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The inside story of Georgia’s shift left47:19
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FILE - Cobb County Election officials handle ballots during an election audit, on Nov. 16, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. Republican lawmakers in at least six states have introduced legislation that would require all ballots to be counted by hand instead of electronic tabulators, and similar proposals are being floated in some county and local governments. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File
FILE - Cobb County Election officials handle ballots during an election audit, on Nov. 16, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. Republican lawmakers in at least six states have introduced legislation that would require all ballots to be counted by hand instead of electronic tabulators, and similar proposals are being floated in some county and local governments. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File

For decades, Georgia politics was as red as the clay the state is built on.

For Democrats, there haven’t been many big wins.

“What's happened to us over the course of time is on election night, your heart breaks, you kind of have this feeling of hopelessness and then several months go by and then you have resolved to go back at it," Adrienne White, vice chair of candidate recruitment for the Georgia Democrats, says.

"It's kind of like a drug where you try to quit, but you just can't.”

Over the past four years that work has paid off. Georgia, once solid red, is looking more purple than ever.

"Georgia is an early bellwether as to which direction things are going," Geoff Duncan, lieutenant governor of Georgia, says.

And Republicans have been scrambling to react.

"We watched what happens when you hyper-focused on the wrong things like telling Republicans not to show up and vote like Donald Trump told Republicans not to show up and vote. We lost two us Senate seats that genuinely should've been layups," Duncan adds.

Today, On Point: We have the inside story of that blue shift from Greg Bluestein, the political reporter who covered it up close.

Guests

Greg Bluestein, political reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Author of the new book Flipped: How Georgia Turned Purple and Broke the Monopoly on Republican Power. (@bluestein)

Also Featured

Adrienne White, vice chair of candidate recruitment for the Georgia Democrats.

Geoff Duncan, lieutenant governor of Georgia. Author of GOP 2.0. (@GeoffDuncanGA)


Highlights From The Show

Geoff Duncan, Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia.

KIMBERLY ATKINS STOHR: Duncan is a conservative Republican who supported President Donald Trump's reelection. Duncan was asked to introduce Trump at a rally on the eve of Election Day. But he says he was getting increasingly nervous about the way Trump was talking about election results before the election happened.

GEOFF DUNCAN: I'm one of those guys that just feels like it's more important what you do than what you say. So I picked my words carefully. But I spoke to a crowd of 30,000 ... plus folks wearing Make America Great Hats on a really, really cold night before the election. And I said a couple of things that shocked me as to the reaction of the crowd.

ATKINS STOHR: What he said may not have been controversial with Republican voters in the pre-Trump era.

DUNCAN: I said every time we lower taxes, it's not just for Republicans, it's for Democrats, too. And there was a slight scattering of boos. And I said, every time we improve education in Georgia, it's not just for Republicans, it's for Democrats, too. And the boos got a little bit louder.

And I landed with this notion of, Our ideas are so good as Republicans that even help the people that don't vote for us. And the boos became, you know, to a much higher level. And I walked off the stage and looked at my wife and kids and said, Something's wrong.

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ATKINS STOHR: To Duncan, it wasn't just that these people were booing some of our nation's core democratic principles. It was also a potential electoral disaster.

DUNCAN: We know what we had to do to win the election as Republicans. We had to convince not the right to vote for us. Certainly, they're with us. They're carrying the flag. We had to convince the middle that we were responsible enough to vote for. And that's where the misfire happened.

ATKINS STOHR: Duncan wasn't surprised on election night when Donald Trump lost Georgia. But he says his attention was immediately on the runoff elections for Georgia's two Senate seats. With control of the Senate in the balance the seats were must wins for Republicans.

DUNCAN: Unfortunately, I spent nine weeks begging Republicans to not pay attention to Donald Trump's rhetoric around the election being rigged. And all the other shiny objects that were out there to divert the attention away from his unfortunate missed layup here in Georgia. And unfortunately it didn't work. And now we have a Democratically controlled Senate.


Adrienne White, vice chair of the Georgia Democratic Party. 

ADRIENNE WHITE: Historically, you know, I make a joke and say Republicans wake up every Tuesday and ask themselves, Is it time to vote today? And you know, I just hadn't seen that energy on our side.

But after 2016, I think Democrats were just like, Hey, let's let's get involved in every election. Let's knock on doors. Let's do whatever we can to push back at this evil thing that had come to fruition with the election of Trump.

ATKINS STOHR: While there was an energetic base, there were many Georgians who just weren't engaged with politics.

WHITE: They are trying to feed their families, feed themselves, go to work. All that good stuff, so they're just not receiving a message. Period. So going to their door, getting in their email, getting in their phone via text or, you know, wherever and meeting them where they are, with simple messages.

... We are for jobs. We are for health care. We are for fully funding public education. I don't think any of the messages that even Stacey or any of the down ballot candidates really brought forth were extreme in nature or far left. They were simply clear.

ATKINS STOHR: The Stacey she is referring to is Democrat Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor in 2018 and lost. But focused her efforts in 2020 on combating voter suppression. White says she's quote 'cautiously optimistic about Georgia Dems' chances in this year's governor's race.' But she's worried about the impact of new voting restrictions signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.

WHITE: Democrats have really learned the laws that the Republicans put in place and won their game. Like we took their roles and played their game and beat them. Yet now they've kind of moved the target.

We just want to make sure that people understand that the way you could do things in 2020, sometimes very easily, very conveniently, may or may not be the way that you can vote this time around. So that that tends to be what gives me the most heartburn. Is just this reeducation and re-informing people about how they can vote.


This program aired on April 21, 2022.

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John Ringer Freelance Producer, On Point
John Ringer is a freelance producer for On Point.

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Kimberly Atkins is a senior opinion writer and columnist for Boston Globe Opinion. She's also a frequent guest host for On Point. She formerly was a senior news correspondent for WBUR.

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