Purple Georgia?

At TNR today, Nate Cohn weighs in with solid data in support of the proposition that Democrats looking for a red-state-breakthrough in 2014 might more profitably look at Georgia than at Kentucky or Texas.

Since I’m from Georgia and still pay close attention to political developments there, perhaps I’m not entirely objective on this subject. But Nate makes very good sense, stressing three facts about Georgia that make it a tempting target for Democrats in the immediate future: (1) It’s already near-purple (Romney carried it in 2012 by a smaller margin than Obama’s in Michigan and New Mexico, considered battleground states); (2) the state has experienced a large and continuing influx of nonwhite, and especially African-American, people who are changing Georgia’s demographics daily; and (3) there is evidence the usual dropoff of minority voting in midterms doesn’t happen as much in Georgia as in other states.

On this last factor, I’ll add one data point: in one recent midterm, in 1998, African-American turnout in Georgia actually exceeded that in the immediately preceding presidential election, and also exceeded white turnout. Republicans helped make that happen via a heavily racialized campaign for Lieutenant Governor run by a fellow named Ralph Reed. But it still defied the conventional wisdom and produced a Democratic gubernatorial victory at a time when the state was thought to be trending rapidly Republican.

Cohn’s analysis of Georgia’s promise for Democrats depends only partly on the dynamics of the actual 2014 Senate campaign, in which Michelle Nunn (disclaimer: a friend of mine) will face the winner of a fractious and heavily ideological Republican primary-and-runoff that The Hill‘s Cameron Joseph recently called “the clown car primary.” I’d also note that Democratic prospects in ’14 could also be affected by the struggle of Georgia Democrats to come up with a viable challenger to Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, whose approval ratings have been improving of late.

But whatever happens in individual contests, Georgia looks likely to join North Carolina, Virginia and Florida as former Confederate states where Democratic victories in both presidential and down-ballot races are no longer all that improbable. The only question is whether that happens sooner or later.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.