The Jolt: GOP support could boost Kasim Reed’s comeback in Atlanta mayor’s race

Former Mayor Kasim Reed (left) and city attorney Cathy Hampton represented the city of Atlanta on an economic development trip to South Africa in 2017. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Caption
Former Mayor Kasim Reed (left) and city attorney Cathy Hampton represented the city of Atlanta on an economic development trip to South Africa in 2017. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Kasim Reed’s comeback bid might as well have been the worst kept secret in Georgia politics. And when he formally launches his campaign bid tonight at his pricey birthday bash, it will bring to light the challenges ahead.

Sure, he’s likely the frontrunner in the race to succeed incumbent Keisha Lance Bottoms, who famously opted against a run for a second term just weeks ago. He’s by far the biggest name in the crowded race. He’s got a network of donors and a track record.

He’s also trailed by the cloud of a federal corruption investigation that began during his tenure and has already ensnared several members of his administration, including former top deputies. He says he’s done nothing wrong, and he hasn’t been charged with any crime.

The former mayor is clearly hoping a law-and-order platform focused on combating the city’s rising crime rates will neutralize the corruption probe and other criticisms of his eight years in office.

But we also want to highlight another question: Can Reed — a proud Democrat — wind up as the preferred choice for Republicans in the nonpartisan race for City Hall? Because the relatively small number of GOP voters in the city could be the deciding factor in a close contest.

In the last two wide-open mayoral races, Atlanta Republicans naturally gravitated toward Mary Norwood, a councilwoman who identified as an independent but was widely seen as a proxy GOP candidate. She narrowly lost to Reed in 2009 and to Bottoms in 2017.

This contest there is no natural GOP draw. But over the last few weeks, we’ve heard from more than a dozen influential Atlanta Republicans who say they’re willing to back Reed in the November contest.

GOP strategist Brian Robinson said as much, predicting Reed could build a biracial coalition that leverages the Buckhead crowd if he plays his cards right.

“It’s hard to imagine a time where a public figure under the longtime cloud of a federal investigation would be in a stronger political position than he’s in today,” Robinson said.

Influential local Republicans have vetted other candidates, including attorney Sharon Gay and City Council President Felicia Moore. Others, like Councilman Andre Dickens, could draw some GOP support.

But some tell us they’re already leaning toward Reed, not just because of his tough-on-crime stance but also due to his close friendship with then-Gov. Nathan Deal, a two-term Republican. Over much of the 2010s, their potent alliance helped win economic development deals and promote Georgia priorities such as the Savannah port dredging in Washington.

One insider called it the “I hate Kasim but I hate crime even more” electorate.

The city’s Republicans might not seem like a formidable bloc. Hillary Clinton netted 81% of the city’s vote in 2016, and Joe Biden carried Atlanta with 83% last year.

If you split the Democrats among Reed and the other credible candidates running, however, a bloc of one-fifth of voters could be decisive in a close race.

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The Georgia Chamber’s annual government affairs conference is underway this week in St. Simons Island, and the event typically pulls together lobbyists and legislative leaders on the coast.

But this year’s gathering begins with some notable absences. House Speaker David Ralston and several top House GOP leaders who often attend the conference are skipping the event.

When we asked why, we were pointed to an on-record statement from the business group that Ralston and other Republicans saw as critical of the elections overhaul then moving through the General Assembly.

While private conversations are the norm, House leaders bristled at the public swipe by a conservative-leaning business group.

We’re told that Ralston and other leaders were looking for an apology from the Chamber for its stance, and that the business lobby is “persona non grata” with House GOP leaders for the time being.

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The Latino electorate in Georgia continues to increase in size and influence in Georgia and across the country.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, along with an education fund associated with the national organization and the University of Georgia’s Department of Political Science, have produced a report to be released Thursday that gives some insights into this rapidly growing group of voters in the state.

In 2020, Latinos accounted for 385,185 registered voters, representing 4.1% of Georgia’s total voters. That’s a 57.7% growth rate from 2016.

While it’s still a small minority of the overall electorate, Latino voters’ rapid growth and relative youth make them a hugely important group to understand and cultivate — particularly in counties and districts with the highest populations.

