In Georgia politics, red and black is stronger than red and blue

January 15, 2022 Athens - Governor Brian Kemp holds his iPhone as a lone trumpet player performs during the celebration of Georgia’s College Football Playoff national championship at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, January 15, 2022. Georgia captured the national championship, its first since the 1980 season, with a 33-18 victory over Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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January 15, 2022 Athens - Governor Brian Kemp holds his iPhone as a lone trumpet player performs during the celebration of Georgia’s College Football Playoff national championship at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, January 15, 2022. Georgia captured the national championship, its first since the 1980 season, with a 33-18 victory over Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Editor’s Note: Georgia’s first national championship in 41 years will have an impact more far-reaching than the football program. In Sports, this is the final installment of a six-part series examining how the title will impact fans, admissions, recruiting and politics.

House Speaker David Ralston didn’t attempt to hide the reason why he gaveled the first day of Georgia’s legislative session into order on Jan. 10 in such a haste.

ExplorePart 1: What championship means to fans: ‘Relief, euphoria, thankfulness’

Normally a day of buttoned-down formalities and political speechifying, the die-hard Georgia football fan started the day of the national championship game with a highlight reel of Bulldog superstar players – and then joined a chorus of politicians who barked “Go Dawgs.”

“The Georgia Bulldogs tonight will set everything right with the world,” he said before hopping on a flight to Indianapolis, where a squadron of other Georgia politicians had already decamped to watch the evening’s showdown with Alabama.

Georgia might be the most politically divided state in the nation, with fewer than 12,000 votes separating Joe Biden and Donald Trump in the last election and a guarantee of another bitter campaign battle in November.

But UGA’s championship football run put a temporary halt to the political bickering and feuding, giving politicians – even those who graduated from Georgia Tech — the rare chance to set aside their grievances and unite around the Bulldogs.

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State Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, watches the Georgia championship game from an end-zone suite at Lucas Oil Stadium he purchased.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

State Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, watches the Georgia championship game from an end-zone suite at Lucas Oil Stadium he purchased.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

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State Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, watches the Georgia championship game from an end-zone suite at Lucas Oil Stadium he purchased.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

“It was, at least for a day, a reminder that we have much more in common than we admit,” said Republican state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, who spent $63,000 to rent an end zone suite at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for a front-row vantage.

“No one cared if you were red or blue – just that you screamed for the red and black.”

ExplorePart 2: National title will drive Georgia’s athletics revenue train

‘Hunker Down Day’

In this political climate, who doesn’t want to wrap themselves in the banner of a beloved winner?

Gov. Brian Kemp, facing one of the toughest reelection battles in the nation, is doing just that. An Athens native, he’s such a Bulldog fan that Democrats needled him in 2018 by flying a banner above Sanford Stadium claiming he secretly rooted for the Tennessee Volunteers.

Ahead of the championship game, he declared a “Hunker Down Day” and, later that week, wore a UGA-themed tie to his super-serious annual State of the State speech. When the team’s celebratory parade summited at the Sanford Stadium, he was one of the first in line to celebrate.

ExplorePart 3: Belief makes Georgia Bulldogs a threat to win it all again

He’s far from alone in his fanfare. Two days after Georgia’s win, the state’s most powerful corporate and political leaders gathered at the Fox Theatre. Each speech about tax policy and infrastructure was punctuated by the Georgia fight song. As attendees filed out, Kelee Ringo’s game-sealing interception played on the big screen.

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091121 Athens: Georgia U.S. Senate Candidate Herschel Walker gives fans along the hedges five before he is introduced as a member of Georgia's 1980 National Championship team during half time ceremonies against UAB in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept 11, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

091121 Athens: Georgia U.S. Senate Candidate Herschel Walker gives fans along the hedges five before he is introduced as a member of Georgia's 1980 National Championship team during half time ceremonies against UAB in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept 11, 2021, in Athens.    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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091121 Athens: Georgia U.S. Senate Candidate Herschel Walker gives fans along the hedges five before he is introduced as a member of Georgia's 1980 National Championship team during half time ceremonies against UAB in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept 11, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

No Georgia politician is tied so closely to the team than Herschel Walker, the legendary running back who lead the Bulldogs to the 1980 championship.

Now the Republican front-runner for U.S. Senate, Walker’s aides stationed themselves at each game to pass out stickers reading “Run, Herschel, Run.” After Georgia’s win, his campaign offered a “special edition Donald Trump football” signed by the former president.

‘Bipartisan love’

Maybe politicians should get use to being at the intersection of sports and politics in Georgia.

When Major League Baseball canceled the All-Star game at Truist Park to protest Georgia’s new election law, Republicans lashed out at the league. But all seemed forgotten a few months later as the Braves raced to a World Series win.

ExplorePart 4: National champion Bulldogs more powerful on recruiting trail

Even Trump, who had urged a boycott of baseball, set aside his grievances to tomahawk chop the “wonderful” Braves to a World Series victory. A few days later, Atlanta’s mayoral election was overshadowed by the team’s clinching victory.

If the World Series title was the first in the one-two punch, Georgia’s elusive championship hit some politicians harder.

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State Rep. Stacey Evans and her daughter celebrate Georgia's championship win in Indianapolis.

Credit: Twitter

State Rep. Stacey Evans and her daughter celebrate Georgia's championship win in Indianapolis.

Credit: Twitter

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State Rep. Stacey Evans and her daughter celebrate Georgia's championship win in Indianapolis.

Credit: Twitter

Credit: Twitter

Stacey Evans, a Democratic lawmaker, built her political career around her UGA education. It’s where she met her husband, earned her law degree and got involved in politics. She was in the stands in Indianapolis with her daughter Ashley to watch the team win its first title in 41 years.

“I hugged so many Republicans at the game and in the days that followed,” she said. “Seeing all the bipartisan love for the Dawgs makes me wish for more things we can rally around. I am committed to looking.”

But what of the non-Georgia fans? How do, say, Georgia Tech graduates who have reached the heights of state politics handle the runaway success of their archrivals?

ExplorePart 5: Georgia likely to see 'Flutie Effect' after championship

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who played baseball for Tech, abandoned his animosity for Georgia and cheered on the Dawgs at the Orange Bowl and championship game. And former U.S. Sen. David Perdue talked in an interview of his once-secret fandom and ties to Georgia’s coach.

“Kirby Smart calls me his biggest closet Dawg fan, but I’m not so much in the closet anymore,” said Perdue, now challenging Kemp in the Republican primary. “I just love what he’s done for our program and love what he’s done for our state.”

Then there is new Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who used the close of a speech to the Georgia Chamber to celebrate both the Dawgs and his Tech roots.

“I’m a helluva engineer from Georgia Tech so I’m going to make sure we keep things going in Atlanta,” said Dickens with a laugh. “See, I saved that for last -- just in case I get kicked out.”

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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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