When Mary Landrieu lost her Senate runoff in December 2014, the once loyally Democratic Deep South turned bright Republican red, with no Democratic senator or governor in Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama or South Carolina, and with Republican majorities in each state's legislatures.
That pattern broke with the election of Democrat John Bel Edwards as governor of Louisiana, a race he won mostly because he was squaring off against David Vitter. When you can run an ad against your opponent featuring the line, "David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriotism" and not even be criticized for exaggeration, it's safe to say that your odds are good. Bel Edwards won by 12 points.
A bad candidate, in other words, can make even long-term trends unimportant. Which brings us to Georgia.
A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of the presidential race in that state puts Hillary Clinton in a slight lead over Donald Trump, 44 to 40. This is inside-the-margin-of-error stuff, mind you, but only barely. (It's also a break from the state of the race in the RealClearPolitics polling average, which gives Trump a four-point lead, though with only a handful of polls included.)
Georgia has been shifting a bit politically in recent presidential elections, becoming slightly less Republican relative to the rest of the country — but it still has been voting more Republican than America on the whole. So in 2012, when Barack Obama won by four points, Mitt Romney won Georgia by eight — making the state 12 points more Republican, just a tick less than it was in 2008.
One implication of this is that if the national numbers for Obama were eight points better, if he'd won by 12, that trend may have been reflected in Georgia, too, giving him a shot at a tie or victory there. This is all speculative, of course, but national shifts are reflected in state polling — as the new Georgia poll makes clear.
In the wake of the Democratic convention (only a week ago, amazingly), Clinton's national poll numbers have climbed. Trump's rose and then fell.
One poll released on Thursday had Clinton with a 15-point lead nationally, an outlier among recent surveys. But if she did have a 15-point lead on Election Day, that would suggest that a victory in a state like Georgia would not be inconceivable in the least.
Once you dip into the numbers, you see the same patterns at play in Georgia that we see nationally. Trump's main problem in head-to-head matchups against Clinton at this point is that his support from his own party is soft. In the 15-point national poll released on Thursday, Clinton gets 90 percent of the vote from Democrats while Trump gets only 79 percent from Republicans. Polls released this week in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania show the same trend, with Clinton getting 80 to 90 percent of the support from her party and Trump getting only around 70. That introduces a big gap.
Why are Republicans less supportive of Trump? Certainly in part because he's viewed as much weaker on key presidential attributes, according to Fox News polling: He trails on knowledge, experience and temperament.
In other words: He's not a very strong candidate. He's not at David Vitter levels, mind you, but he's not doing great at the moment.
There's another factor at play here. Georgia's electorate has been changing quickly, as the Journal-Constitution reported last year. Whites are becoming a smaller percentage of the state's population, shifting a lot even since 2012.
There's a broad racial split in 2016 polling broadly and in the Georgia poll specifically: Trump wins whites in the state by 37 but loses black voters by 78. The vote among Hispanics isn't broken out, but polling has generally shown Clinton winning that demographic by a wide margin. As Georgia grows less white, numbers like that are bad news for the Republican Party — as is made clear here.
If you forced me to make a bet at this moment, I'd bet that Trump still wins Georgia. We're in a post-convention period where Clinton's soaring, but such loftiness has been hard to maintain in the past. If Republicans come back and vote for their party's candidate — which partisans on both sides have been doing more regularly in recent elections — Trump would win the state. If this bad week for his candidacy continues, though, he could give David Vitter a run for his money.
Long-term trends are hard to break, by definition. Georgia has voted Republican time and time again, not having backed the Democrat for president since an unpopular Republican was on the ballot back in 1992. Back then, the state voted for a Democrat named Clinton, which obviously isn't at all instructive about 2016.