“Shellacking,” the word President Barack Obama applied to his party’s losses Tuesday, doesn’t begin to describe the election for Georgia Democrats.
After all, it implies there’s still something left to beat.
You’ve heard about the Republicans’ clean sweep of statewide offices. You might not know that the highest vote total for any Democrat (Ken Hodges in the attorney general’s race) was the party’s lowest since 1998, when the state had 1.9 million fewer voters.
Think about that: It’s as if every new voter in Georgia over the past 12 years decided to vote Republican.
It gets worse. Of the General Assembly’s 79 contested races — and let’s stipulate that that number is way too small — Democrats won just 19. That’s one out of every four. In all races above the county level, from Congress to the state’s executive and legislative branches, Democrats unseated exactly one Republican (state Rep. Jill Chambers of DeKalb County).
Twenty years ago, Democrats in Georgia were so dominant that five of their statewide candidates — those for U.S. Senate (Sam Nunn), secretary of state (Max Cleland), attorney general (Mike Bowers), school superintendent (Werner Rogers) and labor commissioner (Joe Tanner) — ran unopposed in the general election.
Now that Democrats have emptied their bench in this election, only to get shut out, one can imagine some GOP incumbents running without Democratic opposition in 2014.
No Democratic congressman could come home and reasonably expect to win statewide, as Nathan Deal just did despite being one of the delegation’s lesser-known members beforehand. It’s hard to believe that candidates such as Thurbert Baker or Michael Thurmond, both of whom gave up long-safe positions this year and lost runs for higher offices, would fare any better in a comeback than Roy Barnes did.
Kasim Reed may be the party’s best bet for the governor’s race in the near future. But even he is most likely not a contender for eight more years; to run in 2014, Reed would either have to forgo a 2013 bid for a second term as Atlanta’s mayor, or face the unappealing prospect of beginning a gubernatorial campaign immediately after winning re-election.
The party will face a temptation to push promising younger prospects to run for higher office before they’re ready.
If you work for the Georgia GOP, all of this is a good thing. For the rest of us, not so much.
It’s true that on policy matters I agree with Republicans much more often than with Democrats. But prolonged dominance by any single party is bound to end badly.
Representative democracies are designed to foster competition between clearly different philosophies. We’re not going to have that in Georgia for the near future — though it will be interesting to see if the Libertarians can take advantage of the Democrats’ downswing.
But one party’s dominance can also be ideologically corrupting to that party itself. Competition brings discipline.
What will become of Georgia Republicans when they will feel little credible pressure from their left? When the GOP dominated Washington from 2000 to 2006, we saw a center-right party fall for the siren call of government power and largely abandon its core principles.
Georgians can’t afford for an unchallenged GOP to let a broad array of members — yes, I mean RINOs — dilute and twist what conservatism means.
Whether you care about the state or mostly just the party, be vigilant.