The Georgia governor’s race is Republican Brian Kemp’s to lose, political scientist Charles Bullock, an expert on Georgia elections, told Oconee County Republicans on Thursday night.
“The Republicans should win this,” Bullock, distinguished University of Georgia professor, said. “This is still a Republican state.”
Republicans have to be united, he said, and the disruption from Washington has to be minimal.
“If Republicans in any way drop the ball, mess up, then a Democrat could win,” Bullock said. “I am telling reporters that Stacey Abrams can’t win, but Brian Kemp could lose.”
Primary And Runoff Reviewed
Bullock gave his projections for the outcome of the Nov. 6 election to an audience of 32 gathered for the regular meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party, held at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.
The meeting lasted just less than an hour, with Bullock’s comments and the questions and answers that followed taking up almost all of that time.
Bullock, a professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgbia, began his talk with a review of the Republican Party Primary in May and of the Republican Party Primary Runoff in July.
Bullock holds the Richard B. Russell Chair in Political Science and is recognized as a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor and a University Professor.
Bullock’s projections about the November election likely were of greatest interest to those in the room.
Moving 100,000 Voters
Bullock said it may not happen this year, but at some point the state is likely to shift from Republican to Democratic.
“That is the challenge for Republicans--to be able to keep their act together,” Bullock said. “And there is evidence that Republican strength in this state has peaked.”
Recent trends show only a 200,000 vote gap between Republicans and Democrats, Bullock said, so Democrats only need to move a little more than 100,000 votes to win.
Bullock said that Abrams, former House minority leader from Atlanta, hopes to make up the vote deficit by mobilizing more minorities.
“Sure, she is glad to get any White votes that she gets,” Bullock said. “But her emphasis is going to be on trying to register and then turn out increased numbers of minorities.”
Bullock said Abrams and Kemp, from Athens and currently Secretary of State, will be competing most intensely for White women.
What Could Go Wrong
In a close election, “there are the things which no candidate can control” that can shape the outcome,” Bullock said.
While the state’s strong economy should favor Republicans, who control the White House and both branches of Congress, President Donald Trump’s trade war could hurt Republicans.
“Are there layoffs down at the Kia plant” or in other parts of the state as a result of the tariffs that Trump has championed? Bullock asked. “Are the farmers going to be suffering losses because they can’t market their products?”
A large part of the state’s pecans go to China, Bullock said. China has retaliated against the U.S. as a result of Trump’s tariffs.
“The president says he would like to see a government shutdown,” Bullock said. “Government shutdowns tend not to be popular.”
“Another meeting with Putin? How would that play?” Bullock asked.
“Or a continuation of what we saw yesterday?” Bullock said, referring to the guilty plea of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and the convictions of former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
Primary To Runoff Swing
In the May Republican Party Primary, Kemp with 25.6 percent of the vote, ran second to Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, who got 39.0 percent in a five-person race.
In the July Republican Party Primary Runoff, Kemp got 69.5 percent of the vote, to Cagle’s 30.5 percent.
That 43.9 point swing in votes, from 26.5 percent to 69.5 percent, is the largest in Georgia runoff history going back to 1966, Bullock said.
Bullock said Kemp’s controversial advertisement in which Kemp, holding a shotgun, interviews a young man who has an interest in his daughter, helped Kemp in the primary.
Kemp obtained “earned media coverage, i.e, stuff he didn’t have to pay” for from the advertisement because of reactions locally and nationally, according to Bullock.
Kemp won the runoff election because of Trump’s endorsement, Bullock said.
Using polling data provided him by the Cagle and Kemp campaigns, Bullock showed dramatic increases in support for Kemp after Trump tweeted his endorsement.
“In last weeks of the election, polling shows the two are running neck and neck,” Bullock said.
Eight days before the election, Gov. Nathan Deal endorsed Cagle, “and he picks up a couple of percentage points,” Bullock said.
“Then Wednesday everything falls apart” for Cagle, Bullock said. That was when Trump made his endorsement.
Tracking polls from the Cagle campaign show that Kemp went from around 44 percent to just over 60 percent, Bullock said.
“Remarkable, remarkable,” was Bullock’s reaction to the data.
Evaluations Of Candidates
Voter evaluations of Cagle also went from positive to negative after the Trump endorsement, according to the data presented by Bullock.
“Amazing, how that changed people’s attitudes,” Bullock said. “If he (Cagle) had been an ax murderer, it might not have been much worse for him.”
Bullock said data gathered by his colleagues in the School of Public and International Affairs before the endorsement showed that 20 percent of likely voters in the runoff said that the most important thing to them in determining how they would vote was which candidate was closer to Trump.
Bullock said that while Trump gets high approval ratings from Georgia Republicans, overall in the state he has a higher negative evaluation than positive evaluation.
That could be a factor in the November election, he said.
“Republicans should win,” Bullock said in closing his comment, “but it’s close enough that is not implausible that Democrats could win.”
Bullock took questions on a variety of topics following his formal comments, including one on changes in the Georgia electorate.
The challenge for the Republican Party is attracting minority voters, Bullock said.
In 1996, about 77 percent of those who voted in Georgia were White, Bullock said. Now the figure is around 61 percent.
“So here you have a party which is not getting many minority votes,” Bullock said of the Republican Party. “And has to get a larger and larger share of the white votes” just to hold its own.
“This is why the Democrats are going to hang on to demography as reshaping this state as a Democratic state,” Bullock said.
“The challenge for Republicans is to come up with a more encompassing message, if you are going to appeal to a diverse population,” Bullock said, “because the state’s population is increasingly diverse.”
On Monday evening, Oconee County Republican Party Chair Tammy Gilland sent me an email message saying that the party did not want me to record any part of the Thursday Republican Party meeting, including Bullock’s presentation, or even take notes during the meeting.
She subsequently said the prohibition would apply to the media, though reporters and editors for the The Oconee Enterprise and the Athens Banner-Herald said they did not receive any notification from Gilland of the change in policy. Neither paper regularly covers party meetings in the county.
Gilland explained her decision by saying that during the last part of the meeting the Republicans would be discussing things they did not want the “opposition” to know but that the prohibition on recording and note-taking would extend to the whole meeting.
On Wednesday, Gilland sent me a message saying that she had reversed the policy and that I could record Bullock’s comments. She said she would end the meeting once Bullock had finished talking.
After Bullock spoke Thursday night, Gilland announced that the next two meetings of the group would be working sessions at the new campaign headquarters, 1050 Barber Creek Drive, Building 100, Suite 101.
Gilland then adjourned the meeting.
The video below is of the entire Thursday meeting of the Oconee County Republicans.
Bullock began his comments at 3:50 in the video.