Saturday, August 09, 2014

Race of the Day- Georgia Governor

87 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

The Peach State is one of several in the South that used to be reliably Democrat and is now thoroughly Republican. It was not until 2002 that Georgia elected a post-Reconstruction GOP Governor, but the party has not relinquished control of the Governor's Mansion since. They should hold it again for a fourth straight term after this year, but dissatisfaction with the incumbent is making the race much closer than it would otherwise be.

If the contest turns out to be very close in the end, it is worth noting that the Libertarian candidate could throw a major wrench into the whole thing. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the November election, a runoff would have to occur on December 2. If for some reason, the state's competitive Senate election also ends with a candidate failing to receive a majority of the vote, that race would go to a runoff, but not until January 6 of next year. Senate runoffs have happened in Georgia before (but in December), but I do not believe there has ever been a runoff for Governor in recent time.

The current Governor is Nathan Deal, who is likely making his last ever run for public office. A long time State Senator of the conservative Democrat variety, Deal went to Congress after 1992. A couple years later though, as Republicans picked up major steam in Georgia and took control of the U.S. House, Deal switched parties and fell right in line with the conservative wing of the GOP. He resigned his seat in 2010 in order to focus on a campaign for Governor and despite some ethical questions regarding his Congressional office, Deal managed to navigate a very crowded field to fulfill his ambition of becoming Governor. First, he finished second in a multi-candidate GOP primary field, and then, with the support of rural conservatives, was a somewhat surprising runoff winner. The year of 2010 was strong for Republicans and Deal managed to pull off a 10 point victory in November over the state's last Democrat Governor.

With the state growing in population so quickly, especially from white collar transplants from throughout the country who have settled in the Atlanta area, Deal may come across stylistically as a bit behind the times. He has also had to deal with continued questions surrounding campaign finance and personnel issues. He also took some major hits regarding the public anger over the state's role in cleaning up after recent winter storms.

Two Republican candidates emerged to challenge Deal in the primary, including the statewide elected School Superintendent who finished third, and the Mayor of Dalton. When the votes were counted in May though, Deal won renomination with 72 percent of the vote. That might have been a more solid primary win than some expected, but it still indicated some problems that Deal has with some in his own party. Nonetheless, there seems to be somewhat of a trend of Deal outperforming his poll numbers at the ballot boxes, during all the contests for Governor over the past two cycles. That could bode well for him in November.

Opposing the incumbent is 39 year old State Senator Jason Carter, who won the Democrat nomination for Governor after no other candidates stuck around for a primary battle. There are other Carters on the ballot in Georgia this year, who are not related to Jason, but he does fit in the trend this year in the state of candidates trying to follow in the footsteps of older relatives who were elected statewide. Cater is the grandson of Jimmy Carter, a former Georgia Governor himself, who went on to become the nation's 39th President. Georgia has certainly shifted to the GOP since Carter held elective office, but many people probably hold the Carter Family in high regard nonetheless. Jason Carter is a rare and lucky Gubernatorial nominee to have Grandparents who are still living, but Jimmy remains a visible and often controversial figure decades after leaving the White House. For instance, his long-standing criticism of Israel might not do any favors, especially with the headlines of this summer, for his grandson trying to win over conservative leaning voters and keeping Jewish voters in the Democrat camp.

As a young elected official from Atlanta, Jason Carter has been seen as a promising political figure in Georgia. Some believe that Georgia is trending into more of a swing state once again and that he is a strong candidate to try to unite the state's African-Americans, growing Hispanic population, and young urban liberals. The question though is that if Georgia is changing, has it changed quickly enough to make a difference this year, and the midterm electorate is not expected to be overly friendly to Democrats in any state that Barack Obama has lost in the last two elections. Outside of urban Atlanta, Republicans have dominated virtually every election in recent Georgia politics and in 2010, the party swept every single statewide office. Georgia Democrats have to prove they are capable of winning something again before they can be rated as favorites in a race for Governor.

Many Governors, in both parties, have significant political vulnerabilities this year, and voters are seemingly in the mood for a change. Deal is definitely not an exception to that rule, which is why the polls have been close, and some have even shown Carter ahead in recent weeks. However, Deal can point to economic growth in the state, and I think that Georgia is just too conservative still and that this is not going to be the year when voters decide to deliver the state to the grandson of Jimmy Carter. It will be closer than it probably should be, but Deal is probably going to get reelected by at least a few points. Republicans will certainly hope that he is able to pass 50 percent and get it done in November instead of extending the campaign.

Deal campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 3 D (1 Safe, 1 Leans, 1 Tossup) , 6 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 4 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 10 D, 13 R (net Republican gain of 1)