The Jolt: Counties in rural Georgia take the lead in COVID-19 death rates

Residents walk past businesses, many of which are empty, on West Broad Street in downtown Sparta on Wednesday. Hancock County, halfway between Augusta and Macon, has become a new coronavirus hot spot. (PHOTO by Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Over at Trouble in God’s Country, blogger Charlie Hayslett says Georgia has crossed a significant line in the last few weeks.

The death rate from the novel coronavirus, once highest in crowded urban counties won by Democrat Stacey Abrams, has been matched and exceeded by rural counties carried by Republican Brian Kemp in the 2018 race for governor. From Hayslett and TIGC:

The Covid-19 death rate in the 130 mostly rural counties carried by Kemp in 2018 squeaked past that of the 29 largely urban counties that went for Abrams on August 25th.

The Kemp and Abrams death rate trend lines converged through the middle part of August. They were nearly identical by August 24th — 47.52 deaths per 100,000 people in the Abrams counties versus 47.43 in the Kemp counties. The next day, the lines crossed — 48.37 deaths per 100,000 people in the Abrams counties versus 48.52 in the Kemp counties — and they’ve been separating, fairly rapidly, ever since, as the graph above shows.

The Abrams counties have so far suffered more overall deaths than the Kemp counties: 3,095 out of population of 5.67 million versus 2,833 out of a population of 4.95 million. But even that may be changing. Since the Kemp and Abrams death rate trendlines crossed on August 25th, there have been 785 Covid-19 deaths in Georgia. Of those, 353 occurred in the Abrams counties while 432 took place in Kemp country.

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Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is experiencing something of a cash crunch – burning through $800 million of $1.1 billion raised through July.

Which makes a pair of Trump fundraisers in Atlanta this month more important than previous ones.

On Sept. 24, a Buckhead event will boast a list of hosts that includes Nick Ayers, the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, and Don Leebern, the Columbus liquor magnate and former member of the Board of Regents.

Draws include Richard Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence, and Gov. Brian Kemp. The minimum ticket price is $1,000.

On Sept. 30, Vice President Mike Pence will host a luncheon – also in Buckhead. Entry will cost $2,800. A photo with the man will depend on you donating or raising $25,000.

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State Rep. Chuck Efstration has honed a reputation as the chief champion of Georgia’s new hate-crimes law. But he’s under fire for using a quote from one of the leading forces behind the measure in a campaign flyer.

The Dacula Republican featured Georgia NAACP president James Woodall in a mailer sent to residents of his competitive Gwinnett County district, along with a quote that calls him a “good leader” who is pushing for more reforms.

While Woodall said those words, he also said he said on Twitter they shouldn’t be misconstrued as an endorsement. “The people of the district should, and will, decide who they want to represent them,” Woodall said.

Efstration said the quote was accurate and that it was authorized for use by his campaign, adding that he never used the word “endorsement” in the flyer because the non-partisan NAACP doesn’t back candidates.

That kerfuffle aside, Efstration’s flyer was a remarkable reminder of Gwinnett’s changing politics.

Not long ago, Republicans were wrestling over a county commissioner who had called U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta a “racist pig” and Democrats were struggling to make inroads.

Now an imperiled incumbent Republican legislators is compelled to feature pictures of the NAACP president and other Black leaders on a flyer to appeal to Gwinnettians.

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Ralph Reed, founder of the Georgia-based Faith and Freedom Coalition, on Wednesday defended Jerry Falwell Jr., who recently resigned as president of Liberty University in a sex scandal that also involved his wife, Becki Falwell. Said Reed, on a book tour, to Jim Engster on WRFK radio in Baton Rouge, La.:

"I wasn’t entirely surprised because a couple of the left-wing news organizations had reported some of the basic outlines of the story.

“Obvously, I was disappointed, but Jerry and Becki Falwell are dear friends and I’ve reached out to them and let them know that I’m praying for them. He’s done an extraordinary job at Liberty University, taking a debt-saddled institution and transforming it into the leading Christian university in the United States.”

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“We all fall short of the mark,” Reed said. “I certainly hope we haven’t heard the last of him.”

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s campaign is airing its most scathing TV attack yet on November rival Jon Ossoff, casting the Democrat as a “privileged, inexperienced” wannabe politician.

The first-term Republican has tried to frame himself as a bipartisan pragmatist in the final stretch of the race, rather than emphasizing his close ties to President Donald Trump.

Polls show a tight contest between the two candidates, and a string of recent political prognosticators have rated the race a tossup.

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Gov. Brian Kemp met Wednesday in his ceremonial office with Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, a progressive activist whose real name is Micahel Render. Yes, you read that right.

The rapper, who was one of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' top supporters, said on Instagram the meeting was productive and that he was “welcomed with respect” by the Republican. Kemp boasted of the gathering on Twitter.

Render said goal was to encourage state leaders to work with more minority-owned business contractors.

