The Georgia political fallout of MLB’s decision to move the All-Star game

Truist Park on April 1, 2020, in Atlanta. In response to Georgia's new voting law, Major League Baseball announced that it will move it's All-Star Game from the park. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
Truist Park on April 1, 2020, in Atlanta. In response to Georgia's new voting law, Major League Baseball announced that it will move it's All-Star Game from the park. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

An AJC analysis

Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star game from metro Atlanta in protest of the state’s new election law could have profound political implications in Georgia. Let’s unpack some of them here:

The great GOP unifier?

For the last five months, Gov. Brian Kemp has had to answer endless questions about his problems with former President Donald Trump and the GOP base. Now he’s finally able to play the hero to the pro-Trump crowd. Look no further than his turn late Friday on Fox News.

“This is a message to all of us. They’re coming after you next,” he said on Tucker Carlson’s show. “They’re going to boycott your business next. We have to stand up.”

Kemp faces an expected brutal rematch against Stacey Abrams in November 2022, when his stance on elections restrictions will be under constant fire from Democrats. But first he’s got to secure the nomination from Republican voters under the sway of Trump, who has pummeled Kemp for not trying to illegally overturn his November defeat.

Even Trump’s statement about the All-Star game late Friday signaled what could be a turning of the page. Instead of taking shots at Kemp – as he has since his November defeat – the former president called for the boycott of America’s pastime and warned Coca-Cola and Delta they could be next.

ExploreElection laws: How Georgia compares to other states
Gov. Kemp talks exclusively to Channel 2 Action News about losingo All-Star game
Gov. Kemp talks exclusively to Channel 2 Action News about losingo All-Star game

Kemp supporters were ecstatic, and GOP text chains exploded with comments about what a “gift” Major League Baseball had given the embattled governor. He scheduled a rare Saturday press conference – and a new round of TV interviews – to maximize the attention.

“Thanks to MLB, the likelihood of a successful primary challenge to Gov. Kemp just went from unlikely to unthinkable,” said Scott Johnson, a veteran Republican activist who was runner-up to lead the Georgia GOP in 2019.

The governor’s problems with his own party are far from over. Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is among the conservatives openly considering a primary challenge, and Trump could turn up the heat on Kemp again at any moment. Internal polls still show Kemp floundering with conservatives. But senior Republicans say he has a rare chance to solidify his standing.

Brian Robinson, a GOP strategist skilled in explaining the state’s Republican base to a mainstream audience, predicted it could be a singular moment in the 2022 race.

“The Democrats in one week have united a fractured Georgia GOP, rallied Republicans to Brian Kemp at a time when many had abandoned him and appalled the same independent voters who broke heavily toward them last year,” he said, before invoking Kemp’s likely 2022 rival.

“Stacey Abrams couldn’t have done more for Brian Kemp’s reelection hopes if she’d written a $10 million check to his super PAC.”

About our coverage

Providing the facts and context that help readers understand the current debate over voting laws is a priority for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Our journalists work hard to be fair and will follow this complex story as it continues to develop.

For a better understanding of the issues driving Legislative action, click on these links.

15 headlines that explain the current debate

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Geoff Duncan, the GOP outlier

There was one Republican who didn’t stick to the same GOP script on Friday: Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. In a statement, the former minor league pitcher said he disagreed with Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision but respected the outcome.

Then Duncan repeated what he’s said since November: He criticized Trump for promoting lies about Georgia’s election, saying the post-election misinformation campaign “continues to manifest itself and divide our nation.”

March 31, 2021 Atlanta - Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan throws a baseball to Georgia Tech's Jamie Taylor as the last day of the legislative session begins in the Senate Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
March 31, 2021 Atlanta - Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan throws a baseball to Georgia Tech's Jamie Taylor as the last day of the legislative session begins in the Senate Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“And now, misinformation surrounding Georgia’s new elections reform has furthered that divide – even reaching MLB baseball.”

To be clear, Duncan’s stance is no surprise. He was one of the first elected GOP leaders to loudly debunk the pro-Trump conspiracy theories, and it earned him the enmity of the former president. Earlier this year, he refused to preside over the vote on a previous, and more restrictive, proposal.

But Duncan’s comments raise even more questions about his chances in 2022, when he’s up for another term, and his plans to promote a “GOP 2.0.” As one senior Republican official posited, Duncan’s statement was a “weird way to announce you aren’t seeking re-election.”

The Democrats’ long game

State Democrats want to make Georgia the poster child for federal voting legislation that’s stalling in Congress, and party leaders hope the white-hot spotlight on the new law helps them build their case.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, facing another election next year, said Friday’s fallout only proves the federal overhaul is needed more urgently. And Abrams, the once-and-likely-future gubernatorial candidate, called on corporate and political leaders to support the voting expansions pending in Congress to “mitigate the harm” in Georgia.

