The national outrage over the Georgia Electoral Bill has taken the political conversation by storm, with the White House, lawmakers, pundits, and even Major League Baseball has been involved in the fight.
Democrats and Republicans have argued bitterly over the contents of the bill, with the formers saying the whole thing is a voter suppression scheme and the latter defending it as necessary for voter integrity.
Nevertheless, the electoral policy is not the only factor in play when discussing the consequences of the law, power politics also plays a fundamental role in the rollout and effects of the bill.
The Georgia electoral bill is not an exception, and the legislation has left two clear political winners: Governor Brian Kemp and former Democratic candidate for Governor Stacey Abrams. Both for very different reasons, but both with roots in the fallout of the 2020 Presidential election.
2020 Elections in Georgia: The holy grail for Democrats and a GOP nightmare
If you travelled back in time in 1988 and told to anybody that Georgia would vote for Delaware’s junior Senator, Joe Biden, for the Presidency of the United States you would probably be laughed out of the street, and with good reason. The state had voted for conservative rockstar Ronald Reagan by an overwhelming margin, with the candidate receiving 60% of the vote against Mondale’s 39.79% and it would continue a similar trend that year when voted for George H.W Bush for the presidency.
However, 1988 is not 2020 and we no longer use pagers or walkmans. Politics is no stranger to change, and in 2020 Democrats managed to subvert the GOP’s perennial domination in the Peach State by carrying the state by the tight margin of 0.3% of the vote, less than 13 thousand votes out of almost 5 million ballots cast.
For Democrats, this was a dream come true and years in the making. The party barely lost the Governor’s’ mansion in 2018, when Republican Matt Kemp won the race with 50.2% of the vote to Stacey Abraham’s 48.8%, showing Democrats that the changing demographics of the state gave them a real fighting chance on future elections.
Abrams, who said the election was not fair and never really conceded the race, went on to became a rising star in the Democratic Party. She was selected to give the Democratic response to Trump’s 2019 state of the Union and founded the Fair Fight Action Organization the same year, which has the stated aim of fighting voter suppression in GOP-dominated states and campaigned vigorously for Biden during the 2020 election.
Biden’s victory showed how pivotal Georgia can become in future elections and the importance of having an effective and charismatic leader (cue Abrams) leading your team on the ground.
While Georgia Democrats opened champagne bottles, Republicans began a lengthy process aimed at challenging the results. Former President Trump, like Abrams, never conceded the election and pressured a large slate of Republican officials to contest or overturn the elections in the state.
Governor Kemp was facing the firing squad, with Trump openly and constantly criticizing the governor and his secretary of state for refusing to side with him in his constant calls casting doubts on the official results of the 2020 election. With Trump even calling Kemp a “clown” and a “fool” for refusing to call a special session to continue his litigations against the Georgia official election results.
Kemp was in a difficult position, having been elected governor of a state where Trump was extremely popular with the Republican base with some arguing that Trump’s early endorsement of Kemp during the Republican primary was fundamental for his eventual victory in 2018. On the other hand, it was his administration that conducted the election in 2020 and the Governor had to clarify that the job of his team was effective and legitimate.
Although Kemp and Raffensperger eventually won their round against Trump’s electoral schemes, the governor was bruised and he needed to demonstrate his base that he was a true conservative and not a “Republican In Name Only” (RINO).
It is in this context we can understand the political stakes of the main supporters and opponents of the Georgia Electoral Bill. Abrams was riding high after the Democrat’s victory and Kemp was reeling from his fight with Trump.
The political winners of the Georgia Electoral Bill
For Kemp the political calculation was easy: support a bill that addresses the concern that Trump supporters have been talking about over the last few months, make it a national wedge issue, and earn back his support within the Republican base in the state, securing his right flank. Additionally, by ensuring that his Secretary of State (who had vehemently opposed Trump’s narrative of fraud) and by striking down some of the most controversial provisions of the bill he manages to stay in the good graces of more mainstream Republicans.
By implementing this bill, Kemp wanted to effectively leave his nasty fight with Trump in 2020 by showing the law as his pedigree on the electoral issue, while also asserting his independence from the former president by doing electoral reform on his own terms, not Trump’s.
Trump has tried to counter this argument by saying in a press release that Georgia’s bill is actually a “watered-down” version, saying that Georgia Democrats “really push Republicans” around and reiterating his claims of voter fraud in Georgia in 2020.
Although we still have to observe how do polls react to Kemp’s push for the Georgia Electoral Bill, for now the governor has definitely managed to convert the issue into a national one, uniting Republicans in general to support him, at least tacitly.
Abrams has become the most visible Georgia Democrat in the nation positioning herself as the prime spokesperson against the Georgia Electoral Bill in both the Peach State and the nation. Her poll numbers among Democrats have risen substantially, with a YouGov survey indicating that she enjoys 60.7% favorability among registered Democrats, while also increasing her name recognition by a large amount, and this data was before the bill passed.
Whether Abrams will try a rerun for the Governor’s mansion in 2022 or if she has other plans for her political future is anybody’s guess, what can be said for sure though is that she is in an excellent position to pursue whatever path she likes in Georgia Democratic politics.