Randy Evans – The Evans Report: Split-ticket politics ahead


Randy Evans – The Evans Report: Split-ticket politics ahead

Your Georgia Desk

From Randy Evans | The Evans Report

Split-ticket politics ahead

As the midterm elections approach, Georgia remains a competitive state with some professional prognosticators moving at least once key race into the “toss-up” column. Indeed, with less than 60 days to go, both the gubernatorial and senatorial elections remain close enough to give Republicans pause and Democrats hope.

For average Georgians, it might appear to be a straight-up battle between the incumbent Republicans and the challenging Democrats. Yet, insiders know that the 2014 general election in Georgia is far more complicated than that. Consequently, national political organizations for both parties are considering some difficult and important decisions regarding how to allocate resources when it comes to Georgia.

For starters, Democrats understand and appreciate that it is virtually impossible for them to convince a majority of Georgia voters to cast their ballot for a straight Democratic ticket in 2014 with President Barack Obama’s unpopularity. Even without that problem, Democrats failed to field a complete set of candidates vying for every office in Georgia.

Many Republicans won re-election on qualifying day – having no meaningful opposition on general election day. (For example, Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (3rd District), Congressman Austin Scott (8th District), GOP congressional primary winner Barry Loudermilk (11th District), and Congressman Tom Graves (14th District) have no Democratic opposition in November.)

Indeed, 94 Georgia House of Representative Republicans and 26 Georgia Senate Republicans are unopposed, meaning Republicans will retain control of both houses of the Georgia General Assembly in 2014. Of course, this does not include the litany of local Republicans officeholders who have no opposition in 2014.

Even among the races in which both parties have a candidate, the disparate dedicated resources highlight strategic decisions regarding where and how hard to compete. Indeed, the sizable gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots” in resources make clear where the real battlegrounds exist and they are actually quite limited.

So, it has surprised no insider to see former Gov. Zell Miller endorsing Democrat Michelle Nunn for U.S. Senate and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal for re-election. As the general election approaches, this sort of ticket splitting will become quite commonplace.

Against the backdrop of these dynamics, first lady Michelle Obama’s trip for a fundraiser for Michelle Nunn, but not for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter, sends all kinds of intended or unintended signals. Former President Clinton is also scheduled to fundraise for Nunn in the coming days.

Notwithstanding all the ground noise, national power brokers will in the end undoubtedly decide how to prioritize their limited resources in a year when so much is at stake. So far, with the polls so close, those decisions have yet to be made. But make no mistake, they will be made.

Neither political party nor their allied organizations have unlimited resources and so, the allocation of resources is inevitable. For Democrats with so many Senate seats and gubernatorial elections to defend, the need to prioritize will be especially acute. Already, some Senate seats have been all but abandoned in favor of better targets.

Notably, there is an additional complication in assessing the Georgia political landscape– Georgia’s run-off rules. Georgia requires that a candidate must receive greater than 50 percent of the cast ballots to win. Many of Georgia’s most contested races have third-party candidates. While unlikely to win, they can be major factors in the election if the results are close.

In fact, Georgia could see a repeat of what happened in the Mississippi GOP Primary, where a third candidate with just 1 percent of the vote forced a run-off. With such risks, third-party candidates typically ignored will likely receive some significant attention from both the Republican and Democratic candidates who are fearful of being kept just one vote short of the 50 percent plus one needed to win an election outright.

For Republicans, all of these dynamics generate a huge premium to press a GOP juggernaut ticket with laser focus on one issue: President Barack Obama. For Democrats, the challenge shifts to limit the playing field to specific targeted elections and then focusing beyond President Obama to build a group of individual constituencies whose total votes are enough to either win, or at least enough to force a runoff.

Absent some significant galvanizing moment, Democrats will inevitably do what Republicans tried (with some success) in the 1980s and 1990s – drop back to the races where they have a chance to win, accepting ticket-splitting as a necessary concession to remain in position to start a comeback to political power with some important wins.

The Democratic messaging will likely be that Democrats are not against all Republicans (since many are popular and will be re-elected). Instead, they only oppose the bad ones with the “bad ones” being the ones that they think they actually have a chance to beat.

Of course, the biggest question will be how far up the Democratic ticket this “prioritization” might extend. On qualifying day, many of those choices were made. As the general election approaches, many more choices will be made with Democratic challengers for many constitutional officers lacking the resources to meaningfully compete. Once the middle of October rolls around, the ultimate choice of whether to stake all of Georgia’s Democratic fortunes supporting the legacy ticket (Nunn/Carter) with limited resources, or go for just the best shot for winning, will get made and actually become rather obvious. Watch for it.

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