Joel McElhannon – 7 Key Takeaways From Last Night’s Elections in Georgia


Joel McElhannon – 7 Key Takeaways From Last Night’s Elections in Georgia

Joel McElhannon of Parlay Political served as the primary political consultant to the Georgia Republican Party’s Victory 2014 Program. Joel wrote this on his own after seeing the results of this year’s elections. Whether you love him or hate him, Joel McElhannon possesses one of the best political minds in the state and you should pay attention when he writes on the topic.

1. Georgia Republicans Need A Competitiveness Assessment.

Last night was a huge win for Republicans nationally and in the state of Georgia. The GAGOP Victory Program, led by Chairman John Padgett and staffed by countless volunteers and sharp field directors, executed an unprecedented ground game in the Peach State. Over 350,000 doors knocked. Over 1.2 million volunteer phone calls – including 87,000 on Monday alone. Millions of pieces of mail dropped. It provided the rock solid foundation of success for our entire statewide ticket.

But Georgia Republicans should not be lured into complacency by this one night of success. We must also see clearly the political environment and the national wave the swept the country last night.

President Obama’s failed leadership is as popular as Ebola right now.

But he won’t be on the ballot again.

Yes, Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn bellyflopped yesterday. But that does not mean Georgia’s population is not changing. It does not mean the Democrats will discontinue their ground game efforts. It does not mean radical liberal groups will not continue their vicious and possibly illegal tactics on election days to cause chaos and confusion for voters and lay the foundation for more frivolous lawsuits.

Despite a warm day in the sun, there are dark clouds on the horizon, and Republicans in Georgia should prepare now.

For the future, there are two key numbers to remember – 11% and $2.6 million.

Governor Nathan Deal has governed with common sense and courage. His relentless focus on the economy and willingness to engage on important public policy goals like criminal justice reform earned him an estimated 11% share of the African American vote – a record high for Republicans in recent history. Deal’s leadership is a model for all Republicans to follow.

The other number – $2.6 million – is the amount of money Casey Cagle spent in this election against an unknown and weak opponent. The result? One PSC candidate spent virtually nothing and received more votes than Cagle did, and Gary Black received a higher percentage of the vote than Cagle did.

Almost bankrupting his campaign account, Cagle essentially tied other GOP statewide candidates like Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, and others – all of whom spent very little and devoted their resources to support Governor Deal instead of just campaigning for themselves.

Governor Deal’s successful leadership and the GAGOP Victory Program provided a strong floor of support for the entire GOP ticket. While others helped the team, Cagle spent millions on himself and got nothing for it. It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.

The 2018 election is for all the marbles. The next Governor will control redistricting. If we lose the Governor’s office, we may lose the Republican majority in the legislature in the next decade. We simply cannot risk our party’s political future and the greater good of this state on spendthrift, foolish candidates with baggage and limited appeal.

To survive and thrive, we must rally behind leaders who engage Georgia’s diversity, lead with integrity, unite the GOP team, and know how to win. We must rally behind those proven leaders who have broad appeal and can run effective campaigns. Moving forward, our first question must be – can a candidate win in our new and growing Georgia? Last night revealed a lot about who on the GOP bench can do that…and who can’t.

2. It’s Time For Georgia Republicans To Get Real.

Georgia is diversifying. In comparative demographic terms, Georgia is now the state of Virginia (metro Atlanta) dropped down in the middle of Alabama (the rest of our state). Our rural areas may continue to be part of the “old south” but the metro Atlanta region is a vibrant and diverse international community. Bluntly speaking, Georgia Republicans can no longer rely on simply appealing to white voters. We must diversify our approaches and speak to this new Georgia with a bold message about economic opportunity and effective governing.

Many in the Georgia Republican Party get it. Leo Smith and Baoky Vu, among many others, are actively engaged in encouraging and promoting minority engagement for the Republican Party. Leaders such as Martha Zoller and House Speaker Pro Temp Jan Jones have encouraged a more female friendly agenda to counter act the Democrats’ disingenuous “War On Women”. Secretary of State Brian Kemp engaged Hispanic, Korean, Vietnamese, and African American voters with radio ads this cycle.

Most importantly, Governor Nathan Deal garnered a stronger percentage of African American votes this year than any Republican candidate in recent history. He is committed to expanding that outreach in the years ahead. These leaders “get it”. It’s time for Georgia Republicans as a whole to embrace this approach, not as an after thought, but as a fundamental part of our party’s efforts to govern and lead this state.

