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Georgia Redistricting Gives GOP the Advantage Ahead of Elections

All of the state’s legislative seats are up for election but due to the new political maps, there is little doubt about which party is favored in the majority of races. Democrats may gain five seats, but it won’t be enough to take the majority.

(TNS) — The top races on Georgia ballots this fall are highly competitive. Not so much in the General Assembly.

All 236 legislative seats are up for election in November, and Republicans locked in their advantage in the state House and Senate during redistricting last year by creating new political maps that leave little doubt about which party is favored in a vast majority of local races.

As a result, Republicans are likely to retain their majorities while giving up some ground to Democrats in a state whose voters are narrowly divided between the two parties, according to analyses of voting patterns in redrawn districts.

Democrats could pick up five seats in the House and one in the Senate, leaving them short of the numbers they’d need to take power, according to estimates by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which used computer models to evaluate Georgia’s legislative districts. Some districts, such as a Senate seat in Johns Creek currently represented by a Democrat, were redrawn in a way that favors a Republican candidate.

Republicans currently hold 103 of 180 seats in the House and 34 of 56 seats in the Senate.

“I have never been as optimistic as I am this year,” said House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “If the Democrats were writing a song, they would have no lyrics. They have no message.”

But Senate Democratic Leader Gloria Butler of Stone Mountain said her party hasn’t only focused on two newly created metro Atlanta districts that favor Democrats. For example, Butler said her caucus is working to hold the Johns Creek seat now held by state Sen. Michelle Au.

“Even though ( Republicans) worked hard to take the seat, (if we hold onto District 48) it still pushes us more forward than they thought they did,” Butler said. “My mother had a saying, ‘Sometimes you can outsmart yourself.’ Now they’re trying to fight to win it.”

Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, said the way Republicans drew the districts was a smart move to hold onto power in a state with a changing electorate.

“They’re taking their losses at the beginning of the decade by drawing districts that they thought would be safe for them,” he said. “It will be harder for Democrats to make additional gains during the rest of the decade.”

But Bullock said even slight increases in the number of Democrats in each chamber could make it difficult for Republicans to push more partisan issues. He pointed to the 2019 abortion law that recently took effect, saying the same bill might not pass today.

Redistricting — a process dominated by the majority party that allows lawmakers to essentially pick their constituents through boundary-drawing of political districts — left few competitive races across the state.

Just one of the redrawn Senate districts and 15 House districts were close in the 2020 presidential election, within a 10 percentage point margin between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. In the tightest district in the state, in a rural area west of Augusta, there’s no Republican candidate, leaving incumbent Democratic state Rep. Mack Jackson uncontested.

While legislators approved maps that heavily tilt the composition of most districts toward one party or another, several remain in play.

In a newly created district near Locust Grove and McDonough, Republican Lauren Daniel is trying to win a seat covering an area where Trump received 51 percent of the vote.

Daniel, who calls herself an “unapologetic mom” who’s campaigning against taxes and inflation, said she wants to support Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by picking up a seat in the Legislature.

“House District 117 is certainly a competitive district, and with the majority of the district being comprised of Henry County, there is a lot of population growth that has to be accounted for,” Daniel said. “In order to make a difference, all politics are local.”

Her opponent, Democrat Demetrius Rucker, said he can bring change to the Capitol as a military veteran focused on the economy, abortion rights and education.

“Voters are excited. It is competitive. Voters want to have their voices heard and want to know who their local candidate is,” Rucker said. “I think it’s very, very winnable.”

Voters in a newly drawn Gwinnett County district supported Biden over Trump 53 percent to 47 percent in 2020. While the candidates, Republican Matt Reeves and Democrat Om Duggal, align with their respective parties on the hot-button issues that make headlines, they share positions on many of the topics that are closest to their potential constituents.

Both want to give residents property tax relief and make it easier for small businesses to operate. And each is confident he can win.

“I’ve reached out to centrists, Democrats, independents, nonpartisans, Libertarians — I’m spending time out in the trenches promoting nonpartisanship,” said Reeves, an attorney who lives in Duluth.

This is his third time seeking a seat in the Legislature, having run for a Senate seat the past two election cycles.

Duggal, a small business owner, is a first-time candidate who moved from India to Georgia more than 20 years ago and has lived in Duluth for about five years. He said he knows that voters in the district tilted in favor of Democrats in 2020, but he’s run his campaign as though the split is even.

“My district is one of the most competitive districts in the state,” he said, adding that both Republican and Democratic county leaders approached him to consider running. “In business, you get to know everybody, but my values are more Democratic.”

Many Georgia voters won’t have a choice on the ballot for their House or Senate seats.

There’s no Democratic Party challenger in 42 districts and no Republican candidate in 28 districts. Many of those races were settled by intraparty primary races.

In Forsyth County, a Republican is running for a Senate seat after he tried to give Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump in 2020 even though Biden won the state. Shawn Still, who was a fake elector for the Republican Party in December 2020, faces Democrat Josh Uddin in a district where Trump won 52 percent of the vote. That’s the closest margin of any Senate district in Georgia.

In the House, voters in a politically split area will decide between incumbent state Rep. Mike Cheokas, a Republican from Americus, and Democrat Joyce Barlow, who previously ran in 2018.

Other tight contests could include one involving incumbent state Rep. Mary Robichaux, a Democrat from Roswell, and Scott Hilton, a former Republican state representative; as well as a race for the state Senate between Republican state Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth and Democrat Vanessa Parker.

A House race in Kennesaw features Republican Robert Trim and Democrat Lisa Campbell. Trim, a real estate agent and former political consultant, was sentenced to 60 days in jail in 2014 after he was found guilty of lying to authorities and filing a false police report that alleged a Cherokee County school superintendent tried to run over a school board member he advised, another woman and him after a heated meeting. Video debunked the claim.

©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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