Thursday, December 04, 2008

Run-Off Blues

The run-off election results were largely a disappointment in Georgia, and I have heard some wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rendering of garments as a result. As the Young Democrats of Georgia, we worked *very* hard to turn Georgia blue in 2008. Obama got 47% of the vote in Georgia, which is the highest percentage won by a Democratic presidential candidate in Georgia since Jimmy Carter won the state in 1976 and 1980. Before Carter, the last time Georgia had supported a Democrat for President was Kennedy in 1960! Georgia supported Goldwater in 1964 and segregationist George Wallace in 1968. It’s been a GOP love-fest since, with exceptions for Carter and Clinton in 1992. Even when Clinton won in 1992, he won with 43.47% of the vote. We came agonizingly close to winning Georgia in 2008, and we certainly made the state competitive. While our electoral votes went to McCain, we still should be very proud of how well Obama did.

The youth vote is still strange in Georgia. It very much behaves as a swing vote. In national elections, the GOP is getting about 52% of the vote for president. In 2006, the youth vote was the only demographic won by Democrat Mark Taylor on his way to getting 38% of the overall vote for Governor. For the 2008 primary, youth vote tripled, and our share of the Democratic electorate shot up 4 points. The 2008 youth vote for President seems to have mirrored the state results in Georgia, although nationwide, Obama won the youth vote with about 68% to John McCain’s 32%.

We continue to improve, though. So many of Georgia’s youth vote GOP because their parents do. The more our message gets out, the more those youth realize the GOP offers them nothing, and that their beliefs place them firmly in the Democratic Party. Every cycle, we do a little bit better. We are close to parity now, and it won’t be long before we will regularly win the youth vote not only in state and local elections, but national as well.

The run-off results are also set up for a GOP victory. You have to remember that the run-off rules are a relic of the segregationist past. They were set up to ensure that the old (white) guard maintained control of the Democratic Party. Remember, until 2002, Democrats had ruled Georgia since Reconstruction. As the civil rights movement gained momentum, Georgia Democrats adapted by creating an uneasy alliance between urban blacks and rural whites. This maintained Democratic dominance until 2002, when the effort to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Georgia state flag combined with pissing off teachers resulted in Roy Barnes’ defeat. The GOP is stocked with Dixiecrats who left the Democratic Party to join the GOP as the “white” party in Georgia. The GOP has continuously pushed the notion that Democrat = black in an effort to “ghettoize” the Democratic Party. Sadly, it has largely worked. In 2008, for the first time ever, the majority of the Democratic primary electorate was black. The GOP is hoping this means that what is left of the “old guard” in Georgia will flee the Democratic Party for the GOP as the black share of the Democratic electorate continues to grow.

For the Democratic youth, this racial stuff doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does to our elders. We care much more about policies and getting things done than the exercise of raw (or, more accurately, imagined) power. You do see moments where young people try to emulate their elders by trying to incite racial bias, but those efforts are not widespread. They also usually fail.

The Georgia Run-off law requires a winning candidate for any office other than President to get an absolute majority of 50% plus one. If you look at the 1990 Democratic primary for governor, you will understand the usefulness to the white power structure of the run-off law. Since the Democratic nominee always won the general election, open Democratic primaries were crowded. The top two vote getters in July 1990 were Zell Miller and Andrew Young. For whatever reason, it is an accepted fact in Georgia that black voters do not turn out for run-offs. You see a significant drop-off in participation all over the electorate, but it tends to be especially dramatic for black voters. White voters will come out again in much higher numbers for a run-off. This is especially true of white Republican voters. Of course, in 1990, the 2008 white GOP voters were still pulling a Democratic ballot, and they certainly were not going to support a BLACK man for Governor. So Andy Young got his clock cleaned by Zell Miller, who went on to win the election in November.

Another example is 1998 when Mary Margaret Oliver faced off with Mark Taylor for the Lt. Governor nomination. Oliver, a liberal Democratic white woman from DeKalb, came in 1st place with 29% of the vote. Taylor, a rural white boy from Albany, came in 2nd with 21% in a primary with 6 candidates. Counting on the fact that Oliver’s base of black support in Atlanta wouldn’t show up again, Taylor whipped up the conservative white boys into a frenzy and won the run-off with 57% of the vote. The whole point of the run-off system is to be sure that rural white guys would win the day at the end.

We knew going into 2008 that we had an uphill climb. Georgia has only become more red since 2002. The mass exodus of DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) to the GOP followed the rise to power of the GOP. These people would become Socialists if it meant being with the party in power. They generally have no moral compass other than their personal aggrandizement. Such party switchers include people like Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, who was defeated from the Public Service Commission in 2002 as a Democrat only to switch parties so he could reclaim “his” seat in Tuesday’s run-off. Another such party switcher who’s sole concern is personal power and aggrandizement is State Rep. Mike Jacobs. The man was a hard-core Democrat until he realized that to get real power in the state house required him to become a Republican.

