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Not a Peachy Night for Georgia Republicans

The problems facing the GOP in states such as Georgia are more fundamental than “candidate quality.”

Herschel Walker Campaigns In Georgia Ahead Of Runoff Senate Election

On Tuesday night, Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker in the Georgia Senate runoff. Unlike the runoff in January 2021, Georgia wasn’t for control of the Senate. Even if Walker managed to pull off the victory, which was doubtful at best given Walker’s performance in November even with the advantage of appearing on the ballot alongside Gov. Brian Kemp, the GOP would not be in control of the Senate come January. 

Walker’s loss, however, does make things more difficult for those GOP senators still trying to stymie the Biden administration’s agenda for the last two years of hopefully Biden’s one and only term. Other GOP senators, on the other hand, are happy helping Biden and the Democrats codify gay marriage in a lame duck session, but I digress. Now, Democrats have a 51 to 49 majority. They don’t need to rely on the support of the only conservative Democrat left in America, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, to pass senate legislation that requires only a simple majority, such as items passed via budget reconciliation. It’s not a comfortable majority by any means, but Warnock’s victory effectively strips Manchin’s title of “The Most Powerful Joe in Washington,” and opens the door from some minor Biden agenda items that did not earn Manchin’s support.

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Even before the race was called, establishment Republicans began recirculating their favorite slogan this election cycle to explain away the GOP’s failings: candidate quality matters. To some degree, that is obviously true. And Herschel Walker wasn’t a good bet to unseat Warnock in the Senate. Sure, he had great name recognition in the Peach state, but he wasn’t vetted well enough and struggled on the stump and the day-to-day politics on the trail.

The minor truth that candidate quality matters, a claim that no observer of American politics I know has ever outright denied, is meant to obfuscate more fundamental problems with the Republican Party and disguise their real desire: ditch Trump and return to establishment GOP politics. The establishment leadership, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, would have Republican voters believe that if they only choose the right candidate in the primary—their candidate—then the GOP’s problems would be solved. Does anyone really believe that?

Of course not, because it’s not that simple. 

Democrats somehow managed to get Biden in the White House and Fetterman in the senate when both Biden and Fetterman had serious cognitive impediments that kept them off the campaign trail for long periods of time. For Biden, it’s his senility. For Fetterman, it was a serious stroke. Does the “candidate quality matters” line extend to Democrats, or does it only apply to Republicans because the GOP beltway types are secretly convinced that their voters’ belief in God, traditional marriage, and the right to life make the GOP unpopular? Maybe so. Is the establishment willing to say that Trump and Oz were more unelectable than their invalid opponents? I doubt it. So, is it just because the base chose the wrong candidate in the primaries, encouraged by an endorsement from the former president, or is something more going on behind the curtain? Georgia proves it’s the latter.

In the post-Covid era of American electoral politics, elections are no longer settled by voters who interact with campaigns, build some kind of relationship, and decide to pull the lever. They’re determined by ballots. Lots of ballots. But, Bradley, a voter casts a ballot, do they not? Sure, but these ballots are different. They’re predominantly mail-in or early votes. They take minimal effort, minimal investment in the candidates or issues, as opposed to election day votes, which require finding your polling station, waiting in line, and bringing the proper identification materials before casting your vote.

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And deadlines are now so early that many voters can turn in their ballots before the candidates face off in a debate or one gets an unfavorable October surprise. They’re also the kinds that can be harvested by political machines, though Georgia revised their election law to change some of those practices in 2020. Nevertheless, political machines built for election day turnout takes much more investment than one designed for mail-in turnout. Just check the box, sign here, and pop it in the mailbox before the specified date, and you’re good.

This is by no means an argument for mass mail-in voting. I’m one who believes it should be incredibly hard to vote. It is to say, however, that the post-Covid electoral system offers massive structural advantages to Democrats. That is especially the case in states where Democrats have spent years building a massive political machine in one urban area with a high concentration of Democrats. It’s a beautifully simple strategy when one thinks about it: get all the Democrats in one area, house them on top of each other in apartment buildings and highrises, and have enough Democratic operatives to round up their ballots and keep them in line. Georgia is precisely such a state, with most of its Democratic voters coming from Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs.

Democrats had a running start on Republicans. Known election denier Stacey Abrams deserves credit here. Though she lost two consecutive bids for governor, she spent the years before 2018 laying the groundwork for the modern Democratic turnout machine in Atlanta by bringing in millions of dollars and building a coalition of like-minded organizations to see Georgia go from red to purple. Walker winning many rural Georgia counties by larger margins than Loeffler in the previous runoff simply wasn’t enough to overcome the massive deficit in Atlanta.

While the Republican establishment was too busy clinging on to old strategies, Democrats were using their structural advantages to gather more political power. 

Republicans tried throwing money at the problem. McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund agreed to provide over $2 million to Walker’s runoff effort. But the Democratic political machine in Georgia embarrassed Republicans again, outspending Republicans 2 to 1 on advertising. Democrats spent more than $35 million on ads between the November election and the runoff. Republicans spent barely over $15 million. The ad spending gap was about equal to the advantage that Democrats built over the whole general election cycle, when they outpaced GOP spending $138.3 million to $117.9 million.

Even though McConnell called on Kemp to help Walker get out the vote by transferring his door-knocking, data analytics, phone-banking, and micro-targeting program data to Walker, money and data on their own are only advantageous if they’re used properly. They weren’t, and the Republican Party was outspent, out organized, out strategized, and flat-out out worked by Democrats in Georgia.

Until Republican leadership stops waxing poetic about the old ways and commits to a strategy that matches our current moment with the expressed purpose of gaining political power to fix the abomination that is our current electoral system, Republicans will lose. And they’ll deserve it.

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