GovernorSonny Perdue (R)
SenatorsSaxby Chambliss (R)
Johnny Isakson (R)
- 6 D, 7 R
- 1 through 13
The metropolitan area of Atlanta spreads out over the red clay hills of 28 of Georgia’s 159 counties, and has been one of America’s great boom areas over the last dozen or so years. It has also been the site of the great political transformations of the first decade of the 21st century. From 2000 to 2008, Georgia’s population grew by 18%, the fourth-highest growth rate among the states, after Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, ahead of Florida and Texas, and far ahead of California. Georgia was the 10th-largest state in the 2000 census, the first time it had been in the top 10 since the census of 1850. If its growth rate continues at 2007-08 rates, it will pass Michigan and become 8th-largest state in the 2010 census. Atlanta grew by 23% from 2000 to 2007, from 4.3 million to 5.3 million people, a larger actual population growth than any other region of the country. Atlanta and Georgia have been in many ways, for many years, the center of the South, at least since Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman marched here in 1864. This is where John Stith Pemberton invented Coca-Cola, where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind, where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up, and where most of the civil-rights organizations that changed America were headquartered. But in population and reputation, Georgia for decades was outdazzled nationally by other parts of the South—by Texas with its oil wells and high-tech industries, by Florida with Miami Beach and Disney World, even by North Carolina with its Research Triangle and college basketball champions.
Neither Atlanta’s rise to world eminence nor its role as the “capital” of the South was inevitable. Georgia was the last of the seaboard colonies, founded by James Oglethorpe in 1733 as an “asylum of the unfortunate,” reserved for debtors and other outcasts from England. Oglethorpe forbade slavery, but the settlers rebelled and repealed his ban in 1750. Atlanta was only a small, though strategic, railroad crossroads when it was burned by Sherman’s Union troops on their “march to the sea.” Richmond, Charleston, and New Orleans all had stronger claims to being the central focus of the South a century ago. But in the 20th century, two figures imprinted Atlanta on the national imagination. One was Mitchell, whose 1936 novel inspired the 1939 movie of the same name. The other was King, who was based in Atlanta for most of his career and who ultimately led the civil-rights revolution that changed the South and the nation. Linking the two was Atlanta’s business community, notably Robert Woodruff, who headed Coca-Cola from 1932 to 1960 and made Coke a worldwide enterprise. Perhaps aware that a world company could not indefinitely be associated with racial segregation, Woodruff and William Hartsfield, the city’s mayor from 1937 to 1961, cooperated with blacks and promoted Atlanta as “the city too busy to hate.” Hartsfield’s successor, Ivan Allen, elected in 1961 and 1965, supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as Peachtree Center and the first atriumed Hyatt Regency were going up in downtown Atlanta. It’s fitting that Atlanta’s airport, one of the greatest in the world, is named for Hartsfield and Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African-American mayor.
This new Atlanta was growing up amid a mostly rural, deeply segregationist Georgia that as late as 1960 cast the second-highest Democratic percentage of any state for president. Hatred of Sherman was still strong 96 years later. Political contests typically matched Atlanta-supported moderates against rural-supported segregationists, and the latter invariably won. Georgia’s electoral votes were cast for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George Wallace in 1968. Then came change in the person of Jimmy Carter, a one-term state senator who was elected governor in 1970 with a rural base as well as conspicuous black support. On taking office, he proclaimed a reconciliation of the races and installed a portrait of King in the state capitol. Carter thus became one of the first politicians from the rural South to celebrate and honor the civil-rights movement, and in the process set himself on the road to being elected president in 1976.
