Democrats fall short as Georgia GOP keeps state House edge
ATLANTA (AP) — After gaining a total of 11 seats in the Georgia state House in 2018, this was supposed to be the year that demographic change and Democratic energy overturned the Republican majority in the lower chamber of the General Assembly.
It didn’t happen.
With seven seats still uncalled in the 180-member House, Republicans had won 100 as of Wednesday evening and the Democrats had won 73. The minority party might gain one or two seats once all remaining votes are tallied, but nothing like the 16 needed to overturn the 105-75 majority that Republicans held going into the election. Plus, the GOP successfully poured a giant sum into defeating Democratic minority leader Bob Trammell in his district southwest of Atlanta, eliminating the last white Democrat representing a rural district in the House and leaving Democrats to choose a new floor general next week.
Republicans are almost certain on Monday to choose House Speaker David Ralston to run the chamber for another two years. With 10 years already in the presiding chair, Ralston is the longest-serving House speaker since Tom Murphy’s four-decade reign.
“It’s a huge win for the Republicans,” Ralston said early Wednesday morning as his party’s continued majority became clear.
Republicans did suffer some losses. Democrat Rebecca Mitchell unseated Republican House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell in Gwinnett County, while Democrat Regina Lewis-Ward beat four-term incumbent Dale Rutledge in a district that covers parts of Henry and Rockdale counties.
“We did not do as well as we hoped to,” said state Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat and vice chair of the state party. “Obviously we’re disappointed with the results.”
The 56-member state Senate was mostly status quo, although Republican incumbent P. K. Martin conceded defeat to Democrat Nikki Merritt Wednesday in a Gwinnett County district. Republicans had a 35-21 majority before the election.
Republicans pledged to spend $1 million to defeat Trammell, citing a district that had voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 and GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018. Challenger David Jenkins edged out Trammell, who raised more than $300,000 to defend himself.
“Our district is a very competitive district,” Trammell said Wednesday. “It’s a district that was always going to be close.”
But more broadly, Trammell’s loss pointed to a world where Democrats are strong with African Americans statewide and can be competitive with all voters in urban and suburban Atlanta, but remain weak with white voters elsewhere. Democrats lost all the races they highlighted outside the metro area, from southwest Georgia to Athens. And sometimes the margins weren’t close.
“Republicans turned out their voters in areas in which they were strongest,” Trammell said.
He said one other advantage was the maps that GOP drew to enhance their strength after the 2010 Census. New maps are likely to be drawn next year for elections beginning in 2022. The Republican victory in the House means that Democrats will again be locked out of that process, a move likely to leave them at a disadvantage in future elections in the House, Senate and for Congress.
Democratic defeat is also likely to mean the state will continue to reject a larger expansion of the state-federal Medicaid program and will retain the GOP preference for not raising taxes. It’s also likely to mean a continuation of culture war debates on terms set by Republicans, like how the GOP weaponized a debate over further legal punishment for hurting police officers, firefighters and paramedics following the recent session.
“Georgia voters punished Bob Trammell yesterday for the Democratic Party’s irrational opposition to legislation that would have protected first responders from terroristic intimidation,” state Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said in a statement Wednesday. Even Nguyen said Republican accusations that Democrats are radicals or socialists was a headwind for candidates, especially when many Democrats declined to go door-to-door in their districts because of fear of coronavirus infection.
Nguyen said Minority Whip William Boddie of East Point and Minority Caucus Chair James Beverly of Macon are likely candidates to be the next House minority leader. Former Democratic whip Carolyn Hugley of Columbus could also run.