The top counties for Latinos voters in 2020 were: Gwinnett, where Latino voters made up 12.3% of the electorate; Cobb, where its electorate was 7.75% Latino; and Fulton, where Latino voters accounted for 4.16% of the overall share.

In Hall County, 8,291 Latino voters made up 11% of the electorate in 2020. Importantly, the rate of registered Latino voters in the county grew by 70.53% from 2016 to 2020.

These numbers take on significance for individual lawmakers.

Split by Congressional district, U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bordeaux, D-Suwanee, and Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, have the largest blocks of Latino voters in the 7th and 11th districts, respectively.

In the state Senate, Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, and Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett, represent the districts with the most Latino voters.

And in the state House, it’s Casey Carpenter, R-Dalton, Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville, and Emory Dunahoo, Jr., R-Gillsville.

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Labor Commissioner candidate Bruce Thompson tweeted, and understandably deleted, a bare-chested picture of himself Wednesday.

Extremely sweaty from a workout and wearing Bermuda shorts, the caption read, “Exercise each morning clears our heads for this race called life — oh and the race to become the next Labor Commissioner also!”

Asked by an intrepid Insider why he removed the photo from public view, Thompson said, “All our social media needs to be consistent and focused on the message that the agency is broken and I’m the guy to fix it.”

If fixing Capitol Twitter feeds is the job, may we also suggest that of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who sent a tweet over the weekend wishing the Jewish community a meaningful Yom Kippur fast — a few months ahead of schedule.

It was quickly deleted, though not before spawning jokes that only Members of the Tribe would appreciate: “It’s June, so it must be time to build the sukkah.”

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The acting U.S. Labor Secretary Larry Turner has responded to a letter from Georgia’s congressional Democrats, saying that many of the questions they have about the state’s unemployment system were addressed in a recent national review.

The federal review found that many state-based labor agencies struggled to implement unemployment insurance programs during the coronavirus pandemic. Some of that was due to limited guidance and oversight from Washington to ensure benefits were paid promptly and that fraud detection was robust, Turner’s letter said.

Turner did call out Georgia on one front: his agency’s attempt to audit the state’s performance along with 11 others chosen for “in-depth reviews’ was stymied by a lack of responsive data.

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On the Labor Commissioner front, add Nicole Horn to your list of Democratic candidates running for the post.

Horn will be a familiar face to many, as an Emory graduate, former fundraiser, reporter for WMAZ-TV in Macon and even a GPB intern covering the Georgia General Assembly back in the day.

Horn went on to start a workforce development business and establish the Indivisible chapter in the 5th Congressional District, a left-leaning organization.

She’ll face off against state Rep. Williams Boddie and state Sen. Lester Jackson in the Democratic primary, while GOP state Sen. Bruce Thompson will challenge Labor Commissioner Mark Butler in the Republican race.

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Circling back to Raffensperger, the Republican landed an endorsement he probably could do without.

Former President Barack Obama praised him as “brave” for defying Donald Trump’s demands to overturn the election results.

That spawned a comeback from David Belle Isle, a fellow Republican and challenger who called on the incumbent to “finally make his switch to the Democrat Party official.”

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Moving up. There were a couple of promotions in U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux office recently, as reported by Politico.

Estefanía Rodriguez is now chief of staff; previously she served as legislative director. Taking Rodriguez’s old job is Matt Jackson, a move up from his former position as legislative assistant.

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Count U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a potential Senate candidate, among the Republican lawmakers criticizing the use of “critical race theory” in academia.

Carter, R-Pooler, announced Wednesday that he had filed a bill that would ban CRT teaching in the military, including its academies. Carter, like many other conservatives, labels CRT as divisive and leftist. In his description, it is used to “promote the idea that the United States and any particular people within are inherently racist.”

Asked to cite instances of CRT teaching in the military, Carter said the book “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” is part of the curriculum for a course at U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

The book, first published in 2001 and now in its third edition, reflects a scholarly movement to analyze the effects of historical racism on modern American life. During President Donald Trump’s administration, the topic took on a prominent role in the cultural war.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.