The new state House and Senate districts Republicans drew for the post-2020 Athens census worked exactly as planned last week, delivering big wins for GOP incumbents despite rambling Democratic challengers for the five .
Alarmed that Democrats briefly flipped two Republican-leaning House seats in 2017, and concerned about the blue leaning in metropolitan Atlanta’s suburbs heading towards Athens, Republican lawmakers have cut Athens like a pie into four districts of the House earlier this year, packing the most Democratic parts of the city into Rep. Spencer Frye’s district and dividing the slightly less blue parts among three other districts dominated by dark red surrounding counties. Likewise, Clarke County remains split into two Senate districts, as it has been since 2006, when Republicans split it in a rare mid-decade redistricting to give government now. Brian Kemp’s brother-in-law Bill Cowsert is one step ahead.
“The truth is, as a black woman running in a predominantly red district, my opponent already had an advantage due to unfair redistricting and privilege,” House candidate Mokah Jasmine Johnson said.
Johnson lost to Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) 57%-43% in 2020. In this year’s rematch — after Republicans added more Jackson and Barrow counties to the Gaines district — he won by 22 points.
It was the same in all the other races in the Athens area. Cowsert beat Andrew Ferguson 64%-36%. Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) defeated Conolus Scott Jr. 62%-38%. Rep. Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville) beat Jeff Auerbach 60%-40%. Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro) beat Kat Howkins 66%-34%. Still, the five Democratic challengers led the Republican incumbents by double digits in Athens.
Republicans didn’t need to change much about the 10th Congressional District, which had leaned far right before and remains conservative now. Democrat Tabitha Johnson-Green lost 30 points to Republican Mike Collins, a result similar to 2020, when she ran against U.S. Representative Jody Hice, who vacated the seat in an unsuccessful primary challenge to the secretary. of State Brad Raffensperger. Collins, like Hice, is hardcore MAGA, embracing Donald Trump even after Trump endorsed Vernon Jones for the seat.
As they did statewide, Democrats slipped slightly in Clarke County from 2018 or 2020, when they won 70% of the vote locally. This year, the Democratic vote share in the ACC ranged from 64% to 68%, with attorney general candidates Jen Jordan and Charlie Bailey in the race for lieutenant governor actually overtaking Stacey Abrams at the top of the ticket. The exception, both locally and statewide, was Senator Raphael Warnock, who won 71% of the vote in Athens to Herschel Walker’s 27%. Turnout in Athens has also fallen slightly, from 62% mid-term four years ago to 59%.
Why the gap between Warnock and Abrams? “The difference isn’t about them, it’s about who they ran against,” said ACC Commissioner Tim Denson, chair of the ACC’s Democratic Committee. Kemp ran an effective campaign, he said, while Walker “jumped from error to error”.
Those mistakes have already cost Walker. Now that Democrats will retain control of the Senate regardless of what happens in the Dec. 6 runoff, conservative voters wary of Walker’s past have less reason to opt out.
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