By JASON SHEPHERD
Before I begin the analysis of Tuesday’s election, let me first say we have an extremely important runoff on Tuesday, December 4 for Secretary of State and Public Service Commissioner. Brad Raffensperger is still a State Representative and is about to go into special session where he cannot raise money and then we will have Thanksgiving week which will be extremely difficult to campaign during.
WE CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE the Secretary of State’s Office. If John Barrow wins, he will follow the will of the Democratic Party and not state law. Democrats are hungry for this win as they claim Brian Kemp stole the election and the only way to elect Stacey Abrams is for the Democrats to take that office.
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Now, let’s talk about Tuesday…
I don’t believe in spin so I’m not going to sugarcoat what you already know, Tuesday was not a good day to be a Republican in the Atlanta suburbs.
While we in Cobb weathered the election better than our friends in north Fulton, Gwinnett, and DeKalb counties, Stacey Abrams’s margin of nearly 30,000 votes over Governor-Elect Brian Kemp’s means that in 2020 we will not only need to fight for every vote at the precinct level but will need every resource to do it with.
We have been watching over the years as the Democratic votes have been growing in Cobb. In 2015, I warned that the vote totals during high-turnout election years were growing on the Democratic side but remaining stagnate on the GOP side.
As you can see in the chart below, voter registration in Cobb County has increased by approximately 89,000 voters from November of 2008 to November of 2018.
Between 2008 and 2012, both high turnout Presidential election years, the GOP vote in Cobb increased by only 765 votes from 170,957 to 171,722. During that time, the Democrat vote totals decreased, but voter registration jumped by over 18,000 votes. While many of those new voters obviously didn’t vote, they added to the potential turnout.
Something else happened that was curious and of concern. While the GOP turnout in 2010, which saw Roy Barnes try to mount a return challenging Nathan Deal for governor, was at 133,785 votes to 70,521, just four years later in 2014, considered one of the best GOP election years in U.S. history, Democratic numbers jumped by 20,000 while GOP numbers actually went down 15,000.
That set the stage in 2016 that I had warned was coming in 2015.
That next year, Hillary won Cobb County and this year the Democrats nearly met the GOP high of 171,722 from November 2012 falling about 4,000 votes shy.
What’s more, despite claims of “voter suppression,” Cobb’s voter roles jumped by 84,000 new registered voters in only four years between 2014 and 2018.
If there are still 171,722 GOP voters in Cobb, then we still have a chance of coming back in 2020 and holding onto our county-wide offices. If not, then 2020 could see the GOP lose the County Commission 3-2, the Sheriff’s office, the District Attorney, the Clerk of Court, and other races.
Also, with a one vote majority in the legislative caucus, if we do not gain back at least one legislative seat, the Democrats will control redistricting in Cobb and be able to redraw county commission and school board districts as well.
Our Cobb County Board of Elections, which has five members; one appointed by the Board of Commissioners, one by the Republican Party, one by the Democratic Party, and two by the legislative delegation, flip from a 4-1 GOP majority to a 4-1 Democratic majority if the County Commission is lost.
So, is this just a matter of “Demographics as Destiny”?
That would explain the slow increase of the Democratic vote, but it doesn’t explain the rapid flip.
Back in May, I became aware that Democratic operatives were furiously knocking doors in GOP areas of Cobb and began asking when we would have the resources of lists and technology to engage in-kind. Initially I was told it would be in June. Soon it was pushed back until July…then August. At that point I asked whether or not the Victory Center would be opened at all so I could make other arraignments. I was told soon.
It wouldn’t be until September.
At that point, we were 4 months behind.
Even then, while the Democrats were using an army of paid door-to-door staff, we were asked to rely on volunteers.
We quickly went about ranking the races that would be the toughest and concentrated an aggressive volunteer door-to-door campaign for September through Election Day.
Our top tier of focus was Karen Handel, Congressional District 6, Leah Aldridge Senate District 6, Matt Bentley, House District 40, and Sam Teasley, House District 37.
