Commentary: Georgia on Our Minds | KBIA

Commentary: Georgia on Our Minds

Dec 1, 2020

Growing up we loved Ray Charles.  His songs had wide appeal and were singable.  I loved his star turn in the Blues Brothers movie. 

His first hit was “Georgia on My Mind,” which later became the official state song.  And lots of us have Georgia on our minds.  I do for four reasons.

The first and most obvious is that Georgia was the hardest state for Joe Biden to flip in the election.  It had been reliably Republican in presidential elections for decades.  It wasn’t the state that put him over the top – that was Pennsylvania -- but it may turn out to be the signature state in his election.

Second is that the election isn’t over there.  In early January there will be two elections for U.S. Senator, one for the regular six-year term and the other for a two-year term to fill a vacancy.  Georgia requires that statewide candidates win an absolute majority of votes and in November no candidate did in either race. 

The runoff elections will be the center of the political universe.  If Democrats win both then they will have fifty U.S. Senators, same as Republicans. The vice president presides over the Senate, casts tie-breaking votes, and will be a Democrat after January 20, so the stakes for these elections are ridiculously high.

Third, Georgia may be the model for Democratic victories in other southern states with big cities like Florida and Texas – a massive and well-funded voter registration and turnout project, which was just good enough at the presidential level in 2020.

It may not be good enough in January at the Senate level.  Republicans tend to have turnout advantages in special elections, and there may be voters (on both sides) who stay home in protest of and disgust with the absolute media saturation that is certain to occur.

Fourth, there are a few examples in political history of an individual whose vision and energy made the difference in an election.  Stacy Abrams, who narrowly and controversially lost her race for governor in 2018, decided to change Georgia’s political culture, so she organized and raised money and registered thousands of Black voters and oversaw the Democratic turnout operation. Black turnout was a record, and it needed to be, because the margins for the presidential and senatorial races were extremely slim.

Ironically, had Abrams won in 2018 she would have had her hands full as governor.  She would never have had the time or energy to organize like she did as a private citizen, and Biden and at least one of the two Democrats running for Senate would have lost. 

The presidential election outcome would be much less definitive than it is – 290 Electoral Votes versus 248, instead of the well-separated 306 versus 232.  And Republicans would be assured of their majority in the Senate, and all the chatter would be about likely Republican obstruction of the Biden agenda.   Good for Democrats that Abrams lost in 2018.

Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.