I’ll try to move on to other topics directly, but wanted to do one more post about politics in my home state of Georgia. There was good news and bad news today for embattled incumbent Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who was surprisingly forced into an August 8 runoff by Dekalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson. The good news was her endorsement by Andrew Young, who remains a Georgia icon, and who cited a national police union contribution to Johnson (presumably motivated by her recent run-in with a Capitol Hill cop) as angering him into supporting McKinney. The bad news was a post-primary poll from Insider Advantage showing Johnson leading McKinney among likely runoff voters by a 46-21 margin.Figuring out who’s actually going to vote in this kind of runoff is obviously very tricky, so the IA poll should be taken with several grains of salt. But you have to wonder how much room for growth in support the highly polarizing incumbent really has. Aside from her national notoriety, she’s been in Congress for twelve of the last fourteen years, most of it representing pretty much the same district.On another front, I received an email from a Georgia observer who suggested the rumor I repeated earlier this week–about Johnson raising a ton of dough, especially from Jewish Democrats–is actually disinformation being circulated by the McKinney camp in an effort to fire up her base and to depict Johnson as a puppet of shadowy outside forces (not a new tactic for her, based on past races). I have no idea who’s right about this; we’ll have to see whether Johnson suddenly starts appearing on Atlanta metro television screens.The 4th congressional district runoff could have a big effect as well on two statewide Democratic runoffs, since turnout every where else is likely to be infinitesimal. In the contest to succeed Secretary of State Cathy Cox (who lost her gubernatorial race to Mark Taylor), the likelihood of a relatively high turnout in the majority-black 4th is giving new hope to second-place finisher Darryl Hicks, who is African-American, against Gail Buckner, who is white.In the other statewide runoff, for Lt. Gov., former state Rep. Jim Martin (who edged former state sen. Greg Hecht 42-38 in the primary) is running radio ads touting his endorsement by Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who is very popular among Democrats of all races. You have to feel a bit sorry for Martin and Hecht; they were able to draw a lot of attention and money on the theory that they would be facing Ralph Reed in a race that would have overshadowed everything else in Georgia politics. Running against Casey Cagle is a whole ‘nother thing, though Cagle’s own right-wing record, and perhaps residual anger over the harsh ads he ran against Reed, could provide some traction for a Democrat. More immediately, you wonder if either Martin or Hecht held some money back for the runoff. If not, Georgians may soon see them selling boiled peanuts on the side of the road to raise enough moolah for that last-minute runoff push.In non-runoff Georgia political news, DKos reports that a new poll for Republican candidate (and former Rep.) Max Burns shows him trailing Democratic incumbent John Barrow by one percentage point (44-43) in the always-tight 12th congressional district which runs from Augusta to Savannah. The district was originally drawn to favor Democrats, but Burns was able to beat ethically challenged Champ Walker in 2002; he then lost to Barrow 52-48 in 2004. The notorious Georgia re-redistricting of 2005 didn’t reduce the Democratic advantage in the 12th, but it did remove Barrow’s home town of Athens, which means he’s having to solidify name ID elsewhere.Barrow’s race is of national import because he is one of just a handful of incumbent Democratic House members considered vulnerable this November. Another is also from Georgia: 3d district Rep. Jim Marshall. After easily dispatching a heavily financed Republican in 2004, Marshall had to deal with a new map that significantly boosted the Republican vote. He also drew a serious challenger in former Rep. Mac Collins, who lost a Senate primary in 2004. But Marshall has had good leads in all the public polling, and like Barrow, is narrowly favored going into the general election.All in all, the politics in my home state will be as hot and sticky as the weather over the next couple of months.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.