OPINION: Five things to watch in Georgia, 50 days out from Election Day

This combination of pictures created on Oct. 22, 2020 shows President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. (Brendan Smialowski and Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

This combination of pictures created on Oct. 22, 2020 shows President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. (Brendan Smialowski and Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

We’re entering the final stretch of the 2022 campaign season and, as of Sunday, will have 50 days left to go until Election Day.

We already know voters will see reams of ads, and piles of mailers, and get plenty of door knockers on their front steps. But here are the five dynamics that candidates, operatives, and we as journalists will be looking for between now and then. Together, they’ll influence who wins, who loses, and who lives to fight another day in a possible runoff.

1. New voters. A top dynamic to watch is the 1.6 million newly registered voters in Georgia since 2018, who will make up about one-fifth of the electorate heading into November. They’re a combination of recent transplants, newly eligible young voters who turned 18 since the last election; and anyone who wasn’t automatically registered through the state’s “motor voter” process when applying for a driver’s license.

Campaigns have been working overtime to understand who those voters are, where they are, and what they need to hear to be persuaded to pick even high-profile candidates like Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. The candidates at the top of the ticket have run statewide before, but are new to this sizable chunk of the electorate.

But being newly registered doesn’t mean a new Georgia voter plans to cast a ballot. Data that both parties watch closely are applications for mail-in voting, which this week showed 60% of ballots have been requested by women, compared to a more typical 55% rate. That’s proof, Democrats say, that the abortion issue is driving voters in their favor.

2. Abortion and inflation. Campaigns tell us these two historically unprecedented issues are scrambling voters’ typical calculations in 2022.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade means that abortion is truly a state and local issue for the first time in nearly 50 years. And Democrats have data that suggest Georgia’s new, unpopular abortion restrictions will result in a backlash against state Republicans who supported the law when it passed in 2019, especially Gov. Brian Kemp.

But GOP campaigns are equally confident that grocery prices, gas prices, and the nation’s 40-year high rate of inflation will bring voters to their candidates, too.

Will gas prices, which have fallen for 13 weeks in a row, lose their punch as a GOP talking point? Or will more bad inflation news, like the painful 11.7% rate announced for Atlanta this week, keep voters sour on Democratic leadership in Washington?

Likewise, what effect is Georgia’s abortion law having on doctors, women, and families in the state scrambling to comply with, or bypass, Georgia’s new law?

Campaigns know development on those two issues could drastically affect the outcome of the 2022 elections.

3. Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Georgia has not managed to have a Trump-free election since 2014. Even when the former president wasn’t on the ballot in the 2021 Senate runoffs and the 2022 GOP primaries, he inserted himself into the races with frequent visits, constant social media posts, and actions that Republican candidates had to support or condemn.

With multiple Trump-endorsed candidates on the ballot in November, including GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker and lieutenant governor hopeful Burt Jones, it’s hard to imagine Trump staying on the sidelines for the rest of this election cycle. Add to that the fact the former president is the focus of the Fulton County special grand jury probe into possible 2020 election interference — and the volatile can’t-win-with-him-can’t-win-without-him dynamic threatens to rear its head again for Republicans in Georgia.

For all of Trump’s troubles, President Joe Biden is no superstar in Georgia these days, either. The president had a dismal 36% approval rating in the AJC’s midsummer poll, although his numbers have ticked up nationally recently.

A bad national environment is key for a good election night for Republicans in Georgia, so Biden’s popularity closer to Election Day is a number well worth watching.

4. Down-ballot races and way-down-ballot races. The 2022 elections have drawn top-tier candidates in races that were once sleepers on Election Day.

The race for attorney general between GOP incumbent AG Chris Carr and Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, along with the contest between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Democratic state Rep. Been Nguyen, are both getting national financing and attention.

Watch for state House and Senate races as well, including House District 8 in north Georgia, where Democrat June Krise, a nurse is running in the heavily Republican area. She’s running an aggressive “pro-women’s rights” campaign in an area that rarely sees such a fight. It’s an uphill climb to flip a seat based in Hiawassee, but races that boost Democratic turnout anywhere can accrue to the benefit of Abrams, Jordan, and other statewide Democrats.

Likewise, a hyperlocal race like the school board contest in Cobb County between board chair David Chastain and his Democratic challenger, Catherine Pozniak, is getting more attention in Cobb than either the governor’s race or U.S. Senate contest. And with issues like property taxes, guns in schools, gerrymandering, and Critical Race Theory animating education debates around the country, a local education contest like Cobb’s can draw more voters than any other.

5. The Debates. After months of back and forth, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker finally have a one-on-one debate booked for Oct. 14th in Savannah.

But they’re not the only ones. Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams will debate twice, while every statewide candidate, except Walker, has committed to Atlanta Press Club debates in mid-October.

Voters will finally see if Walker has command of the issues, after skipping all of the GOP primary debates earlier this year, while Abrams, Kemp, and the other hopefuls will be able to show voters if they’re up for the job.

Do debates really matter? Ask U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who debated an empty lectern when then-Sen. David Perdue refused to show up.

Republicans dismissed Ossoff as a lightweight, but he made the most of the chance to paint Perdue as a worse option than even the lonely lectern he stood across from — changing the race’s momentum in the process.

Will history repeat itself or change course? It’s all crucial to watch ahead of Election Day.