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June 10, 2014 4:44 PM Bannock Street Meets Peachtree Street

By Ed Kilgore

There’s been a lot written this year about the Georgia Senate race, and about the DSCC’s “Bannock Street Project” aimed at mitigating the “midterm falloff” problem among the young and minority voters Democrat need to win in highly competitive races. The Guardian’s Paul Lewis offers a helpful look at how these two stories coincide on the ground in the Peach State, where Michelle Nunn’s odds in November depend heavily on the turnout patterns the DSCC is trying to change.

I enjoyed and learned from Lewis’ piece, but as a native Georgian I have some quibbles, two of them small and one more fundamental. First, in discussing the tide against which Nunn is swimming, he suggest that racial voting patterns have “since the early 1990s, enabled Republicans to dominate elections in the predominantly white state.” Actually, Democrats controlled both Senate seats, the governorship and the legislature as recently as 2002. The point is that voting Democratic is not as distant a memory for many white Georgians as for their counterparts in other Deep South states. Second, in citing the impressive growth of the minority population in Georgia, Lewis should have probably noted that an important share of that growth has been among immigrants—not just from Latin America, but from Asia and Africa—who have yet to secure citizenship (I strongly suspect a sizable majority in Georgia are documented immigrants who simply have to complete the naturalization process). So the demographic salvation of Georgia Democrats may not be quite as imminent as some hope.

My major quibble is that a principal theme of Lewis’ piece is what he regards as a insoluble contradiction between the non-partisan “centrist” themes Nunn is striking in order to win white swing voters, and the vibrant identification with the president and national Democrats he thinks she needs to “energize” base voters. The negative inference is that Obama’s presence on the ballot was the main reason for high minority turnout in 2012, and without him or someone identifying closely with him there’s no reason for minority voters to turn out this year.

Certainly Obama boosted minority turnout here and everywhere in 2012 (and before that 2008), but youth and minority voting is always high in presidential election years. The problem Nunn faces is less that she isn’t cut out to “excite the base” than that a sizable percentage of her target voters either aren’t registered or don’t ever, ever vote in non-presidential contests. Just ask Mike Thurmond, a highly accomplished African-American pol who got waxed in the 2010 Senate contest in Georgia.

So it’s not all that clear that Nunn would have that much easier a task in turning out the “base” votes she needs if she were a loud-and-proud progressive. And it also means that the Bannock Street Project’s methods, which rely more on mechanics than “enthusiasm,” are her best hope for victory. I’d add that Nunn will get some benefit from the fact that Georgia Democrats, recently left for dead by many commentators, are running two strong and well-funded statewide candidacies (hers and Jason Carter’s). Many Georgia Democrats I know are simply thrilled to have some tangible grounds for electoral optimism.

Lewis does make an important point that the emergence of congressional veteran Jack Kingston as Nunn’s more likely Republican opponent plays right into her “nonprofit problem solver” persona and message. Kingston’s also been running the kind of raw and occasionally racialized ideological campaign that should get some moderates off the fence while resolving progressive doubts about Nunn. But it’s a long, long way to November.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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