The Republican tidal wave that swept across the nation on Election Day hit Georgia with a vengeance usually reserved for obscure Biblical characters. When the results from the last of the major races had been tallied shortly before midnight, the state was suddenly facing a near future without a single statewide elected Democrat — a situation unique since Reconstruction.
By the time Nathan Deal, surrounded by Sen. Johnny Isakson and several former Congressional colleagues, took the stage in Elephant Central — aka the ballroom in Buckhead’s Grand Hyatt — to reveal that ex-Gov. Roy Barnes had just called to concede the gubernatorial race, it was clear that Georgia would be seeing red for some time to come.
"Georgia has put its faith in the Republican Party and we’re not going to let them down,” the ethically challenged governor-elect announced to raucous applause.
The electoral rout had become apparent about the time when U.S. Rep Jim Marshall of Macon, arguably the most conservative Democrat in Congress and a four-term incumbent utterly untouched by scandal or screw-ups, officially lost his 8th District seat — unceremoniously bounced from office simply because of the “D” behind his name. Marshall's opponent, a former state lawmaker named Austin Scott, dropped his gubernatorial bid near the end of the qualifying period to run for the congressional seat instead.
The GOP sweep was so complete that even John Barge, an unknown Bartow school-system bureaucrat, easily won the job of state school superintendent over Joe Martin, a Democrat armed with name recognition, decades of educational policy experience and the backing of the state’s largest teacher group.
And the hits kept coming.
Ralph Hudgens, a far-right state senator from Hull who opposes insurance mandates requiring coverage of mammograms, easily bested former state Sen. Mary Squires in the race for insurance commissioner. Sam Olens, the former Cobb County chairman, who promises to continue Georgia’s role in a multi-state lawsuit against the federal health-care overhaul, defeated Ken Hodges, an experienced former prosecutor from southwest Georgia who had the backing of nearly every district attorney in the state. And say hello to Agriculture Commissioner-elect Gary Black, who once lobbied for an agribusiness organization backed in part by multinational behemoth Monsanto, a leader in developing genetically modified organisms.
One race that needed no help from the national anti-Democrat sentiment was the U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson and outgoing Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Once considered a possible contender for the governor’s office, the Democrat’s strategy to unseat the extremely popular Cobb County Republican apparently involved not mounting a visible campaign. Isakson trounced Thurmond by nearly half a million votes.
Secretary of State, Labor Commissioner, Public Service Commissioner — each seat will be held by a Republican come January. To make matters even more quizzical, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who by all accounts has served an unremarkable four years and has been the subject of the same kind of rumors and innuendo that helped oust much of the state House leadership, handily defeated Democrat Carol Porter. Between Deal and Cagle, both from Gainesville, and House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge, the nexus of political power in Georgia has made a clear shift to the northern end of the state.
In the end, not a single statewide race was even close. Barnes, widely considered the minority party’s best hope of victory — or at least a runoff — sounded as if he was ready to concede the governor’s race earlier in the evening when talking to reporters.
“It’s unprecedented to have six to seven million dollars in outside money (spent in the race),” he said, referring to the $6.5 million in anti-Barnes TV ads paid for by the Republican Governors Association.
“It was a tough year to be a Democrat,” he added.
How tough was it? The fact that Deal was tarred by ethical scandals and dogged by personal financial woes, yet still managed to win without a runoff, speaks to the unstoppable nature of the GOP mid-term juggernaut.
(Not to say that our governor-elect couldn’t still end up being indicted for one of his various alleged infractions — from using his Congressional clout to protect his personal business interests to funneling more than $245,000 in taxpayer money to the wife of his Congressional aide to spending a large chunk of his campaign funds with a business he partly owns.)
Still, a cock-eyed optimist could argue that the evening wasn’t a total loss for Democrats. Nine-term Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany, managed to hang on to his seat by his fingernails, despite his own ethics scandal for steering scholarship money to family members.
Closer to home, Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and Commissioner Robb Pitts, Democrats both, easily fended off GOP challengers from North Fulton who’d promised to reform the county government.
The sole Republican incumbent lawmaker to lose re-election in Georgia was state Rep. Jill Chambers of DeKalb — whose defeat was facilitated by a court order that froze her bank accounts, preventing her from accessing nearly $60,000 in campaign funds in the final weeks of the race.
When it came to non-partisan ballot questions, Georgians were less predictable. A full two-thirds of voters had approved a widely criticized constitutional amendment to allow tougher non-compete contracts for employees. Yet they rejected a proposed $10 car tag fee to fund trauma care centers, despite a $1 million ad campaign funded by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. Greenies, however, should click their heels after voters approved a measure that would allow governments to make energy-efficiency improvements to state buildings and facilities.
Shortly after 11:40 p.m. Tuesday, when Barnes, his wife Marie by his side, told a disappointed crowd he’d conceded the race to Deal, the biblical magnitude of the red tidal wave was sealed.
“I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul,” Barnes said, delivering the final sentences of a two-minute speech. “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. And so have you. Thank you.”
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