Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Race of the Day- Georgia U.S. Senate

89 Days Until Election Day

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

Outlook: Likely Republican

If this race were occurring in 2014, it would not have been much of a contest. However, in a Presidential election year, with a much higher turnout anticipated among Democrats, and African-Americans, there is some reason to believe that things might be closer for Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson than initially anticipated. In 2008, a strong Democrat turnout propelled the sitting Republican Senator into a December runoff. This year, I expect Isakson to win reelection, and probably with over 50 percent, and without the need for a runoff, but the fact that Donald Trump has apparently turned Georgia into a battleground state, means that nothing should be taken for granted.

Isakson was first elected to the Senate in 2004, after a very long career in Georgia politics. By some Deep South standards, he is considered a  suburban moderate, though his voting record has been reliably conservative. He won his Senate seat easily in 2004 and his 2010 reelection was relatively uneventful. Both statewide wins were against African-American Democrats. Isakson announced last year that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, but would continue to seek a third term. Even Democrats have conceded he would be tough to unseat.

Georgia is a state where the Tea Party has been very vocal though and primary opposition surfaced against the Senator. He easily won a three-way GOP primary though, against an African-American minister and a female college professor, both of whom had failed in previous statewide primaries. Obtaining more than three-quarters of the Republican vote in the May primary was a sign that most party members were comfortable with the job Isakson had been doing.

The three-way Democrat primary that day was closer, but the results were not enough to cause a runoff. Investment executive Jim Barksdale, who seems to always wear a newsboy hat, won with almost 54 percent of the vote. The only major competition came though from Cheryl Copeland, a telephone company manager, who did not have anywhere near the resources or visible campaign that Barksdale did. Her share of the vote was probably a good deal higher than party insiders expected and may be heavily due to the fact that she is African-American, and black Democrats make up a large portion of the state's Democrat electorate.

Libertarians have become more of a factor in Georgia politics than in most states, and the presence of attorney Alan Buckley, a frequent statewide candidate, should not be completely ignored. Theoretically, he could take enough votes to force Isakson into a runoff, and a lot more people might wind up voting Libertarian for President in the state this year than ever before.

While the results of the primaries seem to indicate good news for Republicans, some recent polls are showing a much closer than expected race, with a high number of undecided voters. It is hard to claim that the unpopularity of Trump is not a factor. Isakson has expressed support for the GOP ticket, although he does not seem to go out of his way to mention Trump directly. He may find it more beneficial to link his opponent to Hillary Clinton. If many Democrats, especially African-Americans and the state's growing Hispanic population turn out to vote though this fall, against Trump, Isakson may have to work harder than expected. Not all conservatives love the incumbent, and  northerners, who might not be rock-ribbed right-wingers continue to move into the state every year.

Barksdale may have some appeal as a businessman and a political outsider in the state, but the edge still has to be with Isakson in what has become a very Republican leaning state. I think the Senator will outperform Trump by at least a few points there too. Isakson will hope that his own history of political success and genial matter will have voters deciding to stick with him. He has his own cross-party appeal, after apparently gaining the support of Democrats, including former Governor Roy Barnes, former Senator Sam Nunn, and current Congressman David Scott, an African-American from the Metro Atlanta area.

Isakson campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far: 3 D (2 Safe, 1 Likely), 6 R (2 Safe, 2 Likely, 2 Leans)
Overall predicted thus far: 39 D, 36 R


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