Georgia grabbed headlines when Republicans took control of the State Senate and the governor’s mansion in 2003 and then the State House of Representatives in 2005.
After all, Georgia had long been a Democrat-controlled state, but after these victories and following a continued Republican surge, it seemed that the GOP dominance could last indefinitely. Now this political supremacy looks endangered unless Republicans change their strategy.
2014 was, in a way, the high water mark for Georgia Republicans. They enjoyed a 38 to 18 advantage in the State Senate and a margin of 120 to 59 in the State House. At the time, it seemed that Georgia Republicans could do no wrong.
They enjoyed plenty of rural and suburban support, and their majorities were buttressed by Cobb and Gwinnett counties. But after 2014, the Republican stranglehold began to show signs of decline, and the recent elections demonstrate a continuation of this erosion.
Cobb County Republican officials used to brag about being the nation’s fifth largest Republican county and Georgia’s largest, but they are much quieter now because, as it stands, only around 42 percent of Cobb voters cast their ballots for President Trump in 2020.
Likewise, Gwinnett, which has been trending a deeper shade of purple, was also once a Republican stronghold, but no more. Roughly 40 percent of Gwinnetians voted for Trump. What’s more, two influential Republican members of the Gwinnett County state legislative delegation lost their re-election bids, and both Cobb and Gwinnett are hemorrhaging county-wide elected Republican officials, including county commissioners, district attorneys, and even sheriffs.
It’s more than just Cobb and Gwinnett—although, they might be harbingers of things to come. Since 2014, Republicans have lost a total of 17 State House and 4 Senate seats. While Democrats didn’t flip too many Republican seats in the past election, many Republican victories were razor-thin.
Further, even sitting U.S. Sen. David Perdue—who enjoys a popular pedigree in Georgia—is fighting for his political life against challenger Jon Ossoff, and everyone is aware that President Donald Trump appears to have lost Georgia in a tight race.
For years, political scientists and pollsters have warned that Georgia could “go blue” because of demographic shifts, but it seems that many disregarded these warnings even as political dominance slowly began slipping out of Republicans’ hands. Nevertheless, signs of a possible metamorphosis in Georgia have been apparent for some time.
For instance, Gov. Brian Kemp eked out a narrow victory two years ago and evidently did so—as the AJC dubbed it—by doubling down on a rural strategy. It was smart, and it worked but may not in the future. Republicans cannot continue to win by relying on rural voters when urban and suburban areas are growing and turning increasingly Democratic. Rural voters just can’t keep the GOP afloat for much longer. The math doesn’t work.
So, where has Republican support gone? There’s probably no singular answer. However, increased immigration to Georgia, an evolution of people’s political views, the proliferation of anti-Trump sentiments and a natural ebb and flow of support are likely factors contributing to the GOP’s struggles.
What’s more, President Trump’s version of Republicanism may have also hurt GOP candidates, given that he seemed to have abandoned core Republican tenets, including fiscal responsibility and support for free markets.
Whatever the reason, Georgia’s polling numbers are eye-opening. Exit polls in the Peach State demonstrated that people of color, voters under 45-years old, and women heavily supported Joe Biden, and these demographics were likely responsible for nudging Georgia to the left. Not so surprisingly, political parties ordinarily need support from these key demographics to remain in power.
Even so, there are still Republican bastions in the metro area, including Coweta and other counties. However, they are smaller in population, but hope isn’t lost for the GOP-controlled Georgia legislature.
One benefit that the Republicans currently enjoy is power over redistricting, which could ensure further Republican legislative control, but this isn’t a panacea. Redistricting will not address the perceived Democrat tilt to some county-wide and statewide elections.
The bottom line is that the recent elections emphasized the point that the Georgia GOP can’t take political control for granted any longer. Of course, two years from now Georgia could witness a red wave. Alternatively, Democrats could make further gains. It’s simply impossible to tell the future.
Either way, something tells me that if Republicans want their glory days back, they’ll have to earn it, and it may not be easy.
Marc Hyden is the director of State Government Affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.