“This state can with all its business interest can become an example of what a southern progressive economy can be,” he wrote. “This is the 1st of many real and frank conversations to be had.”

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November 19, 2019 Sandy Springs - Senior Advisor Katrina Pierson delivers a keynote speech at Heritage Sandy Springs Museum and Park in Sandy Springs on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. The GOP hold an event in support of President Trump the day before Dems debate in Atlanta. Women for Trump hosted an 'Empower Hour' ahead of the Democrat debates to highlight the accomplishments of President Trump’s administration and his commitment to empowering women and families. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Our AJC colleague Ernie Suggs sent us the following feed about President Donald Trump’s recent push in Georgia to win over black voters. From his report:

One of Trump’s top acolytes, Katrina Pierson made a stop in Decatur Thursday afternoon for a meet and greet with supporters at the Black Voices for Trump Office.

Looking out over the crowd of about 25 Black Trump supporters – half of whom were not wearing a mask but wearing Blacks for Trump t-shirts – Pierson rallied them, saying that it was important for other Black voters to see them."

They do not know you are here," said Pierson, a Trump Campaign senior advisor.Trump’s efforts to get Black voters has always been a struggle. In 2016, in the race against Hillary Clinton, only 8% of Black voters supporting him.

Against Biden and his running-mate, Kamala Harris, the first Black woman on a major presidential ticket, Trump is polling at about the same rate.Pierson said there are 17 such offices in black communities around the country working to improve those numbers.

“Success is anything over the 8% we had in 2016,” Pierson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about what the campaign needs from Black voters.

“We are going to get well over 8%. The support that we are seeing right now is phenomenal. There is a lot of support that is not public yet that will likely go public soon. What we have seen is four years of commitment. Four years of dedication. Four years of policies that no one else prior to Trump were able to get done and really had no interest in doing.”

Before speaking, Pierson showed the crowd two videos. The first touted what Trump – who famously asked Blacks in 2016, “What do you have to lose,” by voting for him – has done for Blacks, specifically permanently funding black colleges and creating opportunity zones.

The second video pointedly targeted Biden while calling for an “end to the systemic racism,” that it claimed the former vice president has been propping up for years.

“Most people have no idea that these policies exist. That is why fake news media is the enemy of the people,” Pierson said. “No one thought he was going to do it. But they always underestimate Trump.”

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Already posted:

-- Democrat Lucy McBath and Republican Karen Handel are going at one another’s records in their latest TV ads. McBath’s spot accuses Handel of voting in lockstep with President Donald Trump during her short tenure in Congress. Meanwhile, Handel says McBath hasn’t done enough to help businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

-- U.S. Rep. Doug Collins won support from an Atlanta police union earlier today.

-- The Georgia American Federation of Labor endorsed Democrat Raphael Warnock today, citing the U.S. Senate candidate’s pledge to end “right to work” laws in Georgia and push for expanded Medicaid.

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This isn’t going over well in Georgia Democratic circles: Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut has endorsed former Republican colleague Susan Collins of Maine -- a crucial Democratic target in the Democratic plan to take control of the U.S. Senate.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, who counts Lieberman’s son Matthew as his top Democratic rival in the November Senate election, soon took to Twitter to proclaim support for Collins challenger Sarah Gideon.

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Another Georgia House member has bolted from U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s camp to instead endorse U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.

State Rep. Dale Washburn sent word Thursday that he rescinded his support from Loeffler and will back Collins in November.

At least four House Republicans have flipped from Loeffler following House Speaker David Ralston’s endorsement of the four-term congressman - and the Loeffler campaign’s scathing criticism of that decision.

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Both of Georgia’s U.S. senators were non-committal when asked if they plan to go along with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan for a “skinny” COVID-19 relief bill.

The Senate could vote as early as today on a stimulus plan that falls far short of what Democrats in both chambers have pushed for in hopes of supporting individuals and businesses still affected by the ongoing pandemic.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s team said she is willing to support legislation that brings relief to Georgians -- without directly weighing in on the latest proposal. U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s staff said that he is reviewing the details.

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Take this with the largest grain of salt you can find: Kevin Van Ausdal, the Democratic nominee in Georgia’s 14th District congressional race, says internal polling shows him with more support than members of his party usually receive in Northwest Georgia.

Ausdal’s Republican opponent is the controversial Marjorie Taylor Greene. The internal polling of 635 registered voters shows her lagging far behind President Donald Trump in the district, although still leading with 57% of voters' support compared to Ausdal’s 40%.

“We did the poll for one reason—we wanted to see if Marjorie Greene changed the race,” Ausdal Campaign Manager Vinny Olsziewski said in a news release. “The answer is resoundingly, yes. Voters think Marjorie is too extreme.”

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In a Valdosta Daily Times piece, Riley Bunch reports on a University of Georgia agribusiness study that says the current pandemic has resulted in a revenue loss for more than 80% of Georgia farmers.

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