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What color on the political map is your state?

POSTED: August 4, 2014 5:28 p.m.
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Tom Crawford

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The conventional wisdom about Georgia politics has been that the state’s changing demographics will eventually bring about a change in its political orientation.

The state’s population is becoming less white as the percentages of black, Latino and Asian residents increase. In theory, the growing diversity means Georgia could become less Republican in its voting patterns and might evolve from a red state to a purple state or even a blue Democratic state.

These demographic trends are a major reason why Democrats are enthusiastic about the candidacies of Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter in this year’s races for governor and the U.S. Senate.

Nunn and Carter have an outside shot at winning this year, Democrats believe, but even if they lose, the state could still be winnable for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race or more hospitable to a Democrat running statewide in 2018.

It’s a theory popular with many political pundits, but is it really that likely to happen? Sean Trende is one analyst who disagrees with that thinking. He projects that Georgia probably won’t change its Republican preference for quite some time.

Trende recently analyzed population data in Georgia, Arizona, and Texas, trying to project when those red states might become more purple. Given the current growth trends, Trende calculated that none of them will flip to the Democratic column anytime soon, even with their growing Latino populations. He predicted that Georgia probably won’t turn Democratic until 2028 or 2048, dates that are far off in the political future.

“The idea that these three states are on the cusp of competitiveness has been around for over a decade now, yet the states have remained essentially unchanged,” Trende said.

“That’s not to say that this decade won’t be the one where we finally see Democrats break through in one or more of these states,” he said. “It’s simply to say that these projections have been around for quite some time, and for whatever reason, have yet to bear fruit.”

He could be correct in that projection. Georgia’s percentage of white voters has certainly declined from 72 percent to less than 60 percent over the past 12 years. During that same period, however, the state’s political power has become more tightly-controlled by conservative white Republicans.

In 2002, Democrats still held a majority of the seats in both houses of the General Assembly. Over the intervening years, as the state’s population became more diverse, the GOP took control of the Legislature and now holds two-thirds of the seats in both chambers.

Georgia’s Republican voters have also weeded out much of the diversity among their own party’s candidates for top offices.

There was a time when Republican voters nominated women (Linda Schrenko, Kathy Cox and Karen Handel) for statewide offices such as school superintendent and secretary of state. That hasn’t happened recently. In 2010 and 2014, every Republican nominated for a statewide constitutional office was a middle-aged white male.

In this year’s Republican primary for state school superintendent, the candidates included two blacks (Ashley Bell and Fitz Johnson) and four women (Kira Willis, Mary Kay Bacallao, Nancy Jester and Sharyl Dawes). The two candidates who advanced to the GOP runoff, however, were white males: Richard Woods and Mike Buck.

Karen Handel ran for the GOP nomination to the U.S. Senate but didn’t make it to the runoff. In the U.S. House races, the Republican contenders included strong female candidates such as Tricia Pridemore and Donna Sheldon, but they also lost out in their primaries to white males.

At the legislative level, the only black Republican serving in the General Assembly, Rep. Willie Talton of Warner Robins, was ousted by GOP primary voters who chose a white candidate in that district instead.

It would seem to be counter-intuitive, but it is still the reality of state politics. As the percentage of Georgia’s white voters shrinks, those voters are more determined than ever to turn out on election day and elect conservative white candidates.

Political partisans can argue until the cows come home about whether Georgia will turn out to be a red state, a purple state, or a blue state. Given the current voting patterns, it looks like it will continue to be a white state for the time being.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

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