It’s pretty safe to say the progressive blogosphere is saturated with endless commentary and cheerleading about the August 8 Connecticut Primary involving Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. But a very interesting runoff election will occur that same day in my old stomping grounds, the 4th Congressional District of Georgia. The inimitable Rep. Cynthia McKinney will face little-known Dekalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson, who stunned observers by denying McKinney a majority in the July 18 primary (she won 47 percent to Johnson’s 44 percent, with a third, anti-McKinney candidate taking the balance of votes). And from what I’m hearing, it ain’t looking good for the fiery lefty veteran.The rumor down in Dekalb is that Johnson is raising enormous sums of money for the runoff, some of it, no doubt, from Jewish Democrats who have always resented McKinney’s outspoken pro-Palestinian views. (The night before McKinney lost her seat in 2002 to primary challenger Denise Majette, her father, then-state Rep. Billy McKinney, told a television audience that Cynthia’s only problem was spelled “J-E-W-S.” In a nice touch of irony, McKinney pere lost his own legislative seat the next day, in a huge upset, to a Jewish primary opponent.) McKinney has never been much of a fundraiser, and the voting patterns in the primary led a lot of observers to conclude that her once-legendary GOTV prowess is not what it used to be.Aside from money, McKinney has two big political problems. The first is that Georgia has no party registration, and her notoriety may tempt some of the district’s small but significant Republican electorate to cross over; so long as they did not vote in the Republican primary on July 18, which had a very low turnout, they are free to do so. Indeed, McKinney blamed her 2002 loss to crossover voters, though the size of her defeat indicated she lost a majority of Democrats as well.But her bigger problem is her weakness among the district’s large and growing African-American middle- and upper-middle-class population. They represent the political fulcrum of Dekalb County, and are much more likely to turn out for a runoff than the poorer black voters who have always served as McKinney’s base.Given her situation and her personality, I’d expect some real fireworks from McKinney between now and August 8. She has always been fast to play the race card (viz. her immediate suggestion that her recent dustup with a Capitol Hill cop was motivated by racism and sexism), and the fact that her opponent is a fellow African-American won’t deter her. Indeed, she won her first primary back in 1992 in no small part by charging that her two African-American opponents were puppets of the state’s white political establishment.And there’s no question she will allege a conspiracy to purge her from Congress. McKinney loves conspiracy theories the way a drunk loves a belt of Ten High before breakfast. Her suggestion that perhaps the White House had advance warning about 9/11 and deliberately let it happen helped paint a political bullseye on her back in 2002. And on this latest primary night, even as Cynthia was line dancing with her new friend Cindy Sheehan in front of the cameras, her staff and supporters were muttering darkly about a Diebold Conspiracy orchestrated by Secretary of State Cathy Cox to shift votes from McKinney to Johnson. (You’d think if Cox had the capacity to manipulate votes this way, she might have stolen enough votes from Mark Taylor to keep the Big Guy from narrowly winning a majority against her in the gubernatorial primary, eh?).But my guess is that McKinney has finally run out of luck. She got back into Congress in 2004 thanks to an extraordinary stroke of luck: Denise Majette’s abrupt decision, shocking her own staff and certainly dismaying supporters who knew McKinney was mulling a comeback, to abandon her seat and launch a doomed Senate campaign. (In a side note, Majette has launched her own comeback effort, winning the Democratic nomination for state school superintendant).The word back home in 2004 was that McKinney had learned her lesson, and though her views were as lefty-lefty as ever, she kept a much lower profile on the campaign trail, and in Washington–until the little incident at the metal detectors in the Cannon Building. For the record, I think the whole brouhaha was ridiculous, especially the serious consideration apparently given to indicting McKinney for biffing the Capitol Hill officer with her cell phone. But it served as a reminder to many of her constituents that she remains a bit of a loose cannon in Cannon, and gave Hank Johnson the opening he needed to take advantage of the large if latent anti-McKinney vote.In any event, even as every hep blogger in Christendom obsessively follows the vote count in Connecticut on August 8, Georgia will be very much on my mind. No matter what happens, I’ll relish the returns from my old neighborhood in Stone Mountain like a Varsity chili dog. Maybe McKinney will find a way to save her career one more time, but I personally doubt she and Cindy Sheehan will have much to dance about that night.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Amidst all the Republican attacks on voting by mail, something else was going on, which I wrote about at New York:
Republican state legislatures across the country recently launched efforts to restricting voting by mail in myriad ways. It’s generally understood that they are reacting to Donald Trump’s bizarre but incessant claims that massive fraud associated with expanded mail ballots in 2020 robbed him of a “landslide” victory. That’s not, however, the only voter-suppression measures the GOP is pursuing in states where they control both the executive and legislative branches of government. They are also returning to their pre-2020 agenda of restricting in-person voting in ways that disproportionately affect Democratic-leaning constituencies.
That’s most evident in Georgia, where GOP legislators are considering crackdowns on early in-person voting, restricting weekend voting opportunities, banning mobile polling places, and invalidating provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. But it’s popped up also in Iowa, where Republicans have sent their GOP governor a bill cutting back on early voting and even closing the polls earlier on Election Day (Democrats traditionally vote later in the day than Republicans).In both states, of course, these attacks on in-person voting are being combined with restrictions on voting by mail; one of the bills in Georgia would eliminate no-excuse absentee ballots — in effect since Republicans introduced it in 2005 — altogether. But there’s clearly a bait and switch going on, in which general-purpose attacks on the franchise, and particularly voting practices thought to benefit Democrats, are being hustled through even though they have nothing to do with the widespread Trumpian claims that liberalized voting by mail is a threat to election integrity.
This reality creates a bit of a strategic problem for Democrats. Should they expend their energy defending expanded (or even universal) voting-by-mail opportunities to the last ditch just because Trump chose to demonize the practice in one election cycle? In the past, after all, voting by mail was actually thought to favor Republicans in many states. Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz has just published an analysis concluding that expanded voting by mail didn’t have much to do with Joe Biden’s victory, even in the pandemic-distorted atmosphere of 2020.
Certainly in many parts of the country — including Georgia — early in-person voting has been the favorite balloting method for Democratic-leaning minority voters. It was no accident that an early version of one of the Georgia bills banned in-person voting on Sundays altogether, which was a direct attack on “Souls to the Polls” — post-worship-service voter-mobilization drives undertaken by many Black churches (the provision was struck, as it sounds both racist and anti-religious, though it was replaced with restrictions on how many weekend days were available for early in-person voting).
We’ll never know why Trump spent so much time attacking voting by mail in 2020, absent any clear evidence it would benefit his opponent. My own guess is that all along he contemplated the “red mirage” strategy of claiming victory based on early returns and either stopping or delegitimizing mail ballots counted later — a strategy that depended on convincing his own supporters to vote in person, which they obediently did, relatively speaking. That he failed to competently pull it off is no evidence that this was not the plan. But in any event, absent an extended or future pandemic, unrestricted or positively encouraged voting by mail may not be as fundamentally essential to voting rights as it appeared to be when Trump and his allies were assailing it every day. At a minimum, voting-rights advocates should be vigilant about a return to systemic voter suppression aimed at other — or all — methods of balloting.