Our next tier was Scott Sweeney, School Board 6, JoAnn Birrell, County Commissioner District 3, Kay Kirkpatrick, Senate District 32, Travis Klavohn, Senate District 38, Sharon Cooper, House District 43, DeAnna Harris, House District 41, and Ed Setzler, House District 35.
The rest of our candidates were in the third tier and considered to be in safe districts.
The only one of our top tier that was not lost was Karen Handel. Cobb voters turned out big for her, giving her more votes than Brian Kemp received. However, the DeKalb portion of her district ran the Democratic voter numbers up so high that the Cobb and Fulton wins were not enough. Lucy McBath won 60-40% in DeKalb.
As many of these districts had overlap, we were able to canvass for several candidates, as well as the top of the ticket all at the same time.
We invested in infrastructure as well, making sure we had online sign-up for each event. We shared information as well so, as best as possible, we did not duplicate efforts or overlap the campaign organizations but supplemented where they could not.
However, despite posting on Facebook, our website at CobbGOP.org, Twitter, and in the barrage of emails like this one, we did not have one single volunteer signup online. That did not mean people didn’t still show up, but there were several weekends of door-to-door where the only volunteers regularly showing up for canvassing were me, Pam Reardon, Jeff Souther, Darlene Knight, and a couple of others. Pam Reardon and her husband Tom likely knocked on more doors than the rest of us combined! There were other Cobb County Republicans who devoted themselves to certain candidates and worked with them directly like Kim Sherk, but, for the most part, we struggled to have our volunteer needs met, all while we were going up against paid operatives on the Democratic side who were supplemented by a strong and engaged volunteer effort.
In the final weekend, volunteers made over 75,000 phone calls and knocked on nearly 2,000 Cobb doors.
The problem was, more than 50% of votes were already cast.
We won Election Day, we lost the three weeks of early voting. They were knocking doors in the spring, we didn’t start knocking until fall.
Most are aware they were targeting Republicans. For the first time ever, my household received mail pieces paid for by the Democratic Party of Georgia. Flush with cash, they called and mailed everyone, even committed Republicans. While we microtargeted to get out the vote, they covered it all. Even if they could get just one or two out of ten Republicans, that could, and maybe did, make the difference.
Our final issue was messaging. When a friend of mine; suburban, married, early 40’s with two kids and a GOP voting record brags to me on Facebook that she travelled from Cherokee County to Cobb to knock doors for Stacey Abrams, we’ve lost the messaging war.
Part of it is the lingering “Never Trump” wing, those who look at all the great things Donald Trump has done from the economy, to reducing taxes, to bringing North Korea to begin reducing its nuclear ambitions, to destroying ISIS, etc. (You can find a much longer list at https://www.whitehouse.gov/trump-administration-accomplishments) and still say they pick style over substance. Another part is that we were fighting history in that the President’s party historically loses seats in midterm years.
One of those will be fixed next election when Donald Trump is back on the ballot, but if we still have to fight the “Never Trump” Republicans and do not have a message to appeal to those who have flipped because they believe the rhetoric from the left which, in their minds, is reinforced by how Trump reacts, 2020 won’t be any better than 2018 was, and Georgia cannot stay red if we don’t retake territory.
In 2001, I was elected a Georgia Republican Party Vice-Chairman and Ralph Reed was elected Chairman. The State Party led as we started knocking doors much earlier in the cycle than ever before. The result was we gathered data to use in 2002 that made Sonny Perdue’s victory possible. The advantage of the position is it gave me a close seat to observe, participate, and learn. In 2001-2002, the Democrats were use to winning. They took the elections for granted and no longer engaging in grassroots. They looked a lot like we are beginning to look today.
We can do that again and beat the Democrats at their game and bring back that 171,000 Republican voters. It will take effort. It will take buy-in from our grassroots leaders. Most importantly, it will take all of us working together to make it happen.