Our Polarizing Primaries: Georgia Holds a Peach of a Primary

From the Editors | Issue 16 | May 31, 2022

Elections should be about forming a functional government that can maintain the national economy, national defense, public health, safety, and all that important stuff. But that goal gets completely overwhelmed by media coverage of our elections as sporting events – which team and individuals win while we all lose with the dysfunctional result? For just a few examples, our federal government… 

  • Has not addressed major immigration reform since 1986
  • Failed to anticipate and may have fueled inflationary trends following the COVID recession and the resulting supply chain disruptions
  • Cannot or will not pass universal background check legislation for firearms that a majority of Americans support 
  • Was tragically slow to respond to the worst public health crisis in a century, which could well recur with new viruses and variants

TPP guest and Institute of Political Innovation founder Katherine Gehl emphasizes that it’s the distorted incentives that undermine Congressional competence. “It’s the only industry I can think of,” says Gehl, “where those… playing that game, their jobs and their revenue in the politics industry, are the ones that make the rules that govern that industry.”

This Purple Principle Report examines the 2022 primaries with those distorted incentives and the need for better governance in mind. This week, we reflect on the expensively contested Georgia primaries, with special attention to the GOP side. 

It’s fair to say, an ex-President has never weighed in so heavily on so many state contests before. And now that results are mostly in, it’s equally fair to note that an ex-President has never been rebuffed so unexpectedly by regular voters of his own party while attempting to influence state level politics. 

As Goes Georgia…

The old adage used to be “all politics is local.” Now the converse is true for a purple swing state like Georgia, having experienced pivotal 2020 electoral contests between the major parties at the Presidential and US Senate levels and now experiencing equally fraught 2022 primaries within those parties, especially on the GOP side. 

For these Peach State contests, local politics was nationalized in two significant ways: first, the personal dimension of Trump loyalists vs. the more establishment GOP candidates and positions; second, record-setting campaign expenditures for state-level primary races. 

All Politics is Personal 

Sitting Governor Brian Kemp resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 Georgia vote for Biden and thus became Trump target #1 in the primaries so far. Yet Kemp resoundingly defeated Trump acolyte David Perdue, a former one-term Senator, by a 3 to 1 margin. This means Kemp was seen as an effective governor by GOP primary voters. But it also suggests Perdue’s Trump-orchestrated ‘Stop the Steal’ rhetoric, repeated throughout ads, campaign stops, and debates, failed to resonate with GOP voters in a southern state. And that may have turned a variety of GOP heads in other states – donors, candidates, and voters.

Equally important, several GOP governors weighed in to support Kemp with funding, campaign appearances, or both. Among them were Arizona Governor Ducey and Nebraska Governor Rickets, co-chairs of the National Governors Association, as well as potential 2024 POTUS candidates Mike Pence and Chris Christie, both former Trump allies. Pence made the notable comment that a vote for Kemp was a vote for the future, a not so subtle dig at his former boss’s rear-view obsessions. Even former President George W. Bush provided some support to Kemp. 

All Purple Politics is National, Thus Well-Funded 

As TPP podcast guest Dr. Adrienne Jones noted, campaign contributions and especially national money pouring into these Georgia primaries was considerable. That will likely be the case for other purple swing states this 2022 election cycle, such as Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and others. 

Consider, first of all, the six-fold increase in fundraising for the two major gubernatorial nominees for a six month reporting period up to January 2022 versus January of 2018:

6 month reporting period data source: Axios and Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
Source: Federal Election Commission itemized donations

If Gov. Brian Kemp was Trump target #1 so far this primary season, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was not far behind on the revenge scale. Raffensperger, like Kemp, stood firm against President Trump’s attempt to overturn the election on the infamous “find eleven thousand votes” phone call. To punish Raffensperger, the Trump team recruited no less than a sitting US Congressman, Jody Hice, to run for Secretary of State. That’s unusual by itself. Then add all the ‘Stop the Steal’ rhetoric to a race for the office that oversees elections and you have a situation truly bizarre and potentially catastrophic for future elections. 

