Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s victory in the Republican primary for governor in that state was, unexpectedly, a cakewalk. Kemp beat his opponent, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, by more than 2 to 1 after Cagle won the first round of voting by 13 points.
What changed? One factor was certainly President Trump’s weighing in on Kemp’s behalf. In several tweets, Trump proclaimed that Kemp had his “full and total endorsement.” Vice President Pence made a trip to Georgia on Kemp’s behalf; on Tuesday morning, as polls opened in the state, Trump reminded people to get out to vote.
It’s hard to say how important Trump’s support was, but these charts provided to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein suggest that it was all that was needed. Trump’s first endorsement came one week ago, on July 18.
Why did Trump like Kemp? Perhaps this campaign ad will explain.
Blowing up government spending. Wielding a shotgun. Chainsawing regulations. And driving a pickup truck to round up criminals who migrated to the country illegally. It is about as Trump-y an ad as you can get. The only thing that’s missing is a celebration of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, but that admittedly wouldn’t have been terribly pertinent to the race.
Kemp is like Trump, so Trump liked Kemp — and Georgia Republicans responded. Cagle’s candidacy wasn’t helped when secret recordings emerged in which he indirectly disparaged the impulse toward Trumpism in his party. The party clearly wanted a Trump-like candidate on the ballot in November, and that’s what it got.
In the general election, Kemp will face former state legislator Stacey Abrams. Her campaign is a bit different.
Expanding opportunities. Education. Prosperity for all Georgia families. Abrams’s spot features her with people of every age and race. It is almost as diametrically opposed to Kemp’s spot as one could imagine. Not an explosion in sight.
Abrams’s candidacy is also historic. Should she win, she would become the first black woman to lead a state.
And not just any state: Georgia, a state in the Deep South. Like other Southern states, Georgia flipped from blue to red after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but, unlike other Southern states, has swung back the other way. Trump won Georgia by five points, the 12th-closest margin of the 2016 election.
Abrams’s candidacy may be a bit early for a state that still leans Republican, but it’s timed perfectly in another way. First, because November 2018 is expected to be a good year for the Democrats nationally, thanks, in no small part, to frustration with Trump’s presidency. Having a Trump-like candidate on the ballot in Georgia might spur Republicans to the polls, but it’s likely to help spur some Democrats, too — and Democrats tend to turn out less heavily, so such a boost is more helpful.
Abrams is also a woman running in a year in which women have done exceptionally well. There has been a huge surge in women candidates in 2018. And in races without an incumbent where a woman has faced a man, according to Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman, 70 of 106 Democratic women have won their elections — two-thirds.
And, of course, Abrams is a black woman. In the wake of the 2016 election, people noted that no group was more supportive of Hillary Clinton’s campaign than black women. While exit polling can be a bit dodgy when looking at smaller populations of voters, those surveys from the last presidential election showed that 94 percent of black women voted for Clinton. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez declared last December that black women were “the backbone of the Democratic Party,” the most stalwart base of support the party enjoys. In Georgia, a black woman is the party’s only hope to retake control of the governor’s seat for the first time since 2003.
For what it’s worth, about 17 percent of Georgia voters are black women. About 26 percent are white men.
Last month, we noted that the two themes of the 2018 cycle were women and defenders of Trump. In Georgia, the sort of narrowly red state where a Democratic wave election can make a dent, voters will have a chance to decide which of those two groups they prefer to wield power. They’ll choose which vision they want for Georgia, explosions or hugs. It’s a contest between two visions for the state and, as a proxy, each party.
And it’s hard to say which will win.