Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Part 1: The future of the Democratic Party in Georgia

This is the first of a two party series on the future of the Democratic Party of Georgia:
It isn't easy being a Democrat in Georgia these days.
Like many states across the South, Georgia has become a Republican stronghold over the last decade.
But it’s hard to overstate just how strongly that partisan trend has prevailed in the Peach State, or the difficulty Democrats face in turning it around.
In the Georgia State Legislature, for example, Republicans hold overwhelming majorities, comprising 34 of the state’s 56 Senate seats and 117 of the 180 House seats.
Democrats have not held a majority of seats in the state House since 2004 and the state Senate since 2002.
At the national level, things are no different. Georgia has not had a Democratic U.S. senator since 2004, following Max Cleland’s loss to Republican Saxby Chambliss in 2002 & Johnny Isakson's win in 2004.
Here, there’s no doubt who will win the state’s electoral votes  in November Georgia gave John McCain 52% to Barack Obama 47%. Expect Mitt Romney to get a higher percentage than McCain in November.


So how did the Republican Party gain such a large majority, and what, if anything, can Democrats do to chip away at it?
The first question is one of population changes that occurred during the 1990s and the Republican Party’s masterful ability to capitalize on them.
Then look at the National Democratic Party. Since the New Deal era of Franklin Roosevelt and the civil rights battles of the 1960s, the national Democratic Party has earned an image of promoting “big government.” The belief is that the government, for all its faults, can still do some things better than the individual, whether it’s building and maintaining highways, regulating the harmful impacts of industry, or using the tax system to provide assistance to the working poor or disabled.
The national image of the two parties is that the Democratic Party is for centralized control and the Republican Party is for decentralized control. You see that reflected in any number of policies & gun control, any type of policy where the image generally is one of the national government imposing restrictions on the state.
Despite the state's republican trend, a  democratic gubernatorial candidate can still do well in this state. Voters across the state , I believe tend to be more likely to pay attention to who is running for governor than for their local legislative district. As a result, they’d more likely to consider their vote, rather than just pull the lever for whoever belongs to the dominant political party.
Secondly, if democratic candidates running for governor tend to focus less on national partisan issues and more on issues related directly to Georgia, he/she would do very well here. For that reason, voters may be more willing to vote for a Democrat they feel understands Georgia issues in spite of, rather than because of, his/her party affiliation.
Gubernatorial democratic candidates in 2014 can do well by appealing to the independents in the electorate. It’s much easier in a U.S. Senate or House race to characterize your Democratic opponent as symbolizing the national party. You can’t do that to the same extent when you have a gubernatorial candidate that, at the time they were elected, had no real connections to the national party.
The downside to that is that down-ballot Democrats need better infrastructure for getting their names out into the public sphere if they want to enjoy similar electoral success And the biggest roadblock to that is fundraising.
Given the spread-out nature of Georgia, fundraising can’t be ignored. Even if candidates don’t necessarily spend a lot on television ads, they still need to cover the costs of crisscrossing this huge state







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