Georgia On My Mind

On December 6th, 2022, Democrat Raphael Warnock celebrated re-election to his first full six-year term as a United States Senator from the state of Georgia, declaring to his supporters at his victory rally that “the people have spoken.” With his win in Georgia, Warnock delivered Democrats their 51st seat in the United States Senate, one more than they had before the elections, amid a midterm election season where the expectation was to lose, not gain, seats.

To many, this most recent victory caps off a string of Democratic electoral victories in Georgia. Beginning in 2020 and continuing in 2022, these victories suggest this long-time Republican stronghold may slowly be transforming into a more competitive swing state or turning “purple,” as opposed to being either solidly red (Republican) or blue (Democratic). However, those pundits that are already declaring Georgia purple may be doing so preemptively by overestimating the impacts of Democratic voter mobilization in the state while underestimating the difficulties Republicans have had in the state the last two election cycles.

Democratic Mobilisation

While Georgia’s status as a purple state may be in contention, it is undeniable that Democrats have gained significant ground in the state. This development has been years in the making, courtesy of the hard work of local grassroots activists and efforts by Democratic-aligned figures and groups like former Georgia state lawmaker and founder of the New Georgia Project, Stacey Abrams, who has helped bolster voter turnout and increase registration across the state. For instance, the New Georgia Project’s efforts increased the number of Black registered voters in Georgia by 130,000 from October 2016-2020, while Latino and Asian American registered voters increased by more than 50% each. 

Despite these gains, one must be cautious in assuming that such developments, in conjunction with the recent string of Democratic state-wide electoral victories in Georgia, mean it has become a purple state. It does illustrate that there has been a shift towards the Democratic Party in the Georgian electorate thanks to voter registration and mobilisation efforts, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate the change will be enough to turn the state “purple.”

Republican Party Problems

In reality, the reason for Democratic triumphs in Georgia likely stems more from mistakes made by the Republican Party than any other major factor. For instance, when Democrats swept both Georgia Senate run-off elections in 2020, many Republicans pointed the finger at Donald Trump’s accusations of massive electoral fraud, which served to undermine the electoral system and potentially contributed to the GOP’s loss by dampening voter turnout, an essential factor in run-off elections.

In the 2022 midterms, the Republican Party also ran into issues, this time concerning candidate quality. Trump’s continued influence over the Republican base meant more extreme, controversial, and, most importantly, unelectable candidates won Republican primaries and represented the party in the general election, a major factor Republicans blame for some of their losses. For instance, Herschel Walker was chosen as the candidate to face the incumbent Warnock in the Georgia Senate race after receiving Trump’s endorsement, but quickly became burdened by his messy personal life, lack of prior political experience, and a poorly run campaign. The selection of candidates like this was even supported, sometimes with financial help, by Democrats, who recognized that more extreme, controversial candidates would be easier to beat. 

A Glimmer of Hope for Republicans?

In spite of this, Walker’s candidacy in Georgia is interesting because, despite his shortcomings as a candidate, the election and subsequent run-off results were still very close, with Warnock only slightly overcoming Walker’s challenge. Given the closeness of the election, it is contestable that a less-flawed Republican candidate might have even been successful in unseating Warnock, bringing an end to his fledgling political career before it could properly start. 

To find evidence that a less-flawed Republican candidate could still triumph in Georgia against a Democratic opponent, one only needs to look at the gubernatorial election that happened concurrently to Walker’s loss. Indeed, Brian Kemp, the incumbent Republican Governor of Georgia, beat back a strong challenge by Abrams. However, unlike the Senate race, Kemp not only won his election, but won 53 per cent of the vote, a substantial margin. Kemp’s outsized victory illustrates that Republicans, when they put forward less controversial, less flawed candidates, they can still handily win in Georgia despite Democratic efforts at registering and mobilizing their voters.

In reality, the likelihood is that Georgia, while slowly shifting towards a purple state, is not there quite yet. While Democratic efforts to register and mobilize their voters certainly have contributed to a change in the state’s electorate, pushing it more toward their party, there is not enough evidence yet to support the claim that the state has gone purple.

As indicated above, the reason for the recent string of Democratic victories very likely comes from the internal problems facing the Republican Party in recent years, primarily related to Trump. In 2020, Trump’s election fraud claims dissuaded voters from coming out. In 2022, the pushing forward of extreme and often controversial political candidates like Walker contributed to Democratic victories. However, it should be noted that the small margin of Walker’s loss, combined with Kemp’s handy victory against Abrams, both speak to the fact that Republicans, despite the party’s issues, still have a strong position and could still easily win in Georgia. 

Indeed, the real litmus test will be to see which way the state of Georgia votes in 2024, particularly during the presidential election. Another Democratic victory could further fuel the argument that Georgia has become a purple state, while a Republican victory might suggest, as this article does, that Georgia’s status as a red-leaning state continues. For now, however, the evidence seemingly suggests that Georgia is not a purple state … at least not yet.

Edited by Kayley Suk.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.

Featured image by John Ramspott obtained via Flickr under a Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.