According to the FiveThirtyEight polling average, Joe Biden leads President Trump by 1.6 points in the Peach State, while RealClearPolitics gives Biden a .8-point lead. Major handicappers rate both of the state’s Senate races as toss-ups. Both Trump and Biden are making late stops in Georgia, and both parties are blanketing the state with TV ads, a sign they agree the race there is tight.
On the presidential level, Trump is a victim of the very realignment that won him the White House in the first place.
In the pre-Trump era, Republicans easily won Georgia by catering to White voters. In nearly every election, GOP candidates would win by landslide margins with non-college-educated White voters — many of whom are evangelical Christians — and take most of the college-educated White vote, while losing the overwhelming majority of Black voters. It was an ugly political equilibrium that played on the state’s historical racial divisions, but the net result was that Republicans routinely won statewide elections by safe, stable single-digit margins.
But the firewall began to crumble as Trump alienated suburbanites — both through his incompetence and racist remarks. The shift was already visible in 2016, in fact, when Trump won college-educated White voters by only 23 points, a 15-point decline from Mitt Romney’s showing four years earlier. Metro Atlanta — a region of 6 million that is 46 percent White, 34 percent Black and 11 percent Hispanic — trended away from the GOP. By 2018, Democrats had flipped the suburban 6th Congressional District — Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s former home — while gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams fell just 1.4 points of short of victory. Now the Monmouth University poll shows Trump leading with college-educated White Georgians by a mere seven points.
No, White, college-educated suburbanites aren’t the GOP’s only problem this year. Biden seems to have gained a small foothold with blue-collar White voters; Trump has only slightly boosted his standing with Black voters; and Biden’s overall popularity with swing voters is probably helping him. But above all, Trump is seeing the downside of the trade he made in 2016: He won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan by swapping blue-collar Whites for suburbanites, but it has cost him — and the rest of the GOP — strength in urbanized Sun Belt states such as Georgia.
The Trumpian realignment is hurting GOP congressional candidates, too. But it’s not the only reason Republicans are in trouble down the ballot, where both the state’s Senate seats are being contested.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Douglas A. Collins, running in a special election for the Senate seat Loeffler filled by appointment this year, have been victims of their own attempts to game the state’s open primary system. In many Georgia elections, all candidates run on the same ballot on Nov. 3, and if none gets more than 50 percent, the top two advance to a January runoff. Collins and Loeffler clearly think that the best way to secure their spot — and beat the other — is to outflank each other on the right. That could prove decisive in a runoff against a Democrat that may hinge on Trump-weary suburbanites and Biden-voting swing voters.
The same dynamic has endangered Republican Sen. David Perdue, who recently decided to skip his debate with Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff after one of Ossoff’s volleys against him went viral on social media. Rather than face his opponent again, Perdue is opting to join Trump at a rally in northwest Georgia — tying him more closely to a president who may not win the state.
Republicans still have a roughly 50-50 shot of winning these races, but the fact they are close is telling: In Georgia at least, the trades Trump that made in 2016 are coming back to haunt him — and his party — in 2020.