Stacey Abrams campaigns with U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Stacey Abrams campaigns with U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Georgia Democrats also have their eye beyond the U.S. Capitol and the Gold Dome. That’s one of the reasons they’ve stepped up their criticism of the new law and urged major corporations to publicly oppose it even though it’s already in the books.

Dozens of restrictive voting measures are pending in other states, and the pressure campaign aims to force local lawmakers to think twice before passing those laws in other state legislatures, too.

In Texas, for one, legislation that would limit early voting hours and restrict mail-in voting is gaining traction, while Florida legislators could soon consider a measure that would curb the use of drop boxes.

Boycott backlash

Democrats shaped the national narrative of Georgia’s election measure early, in part because they capitalized on proposed measures that included more far-reaching restrictions that never reached a final vote.

As Duncan, the GOP lieutenant governor, put it: Republicans “fell into the trap set by the left and allowed them to make the bill into something that it’s not.”

Now Democrats have their own challenge: At the start of what could be a growing boycott movement, how do they avoid getting blamed for the economic backlash?

Abrams urged critics of the voting laws not to boycott Georgia “yet” and other Democrats spoke out forcefully along those same lines. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff said Thursday said business leaders who “share my horror” at the law should stop contributing financially to the Georgia GOP.

FILE - Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks about the arrest of Robert Aaron Long during a press conference at the Atlanta Police Department headquarters in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 17, 2021.  Georgia House Speaker David Ralston sent Bottoms a letter on Thursday, March 25, announcing state House members intend to study whether the state should intervene in Atlanta’s policing to try to combat violence.(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
FILE - Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks about the arrest of Robert Aaron Long during a press conference at the Atlanta Police Department headquarters in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston sent Bottoms a letter on Thursday, March 25, announcing state House members intend to study whether the state should intervene in Atlanta’s policing to try to combat violence.(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

But the league’s decision could trigger other national events and corporate expansions to steer clear of Georgia. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms alluded to that possibility when she said losing the All-Star Game “is likely the first of many dominoes to fall” because of the GOP-backed measure.

Nor are Democrats of one mind about the merits of the boycott push. While party leaders largely oppose boycotts – some more forcefully than others – many grassroots activists and voting rights advocates feel this is exactly the sort of foundational issue that’s worthy of such a drastic step.

Bishop Reginald Jackson helped seed the debate in Georgia weeks ago with calls for a boycott of corporations that didn’t aggressively oppose the voting measure. Others, too, say opponents of the law should make sure Georgia faces economic pain.

“If Arizona can be boycotted over a King holiday and South Carolina over a flag, then why can’t Georgia be boycotted over the fundamental issue of voter suppression?” asked Vincent Fort, a former state senator with a decades-long history advocating for progressive causes.

Battleground Cobb

The game would have been played in Cobb County, home of one of the nation’s most dramatic political transformations. And local Democratic leaders are frustrated, to say the least, that the fallout has cost their economy a landmark event.

Basically, they wonder why a Democratic county has to pay the price for a GOP-backed law.

Cobb, of course, has morphed from a reliably GOP bulwark into a cornerstone of the Democratic coalition in Georgia since 2016. Democrats flipped control of a spate of county offices in November, including county chair, sheriff and district attorney.

Cobb County chairwoman Lisa Cupid answers questions about the MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia during a press conference on Friday, April 2, 2021 at the Cobb County Government building in Marietta, Georgia. The decision to move the event was made in response to the state legislature's passage of a new voting law, that critics say will limit voting rights for residents of the state. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Cobb County chairwoman Lisa Cupid answers questions about the MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia during a press conference on Friday, April 2, 2021 at the Cobb County Government building in Marietta, Georgia. The decision to move the event was made in response to the state legislature's passage of a new voting law, that critics say will limit voting rights for residents of the state. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Lisa Cupid, the first Black woman to lead Cobb County, earlier this week chided President Joe Biden for saying he would “strongly support” moving the game. She said it sent an “unfortunate message” to residents and businesses who supported him and rely on the financial windfall from the event.

On Friday, she talked of what could have been: “We certainly would have been uplifted had they chose to stay here. Recognizing that we are in a pandemic, this would have given us a lift out of that.”

State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Cobb Democrat whose district includes Truist Park, said she understands the “nationwide disgust and frustration” with GOP leadership. But she, too, lamented the economic damage the league’s decision inflicted on her community.

“I truly hope other major events don’t leave Georgia on the heels of the MLB decision,” she said, “which will ultimately only hurt working Georgians.”

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