I never thought that winning GA for Obama (or Hillary) was realistic in 2008. My stated goal was to make Georgia competitive. For me, that would be a win. Oh, we definitely campaigned to win, and our efforts worked. The state was competitive for Obama, and Georgia had the most extensive volunteer-driven network for Obama in the nation. That is why we won a record 47%, and held McCain to GEORGIA. This is the state that gave Bush 58% in 2004, and 55% in 2000. The fact that we saw presidential ads in Georgia is a win if you ask me since the last time you saw any advertising for a presidential candidate may have been Clinton in 1992.

Unseating Saxby was also going to be difficult. When the primary season started, we had about 5 candidates who were fairly lackluster. No one really sparked a huge fire, although we did have a couple of interesting choices. We also had the Saxby-financed Vernon Jones campaign (it was an open secret in DeKalb that Saxby asked his builder buddies to finance Vernon’s campaign) since Saxby knew that Vernon as the Dem nominee would assure his reelection. He might as well not have an opponent as to have Vernon.

In the end, though, Jim Martin came through and decided to run. He started late, though, and required a run-off to secure the nomination. Even then, it was going to be a huge uphill fight. We had hoped that people excited about the Obama win would come back out to support Jim on Tuesday, but that did not happen. Despite ads and robo-calls from Obama to the black community, and rap artists pleading for turnout, the huge black turnout for Obama in November did not materialize in December. Of course, the turnout with white progressives was not so great either. I know many people were turned off by all the ads and calls as the eyes of the nation focused on Georgia. Many of those simply did not vote, which I think is silly. Although, it’s also silly for candidates to call people on Thanksgiving.

The results showed that people who turned out to re-elect Saxby just went to the PSC race and voted for the Republican. They didn’t care who it was, so long as the “R” was by his name. That is the only reason Jim Powell lost, as he was CLEARLY more qualified and independent than Bubba. Georgia voters, who supposedly hate taxes, just elected a man who will ensure that our utility rates increase. Way to go, Georgia!

Saxby’s campaign again was full of lies and distortions about Jim Martin. Saxby got his feet wet in 2002 by strongly hinting that triple-amputee and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland was a supporter of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin-Laden because he supported labor rights for the new Homeland Security department. It was a despicable charge against an honorable man who left three limbs on the battlefield for his country while Saxby got 5 deferments for a “bad knee”. A knee so bad, apparently, that Saxby is practically a professional golfer. Amazing how that works.

This year, Saxby basically ran a campaign that said Jim Martin was a child murdering, child prostituting, and inveterate tax raiser who also liked to line his own pockets with public money. Anyone who has ever met Jim Martin knows what a pack of lies these charges were. Jim Martin is an honorable and decent man who has always cared more for results than getting credit. He is one of the most decent people I’ve ever seen in politics, especially when compared to Saxby “Big Daddy” Chambliss who has few morals and even fewer ethics. Saxby always leaves me feeling dirty, and I have the impression that he is a bad person. I do not say that lightly. Generally, I feel Republicans are good people, just misguided.

A bright spot in the run-off election results was the win by Sara Doyle for GA Court of Appeals. While she is a consistent Republican voter, she was not nearly as rigid or ideological as her opponent, “Christian” Taliban tool, Mike Sheffield. I put “Christian” in quotation marks because I consider the man to be anything but a true Christian. His philosophy and beliefs are anything but Christ-like. But he calls himself a Christian, so I’ll put it in quotation marks. He would have added a highly partisan and extremely right wing voice to the Court of Appeals, and defeating him was a real victory.

It does feel like we got our asses handed to us in Tuesday’s run-off election. We have not mastered the art of turnout for a run-off, especially around the holidays. It is not a reason to despair. No one would have thought we could force Saxby into a run-off even as late as September. The “smart” money was on a Saxby easy victory on election night. That we forced Saxby into a run-off and drained away all that GOP money is a victory for us. It may feel hollow, but that is the reality.

So, my fellow Democrats, do not despair. We started out in a very deep hole, and we got close enough to feel the edges. Maybe next time we can pull ourselves out. That is what we are working toward. It is not likely that Georgia will ever go back to the years of Democratic dominance that many of us remember from childhood. We are making Georgia ever more competitive, though….and there will be a time in the near future where Georgia is not considered an automatic lock for the GOP. That is what we are fighting for. When that victory does come, it will be very sweet, especially for those of us who have toiled, and will continue to toil, in the darkness of GOP power in this state. We keep chipping away at the GOP majority, so keep your eyes on the ultimate prize.

We can and will win Georgia again. We cannot allow ourselves to get discouraged. We must learn from the mistakes we make, correct them, and move on to the next battle. We cannot cede this state to the reactionary forces of the GOP. That would be bad for Georgia, bad for us, and bad for the nation. Georgia deserves better than to be a GOP, right wing ghetto. The South deserves better. WE deserve better.

That’s why we fight…and in the end, that is why we will win.