March 14, 2018

The 2018 Elections Will Be Georgia's Most Competitive in Years

Georgia Report

There have been many predictions in the national media that we are headed for a “blue wave” election year at the state and local level. The general theory is that Democratic voters are going to push back against President Donald Trump and try to elect a Congress that will keep closer tabs on him.

This kind of pushback almost always happens after the first two years of a presidential term. Think of it as buyer’s remorse.

There have already been some early signs of that wave. In special elections around the country—and here in Georgia—Democrats have had some success in flipping legislative seats that had been held by the GOP for years.

Another sign of the early enthusiasm by Democrats is the fact that more of them are willing to run for office, even in districts that are normally deep red in their political persuasion. We saw indications of that in Georgia with last week’s qualifying of candidates for the May 22 party primaries.

For the past decade, Republicans have held roughly a two-thirds margin in the state Senate and House. You could look at the qualifiers in each legislative district and tell that the game was over before any ballots were even cast. Republicans would be assured of retaining control of the legislature long before November. That won’t be the case this year. Democrats actually fielded candidates in more than two-thirds of the races in each chamber.

We probably aren’t going to see a massive flip in control of the General Assembly. In many of the races where Democrats put up a candidate, Republicans are still heavily favored to win. Unless there are some really huge upsets in the making, Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) will most likely be re-elected as speaker of the House next year. But Georgia voters are still looking at the most competitive legislative elections in a long time, and that’s not a bad thing.

Here are some races to keep an eye on:

A couple of Republican lawmakers who were ousted in 2016 are trying to make a comeback this year. Valerie Clark, a retired educator, wants to recapture her Gwinnett County House seat from Rep. Sam Park, the legislature’s first openly gay Korean member. Mike Cheokas qualified to run for the Americus House seat he lost two years ago. His Democratic challenger is Bardin Hooks, the son of retired lawmaker George Hooks.

John Barrow, a five-term member of the U.S. House before losing in 2014, is coming home to run as a Democrat for secretary of state. There are four Republicans, three of whom gave up their legislative seats, vying to run against him.

Yet another comeback is being mounted by John Barge, who was the state school superintendent for four years before running unsuccessfully for governor in 2014. Barge will be running in the Republican primary against current Supt. Richard Woods.

Two Democrats surprisingly won Athens-area House seats in special elections last November. Reps. Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace are trying to fight off Republican attempts to take those seats back.

At the congressional level, Democrats are making another attempt to flip the 6th Congressional District seat held by Rep. Karen Handel. In the adjoining 7th District, incumbent Rep. Rob Woodall has no less than six Democrats fighting for a chance to take him on.

The boondoggle known as the Plant Vogtle nuclear project has prodded a full slate of Democratic and Republican candidates to qualify for two seats on the Public Service Commission. Voters have a chance to finally elect someone to hold Georgia Power accountable for this financial disaster.

I’ve been writing for years that Georgia voters would be better served if they had a true two-party system to choose from. I think we’re seeing a step in that direction this year.