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The GOP’s Giant Kelly Loeffler Problem

In the days following the November 3rd election, Republicans and Democrats alike watched with bated breath as Atlanta’s counties tallied their votes. A question clung to their minds as tenaciously as beggar lice stuck on a spaniel during dove season. Did Republican senate candidates significantly outperform Donald Trump in Gwinnett County?

Spoiler alert, they didn’t. GOP candidates in the Senate Special received a combined 40.22% of the vote in Gwinnett County. They “outperformed” Trump by a pathetic 0.01%.

This question goes back to Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to appoint Kelly Loeffler, a Republican donor with zero political experience, over a politician with actual experience in winning elections. Officially, Georgia Republicans reasoned that a well-spoken and highly educated businesswoman would appeal to moderate suburban voters. In other words, they hoped Loeffler would staunch the bleeding in Atlanta’s suburbs, particularly Gwinnett and Cobb counties — both former Republican strongholds.

To the GOP, she undoubtedly looked good on paper. She was a wealthy conservative woman who was willing to use her wealth to support both her own campaign and the GOP in general. Indeed, in the months leading up to the general election, she and her husband Jeffrey Sprecher sunk $31 million into GOP races. $1 million went to America First Action, a pro-Trump PAC. The Republican National Committee received a combined $507,000 with a further $717,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. This was in addition to the $100,000 she donated to the Republican National Committee on November 4, 2019, a scant two weeks before she applied for Georgia’s open senate seat.

Now, to quote my granny, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Let’s call that $100,000 what it appears to be — a down payment. Yes, it looks like the GOP sold one of Georgia’s US Senate seats to a rich donor.

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Admittedly, Georgia’s 2020 senate races were a financial nightmare for both parties. We had two expensive senate races on the ballot. Having twenty candidates in the Senate Special race practically guaranteed a runoff. Imagine if the NCAA Division 1 National (Football) Championship went into two months of overtime, and then they played the entire championship game again. This is the political equivalent. Given this, selecting a candidate who could self-fund made financial sense for both parties.

In practical terms, Loeffler’s deep pockets let the GOP’s fundraising arm focus on other high-stakes senate races like Martha McSally’s in Arizona. Being female — and theoretically able to reconnect with suburban women because she’s female — was considered a bonus.

In the general election, she secured 25.91% of the vote, pulling ahead of Doug Collins and securing her place in the runoff.

Now, news outlets ranging from FiveThirtyEight — an ABC affiliate focusing on data analysis — to the New York Times have all published analyses of Georgia’s senate runoffs. (We now have two.) In general, they all tell the same story. In Georgia, Republicans have more regular voters than Democrats. Therefore, Republicans typically win Georgia runoffs. While they stop short of saying Mitch McConnell’s Senate majority is in the bag, they heavily imply it.

They are ignoring the elephants in the room.

When Georgia became the fourth state to ratify the Constitution on January 2, 1788, its borders stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Alabama and Mississippi were once part of Georgia.

Although we shrunk in 1798, we still retain some of that big state mentality. Nowadays, we rank 24th in terms of land area, but we have more counties than every other state except Texas — 159, to be exact. When you’re watching Georgia’s senate runoff votes roll in come January, please keep the following in mind.

Here in Georgia, we have cities, small towns, and the sticks. (Full disclosure, I’m originally from Macon County. That’s the sticks, not the city of Macon.) Taliaferro County — population 1,717 souls — will finish counting long before Fulton County — population 1,063,937. Even in this modern era of scanners and voting machines, the sticks always finish counting first.

Where the GOP’s Base Lives

The big green blob in the northern half of the state is the Atlanta metro area. That’s the following counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, De Kalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, and Rockdale. Together, these ten counties accounted for 45.48% of Georgia’s total vote. Republicans only carried two of them, winning 68.95% in Cherokee and 53.17% in Fayette.Fulton County is Atlanta proper. The remaining counties are the Atlanta suburbs. The GOP’s mythical moderate white woman with a college degree who may vote for a white businesswoman who lives in Gwinnett County, probably Lawrenceville. Any inclination these mythical women had to vote for Loeffler likely died with Attila the Hun. (Click if you must, but be prepared for psychological scarring.)

Long story short, the Atlanta metro area went so heavily Democratic that it only accounted for 31.5% of the GOP’s total votes state-wide. In comparison, Atlanta voters cast 58.5% of the total Democratic vote here in Georgia.

Forget about the official reasons for selecting Loeffler for a minute and think about where the GOP’s Georgia base lives. They obviously do not live in Atlanta. So where are they?

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