Raffensperger, however, was up to the challenge. After campaigning extensively around the state, he defeated Hice 52% to 34%. That’s another rebuke to Team MAGA from Georgia GOP voters. But also note that the margin of victory in this important race with national implications was only 230,000 votes, or 3.2% of eligible voters in Georgia, an open primary state.

In the process, new fundraising records were smashed for the Secretary of State’s office in Georgia, as will likely occur in other swing states, such as Arizona. 

Trump Batting Average for the Georgia Series

TPP podcast guest Charles Bullock of the University of Georgia, one of the most respected political scientists on Georgia and deep South politics, advised us to take note of team Trump’s batting average after the Peach State primaries, intimating it might take a beating. Andit did. 

After a recent win in the PA governor’s race and potential success in the PA Senate run-off, team Trump batted two for six in Georgia when looking at truly competitive state level races. While batting .333 is Hall of Fame material in real baseball, it’s a comedown for a political kingmaker who recently boasted of batting 1,000. 

Primaries: Everything & The Only Thing (in Noncompetitive Districts)

Georgia’s a closely contested purple state. Therefore congressional races must be competitive too, right?

Not only wrong, but really wrong. Unfortunately, for the US House, and for Georgia as well, these congressional partisans don’t represent the state’s purple character. 

Fair Districts GA Chair Ken Lawler is one of the state’s most informed nonpartisans on the role of gerrymandering in Georgia. He told us on the TPP podcast that, due to successive rounds of gerrymandering from both parties, virtually no House seats in Georgia are fully competitive in general elections. That in turn contributes to polarization, with virtually all of these legislators looking over their right or left primary shoulders to stay in office…

Source: 538

Georgia’s US Congressional Primaries

One way to measure polarizing trends is via The Lugar Center ratings. Working with Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, the Lugar Center rates House members from 1 (most bipartisan) to 435 (least bipartisan). Here’s a sampling of US House members from Georgia who’ve recently won primaries and thus are highly likely due for another term in Washington: 

The 2nd District: True to form, this most competitive of Georgia’s fourteen districts is represented by the most bipartisan House member in the delegation. Democrat Sanford Bishop, Jr. has a Lugar Center rating of 87 out of 435 House Members. He is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, noted for their pragmatic approach to issues and legislative processes. 

Newly Redrawn 6th and 7th Districts: The new GOP-drawn maps pitted 6th District incumbent Democrat Lucy McBath against 7th District incumbent Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in a primary for the new 7th District. McBath, winner of that primary, has a bipartisan score of 147 while Carolyn Bourdeaux’s is ranked 138. Both candidates had flipped previously Republican-held seats.

These new maps also created a new 6th District once held by Democrats that’s now a solid Republican

Partisan ratings of other Georgia House Members victorious in 2022 primaries and facing no serious competition in November election are as follows: 

  • 9th district Representative Andrew Clyde has a Lugar rating of 414 out of 435 – among the least bipartisan members. 
  • 12th district Representative Rick Allen has a Lugar rating of 425 out of 435. He ran unopposed in the GOP primary. 
  • 14th district Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is the second least bipartisan member in the U.S. House with a rating of 434. 

Partners in Purple

  • Common Cause Georgia
    A non-profit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that works to strengthen public participation in our democracy and ensure that public officials and public institutions are accountable and responsive to citizens.
  • Fair Districts Georgia
    A nonpartisan organization that works to encourage a fair and transparent redistricting process in Georgia
  • Pro Georgia
    ProGeorgia coordinates the efforts of member organizations across the state to support voter engagement, issue organizing, and economies of scale.
  • Georgia Budget & Policy Institute
    The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s mission is to advance lasting solutions that expand economic opportunity and well-being for all Georgians.
  • The Georgian Institute of Politics
    GIP strives to strengthen democratic institutions and promote good governance and development through policy research and advocacy in Georgia.

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