Since then, Georgia and Atlanta have seen an in-migration of African-Americans. The state’s population was 30% black in 2008, more than any other states except Mississippi and Louisiana. The presence of nine historically black colleges, and of large numbers of prominent black public officials and businessmen, and the growth of middle- and upper-income predominantly black suburban neighborhoods in DeKalb and Cobb and smaller counties to the southeast and west—all have made metro Atlanta in some sense the capital of black America. Arguably, Georgia has developed what Charles Moskos and John Sibley Butler described in their book on race in the Army, All We Can Be, an Anglo-African culture, a merger of traditions that were long associated intimately in private life but rigidly and even violently separated in public. (Interestingly, Georgia has tried to get the Pentagon to headquarter its new Africa Command in a military base in metro Atlanta.) Georgia has four black Democratic representatives, two from non-black-majority districts, and Andrew Young won in a white-majority district as long ago as 1972. Black Democrats Thurbert Baker and Michael Thurmond have been elected attorney general and labor commissioner, respectively, and re-elected despite a strong Republican trend. In 2004, Georgia elected its first black Republican state representative since Reconstruction, and African-Americans came in second in the contests for the Republican nomination for the Senate and the 8th District House seat. Georgia also has been attracting immigrants, and 8% of its residents in 2007 were Hispanic and 3% were Asian—quite a change over the past quarter-century. And it has been attracting significant numbers of internal migrants from the United States: Domestic inflow from 2000 to 2008 was 7% of the 2000 population. These newcomers were attracted by Georgia’s vibrant private-sector economy. At the same time, few native-born Georgians leave. The proportion of people born in the state who still live there is higher than in any other states but North Carolina and Texas.
Demographic change and economic change in Georgia have been followed by political change, to the point that this once heavily Democratic state now seems to be predominantly Republican. In retrospect, this change was a long time coming. It was delayed by the presence of politically skillful Democrats, from Georgia and other parts of the South, with rural bases: Wallace, who carried the state in 1968; Carter, who sent it in a different direction in 1970 and carried it solidly in 1976 and 1980; Carter’s successors as governor, each of whom served for eight years—George Busbee, Joe Frank Harris, and Zell Miller; and Bill Clinton, who carried the state 43.5%-42.9% in 1992 and lost it by only 47%-46% in 1996. The year 2000 signaled a change. George W. Bush carried Georgia by a solid 55%-43%. Bush carried metro Atlanta (which cast 53% of the state’s votes) by 52%-45% and the rest of Georgia, historically Democratic, by a resounding 57%-41%. The memory of William Tecumseh Sherman was dead.
The Republican trend continued in 2002, 2004, and 2006. In 2002, incumbent Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, with a $19 million campaign chest, was beaten by Republican Sonny Perdue, 51%-46%. And incumbent Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, a wounded Vietnam veteran, who had won by 1% six years before, lost to Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss 53%-46%. These results were driven in part by state Republican Chairman Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, who created an on-the-ground organization that ultimately deployed 3,000 volunteers and 500 paid workers to knock on 150,000 doors in 600 precincts. Turnout rose robustly in central Atlanta and in black-majority counties, but it rose even more in the fast-growing suburbs. Demographic growth translated into votes. In the week after the election, four state senators switched parties and gave Republicans control of the state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.
In 2004, Democratic Sen. Zell Miller, about to retire from office, denounced his party in his book A National Party No More. “The modern South and rural America are as foreign to our Democratic leaders as some place in Asia or Africa,” he wrote. He endorsed President Bush for re-election and gave a rip-roaring speech at the Republican National Convention. Though Georgia was not a target state, turnout rose 28%, and Bush beat John Kerry 58%-41%. In the Senate contest that year, Republican Johnny Isakson beat Democratic Rep. Denise Majette by an almost identical 58%-40%. Bush won 55% in metro Atlanta, up from 52% in 2000, and he won 62% in the rest of the state, up from 57% in 2000. Kerry won among blacks, who cast 25% of the votes, by 88%-12%. But Bush won among whites, who cast 70% of the votes, by 76%-23%. Republicans increased their majority in the state Senate to 34-22 and transformed the state House from a 102-77 Democratic majority to a 99-80-1 Republican majority. The reign of Tom Murphy, the House speaker for 30 years and the force behind the 2002 Democratic redistricting plan, was over.
