54% of votes cast in 2014 and 2016. He’s led the party in the House since 2017.

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