3. Public Polling In Georgia This Cycle Was A National Embarrassment.

In the recent article “Are Bad Pollsters Copying Good Pollsters” on the highly respected Five Thirty Eight Blog, Harry Enten details how “polling” by non professional polling groups in states where a “Gold Standard” polling program does not exist are wildly inaccurate and tend to copy the results of legitimate pollsters as election day nears. In 2014, Georgia is the new case study for this assessment. As a highly respected political consultant friend told me recently, if these supposed pollsters for media outlets had been employed by campaigns and had been so wrong so frequently, they would have been laughed out of the business.

However, there is hope for Georgia in coming election cycles. Todd Rehm and his GA Pundit blog did a fantastic job of explaining the polling process in layman’s terms throughout this process. I trust he will continue this good work.

Importantly, the vacuum of legitimate public polling has been noticed, and it is my hope that this huge gap will be filled soon in our state. Stay tuned. It is long overdue and desperately needed. To my friends in the media, please stop engaging this nonsense and secure legitimate and independent polling in the future! The current state of affairs is a huge disservice to your audience and the voters.

4. The Cobb SPLOST Campaign Is A Referendum On Commission Chairman Tim Lee & The Braves.

Over the last several weeks, a small group of old cranks in Marietta, combined with some bush league reporting by the AJC, boldly predicted that the Cobb SPLOST vote would fail in epic fashion and foreshadow doom for Tim Lee and the Braves project. They yelled in their editorials that the people would finally make their voice heard. The people did speak and they said they like Tim Lee and the Braves. Another possible inference from the results is that Cobb voters want the old cranks to move to the city of Dunwoody where the “Atlanta” Journal Constitution moved a few years ago and let Cobb continue to grow without them. It’s time to get over it guys. The Braves move is an economic homerun for Cobb, and Tim Lee deserves the credit.

5. The Cobb SPLOST & The Forsyth Transportation Bond Results Show The Path Forward For New Transportation Funding.

Cobb County is the #1 Republican primary county in Georgia. Forsyth County is the top GOP county by percentage of voters. Both voted to pass taxes on themselves to pay for needed local infrastructure yesterday. Cobb’s vote expanded new infrastructure needs. The Forsyth Transportation Bond actually raises local property taxes to accelerate local road projects. It passed by a huge 2 to 1 margin. Voters do not like new taxes to pay for bigger government. They do not like new taxes for projects they cannot understand (read TSPLOST). However, they will gladly pay new taxes for a specific local project from which they secure a needed benefit (as in Forsyth residents wanting to expand gridlocked GA 400). The path forward for state leaders is actually very simple. Offer voters a simple plan with infrastructure projects they really need, and they’ll gladly pay for them.

6. Pay Close Attention To The Stacey Abrams Voter Registration Scandal.

I’ll give Stacey Abrams credit. She’s one of the smartest Democrats in this state and a leading candidate for Governor in 2018. She proved in this self-inflicted voter registration debacle to be as savvy in public relations stunts as she is in legislative debates. That may work in front of TV cameras, but stacking empty boxes doesn’t carry much weight in a court of law, as she found out when a Fulton County Judge slammed her group’s legal challenges and threw them out of his courtroom. After all the dust has settled from this election, we may very well see some more individuals in courtrooms and the PR stunts definitely won’t work then either. Facts are stubborn things and the facts are a group run by the Democrat Minority Leader in the Georgia House employed individuals who allegedly committed over 100 felonies, that we know of at this time. Forged voter registration forms, stolen medical records, intentional violations of state election law. This story is just beginning. It may very well have a huge impact on the Georgia House and the 2018 Governor’s race before it’s done.

7. Deal & Ralston: Kings Of The Jungle.

The smoke is already starting to clear and there are two figures standing at the top of the hill. The media, the Democrats, and even a number of self-loathing Republicans fired every bullet, shot every arrow, and tossed every grenade they could. Yet they are still standing. You don’t get to be the king of the jungle without earning a few scars. Those two battle scarred lions are here to stay, and I think we can expect some big things from these savvy leaders in the next few years. They have nothing to lose from bold leadership now. And if you’re standing a little too close to those poor souls who misjudged them, I suggest taking a few steps back.

* All opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views or opinions of any client, organization, friend, enemy, etc.

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