Former President Trump’s indictment in a Fulton County probe this week is putting the spotlight once again on Georgia, a crucial swing state Trump lost in 2020 that could pose a hurdle for the party again in 2024.
Trump’s 2020 loss in Georgia ended the 24-year red streak in the state, whose majority of voters had selected Republican presidential candidates since 1996. The 2020 election cycle also cost the party two winnable Senate seats, and Republicans later failed to regain one of those seats in last year’s midterms.
Now, some in the GOP are worried the trend will extend to next year, when the Peach State could prove pivotal to deciding who will control the White House.
“I think Donald Trump has single-handedly made Georgia a competitive state and needlessly so,” said former state GOP chairman John Watson, an ally to Gov. Brian Kemp (R).
“The real Georgia, where I believe the Georgia electorate is is consistent with the leadership of Brian Kemp and the Republican majority in the General Assembly that is unabashedly conservative, however, is forward-looking, pragmatic and decent people,” Watson said.
“You only have to ask Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and Herschel Walker as to what the influence of Donald Trump is on Georgia Republicans,” he added, referencing all three Republican senatorial candidates who lost their elections.
Trump received his fourth indictment late Monday following a probe spearheaded by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis over the former president and his allies’ efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.
Although the indictment in Georgia nor the three others he’s accumulated have shown signs of toppling Trump — he maintains his lead over the rest of the 2024 GOP primary field — key voting blocs in the state are split over the charges.
A SurveyUSA poll commissioned for 11Alive News released this week found that in Georgia, 58 percent of suburban voters, 36 percent of white voters and 16 percent of voters who cast ballots for Trump in 2020 called the charges fair.
Meanwhile, 66 percent of 2020 Trump voters, 48 percent of white voters and 27 percent of suburban voters said the charges were unfair.
Though the polling data is not necessarily indicative of how Georgian voters will vote in the primary and general election, the SurveyUSA poll found 51 percent of respondents said Trump should end his campaign, compared to 42 percent who said he should continue.
That poll also underscored what the 2020 and 2022 Georgia election results have already made clear: Trump is underperforming top Republican officials in the state, like Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
The SurveyUSA poll found Kemp — who handily won against Trump-backed challenger Perdue in the GOP gubernatorial primary last cycle — has a 58 percent approval in the state. Trump had a 51 percent approval rating, while Biden had a 41 percent approval rating.
“I think there’s no question that Trump is the weakest option right now on the Republican side,” said Republican strategist Stephen Lawson.
Lawson said it’s “certainly a possibility” that Georgia could see split-ticket voting should Trump be the GOP presidential nominee.
“It’s also a possibility that people just skip the race entirely on the ballot, but I think again, if that scenario plays out in a state as close as Georgia, it’s just too early to tell,” he added.
The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
The indictment inevitably pushed divisions among Republicans in Georgia to the forefront again. In response to a post from Trump’s Truth Social, in which the former president baselessly claimed election fraud in Georgia during the 2020 election, Kemp wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, “The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen.”
“For nearly three years now, anyone with evidence of fraud has failed to come forward — under oath — and prove anything in a court of law. Our elections in Georgia are secure, accessible, and fair and will continue to be as long as I am governor,” he continued. “The future of our country is at stake in 2024 and that must be our focus.”
Raffensperger in a statement also argued Georgians have “moved on” from the 2020 election.
“The voters of Georgia have already decided this issue in 2022, and they completely rejected all election deniers,” Raffensperger said. “They have moved on and so have we.”
Alan Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley professor emeritus of political science at Emory University, explained he believed among the “rank and file” Republicans, Trump is “still quite popular,” while also suggesting “in a general election, I think you’re looking at another probably very highly competitive race.”
Indeed, Trump’s performance in 2020 underscores a more challenging path ahead for Republicans to win Georgia in their bid to flip the White House. The former president largely underperformed in 2020, compared to his 2016 margins.
Trump fared poorly even in some GOP stronghold counties in 2020, winning Forsyth County by 14 fewer points, 12 points fewer in Paulding County and 10 fewer points in Cherokee County, among others.
Political experts note Biden’s win in 2020 and Trump’s loss came against the backdrop of several dynamics, including, for example, suburbs near Atlanta that have steadily diversified.
“There’s also an element of it with Republicans in those suburban counties,” added Scott Buchanan, department chairman and political science professor at Georgia College & State University.
“You can look at in 2020, the down-ticket ballots in some of those suburban counties — Republicans were winning easily in the down-ticket ballots,” Buchana explained, noting the margins between Trump and Biden in the White House race was a different story and sometimes much closer.
Miles Coleman, associate editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, explained Trump also struggled with younger voters, likely close to Atlanta, in addition to voters with higher incomes. Despite critical voting blocs drifting away from Trump, Coleman said it would be a mistake for Democrats to assume a win in Georgia.
“The state has definitely trended their way for sure, there’s no question about that,” Coleman said. “But the Democrats can’t get complacent in Georgia … yes, they won those runoffs in 2021. Warnock was reelected, but, you know, those weren’t landslides. Those were 50, 51 percent wins.”
And Republicans are warning Democrats against celebrating the latest indictments, including in Fulton County, where some say they could end up hurting the Democratic Party.
“I think on the one hand, it’s going to cement feelings that suburban voters already have about the former president,” said Lawson, the Republican strategist. “But at the same time, the more drawn out this drama gets and the more attention that it grabs, I think it has the potential to actually backfire for Democrats because I think people may start to see just how much of a political circus it all is.”
Source : The Hill