The Republican trend was apparent in 2006 even as most other states favored Democrats that year. The new Republican majorities in the Legislature passed the nation’s toughest law on illegal immigrants, requiring employers to consult a federal database when hiring, and welfare recipients to prove their legal status. They cut income, corporate, and property taxes. And they passed their own partisan districting plan for Georgia’s 13 congressional districts. Two Democratic representatives, Jim Marshall and John Barrow, came very close to losing central Georgia House seats, the Republicans’ strongest challenges in the nation in 2006.
But political victory carries with it the perils of responsibility, and rapid growth can strain the capacity of infrastructure. The problem is water: Since 1989, Georgia has been quarreling with Alabama and Florida over the allocation of water from reservoirs created by federal dams that serve Atlanta and that drain into the other two states. Low rainfall in 2006 and 2007 threatened to dry up lakes Lanier and Allatoona. Georgia restricted and then banned outdoor watering, and threatened to cut allotments to commercial and industrial users. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to settle the interstate arguments. Georgia brought one court case and Florida and Alabama another. Then Georgia legislators got another idea. The act of Congress admitting Tennessee to the Union set the boundary between Georgia and Tennessee at the 35th parallel, but a surveyor in 1818 placed it several miles to the south. Restoring the border to the 35th parallel would give Georgia access to the waters of the Tennessee River (which a study said could be drained without much harm to Tennessee and Alabama reservoirs), and in April 2008, the Legislature passed a resolution telling Perdue to negotiate with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to set up a boundary-line commission. But a Bredesen spokesman threw cold water on the idea, saying Bredesen “has no intention of moving Tennessee’s border, nor will he give away Tennessee’s natural resources.”
For many years, Georgia shunned Republican presidential candidates even when states less ravaged by Gen. Sherman’s troops, like next-door South Carolina and Alabama, embraced them. It was the second-most-Democratic state for John F. Kennedy in 1960, but it also voted for opponents of the Civil Rights Act—Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George Wallace in 1968. It voted heavily Republican only in 1972, 1984, and 1988. Then, in 2000 and 2004, Georgia, both metro Atlanta and the counties beyond, voted solidly for Bush.
The 2008 elections saw Georgia swinging some distance, but not fully, toward the Democrats. It was not exactly a target state in the presidential election, but Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s campaign set up 25 offices in the state and worked, as he did in Virginia and North Carolina, to turn out rural as well as urban blacks. African-American turnout zoomed up from 25% of the total in 2004 to 30% in 2008. Just as Ralph Reed’s Republicans and the Bush 2004 campaign increased turnout in rapidly growing white suburban counties, so the Obama campaign increased turnout in rapidly growing black and Latino suburban counties. As a result, Georgia, which has long had one of the nation’s lowest voting participation rates, has now moved up toward the national average.
Republican nominee John McCain still carried the state, but by only 52%-47%. Obama carried metro Atlanta 51%-48%. Outside metro Atlanta, McCain won 58%-41%, down only 3% from Bush’s showing in 2004, but these 131 counties cast only 43% of the vote, a historic low. Obama carried 98% of black voters, 10% more than Kerry; McCain won 76% of white voters, the same percentage as Bush. The closeness of the race suggests Georgia may be a target state in any reasonably close election. But it will be hard for Democrats to surpass the strong turnout for Obama in 2008. Democratic Senate nominee Jim Martin held Chambliss to a 49.8%-46.8% edge, requiring a runoff. In that December contest, turnout was down 43%, and Chambliss won 57%-43%. In 2010, when Perdue cannot run for re-election and Republican Sen. Isakson’s seat is up, the question may be whether November 2008 or December 2008 is the new norm. In early 2009, several prominent Democrats were lining up to run for governor.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
Georgia’s presidential primary comes early in the cycle and has been of some importance. In 1992, Gov. Miller had it scheduled one week before Super Tuesday in order to help Clinton, and it did: Clinton won solidly to balance losses in Maryland and Colorado the same day. In 1996 and 2000, Georgia was of little importance except as a measure of turnout: Democratic turnout fell from 622,000 in 1988 to 284,000 in 2000, while Republican turnout rose from 400,000 to 643,000. In 2004, Democratic hopeful John Edwards of North Carolina visited Georgia five times after the Iowa caucuses and Kerry only once. But Kerry beat Edwards 47%-41%, making it plain that Edwards had no chance to win the nomination and would be hard-pressed to win other Southern states. He withdrew from the race.
For 2008, Georgia moved up its primary to February 5, Super Tuesday. On the Democratic side, it was no contest once black voters swung behind Obama. He beat Hillary Rodham Clinton 66%-31%, as turnout rose sharply to over 1 million, by far the highest ever. Turnout was almost as high, 964,000, in the Republican primary, far ahead of the 643,000 who voted in 2000 or the 654,000 in 1996. This was almost a three-way tie. Arkansas’s Mike Huckabee won with 34%, carrying rural counties and exurban metro Atlanta counties. McCain finished second with 32%, carrying the Savannah River valley and the southwest corner of the state, both areas with big military bases. Massachusetts’ Mitt Romney was third with 30%, carrying most of metro Atlanta, although McCain ran close behind in the inner counties.
|111th Congress: 6 D, 7 R|
After the 1990 and 2000 censuses, Georgia Democrats pushed through convoluted redistricting plans—arguably the most convoluted in the nation each time—to guarantee majorities for their party in the state’s U.S. House delegation. Both times they failed. In the 1990s, state House Speaker Thomas Murphy tried to end the career of Republican U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich and strengthen incumbent Democrats. Instead, what was a 9-1 Democratic delegation in October 1992 was 8-3 Republican in April 1995, and Gingrich was speaker of the House. In 2001, the Democrats tried again, and this time the boundaries were even more convoluted. They had only marginally more success—with some unintended consequences. Then-U.S. Rep. Chambliss, placed in the new 1st District with fellow Republican Jack Kingston, ran for the Senate and beat Cleland. The new 11th and 12th districts, created to elect Democrats, elected Republicans instead. The new 13th District did elect a Democrat, but the delegation remained Republican, 8-5. And Georgia’s plan prompted Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who headed the House GOP’s campaign, to push successfully for a similarly convoluted Republican gerrymander in Pennsylvania, one which netted the Republicans more gains than the Democrats achieved in Georgia.
In March 2004, a court redrew the district lines for the state House and state Senate, which helped the Republicans increase their Senate margin and gain control of the state House in November. In February 2005, Republicans by then in control of the governorship and the state Legislature worked with Republicans in Washington to make redistricting of the U.S. House districts one of their top priorities. Moving more deliberately and facing far less Democratic resistance than Republicans encountered in Texas in 2003, they passed the plan in March with a few Republican defections and with limited Democratic support. It passed the federal review mandatory under the Voting Rights Act and survived a court challenge.
The 2005 Republican plan had much more regularly shaped districts than the 2001 Democratic map, and split many fewer counties (19 rather than 34). It strengthened Republican Phil Gingrey in the 11th District and weakened Democrats Jim Marshall and John Barrow of the 3rd and 12th districts. Republicans quietly worked with some of the African-American congressional Democrats to accommodate their personal concerns with the new districts. Two Atlanta-area districts are 56% and 53% African-American, while three others have black percentages of 48%, 45%, and 41%. In 2007, Republican Gov. Perdue called for the establishment of an independent commission to draw redistricting plans that can be voted up or down by the Legislature. Perdue seemed to be confident that relatively regularly shaped and neutrally drawn districts would leave the party with majorities in Georgia in the 21st century. But the Legislature perhaps did not share that confidence, and in 2008 it failed to adopt his plan.
Georgia is expected to gain one seat from the reapportionment following the 2010 census. Republicans will have control of redistricting if they retain the governorship and majorities in both houses in the 2010 election.