It was a polling memo that raised a thousand eyebrows. The highly respected GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies sent out results of their most recent survey in Georgia showing a head to head match-up between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden essentially tied; 46 percent to 47 percent. These are the kinds of numbers that we are seeing in battleground states like Wisconsin, Florida and North Carolina. Does this mean that Georgia should move from its place in Lean Republican to join those other three states in the more competitive Toss Up category?
While there are reasons to believe that Georgia will once again produce a very close race, we are not (at this point at least) ready to call it a Toss Up.
There's little doubt that Georgia is becoming more competitive. While Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by 53 percent, both Trump and 2018 GOP nominee, Brian Kemp, took just over 50 percent of the vote. A lot of this movement can be traced to shifting voting patterns in and around Atlanta. For example, in 2012, Obama carried Fulton County (Atlanta) by 19 points. Just four years later, Clinton carried it by a whopping 44 points and Abrams expanded that gap to 46 points. Suburban Gwinnett and Cobb Counties, long known as traditional GOP strongholds, flipped to Clinton in 2016 and gave even more of their votes to Abrams in 2018.
Even so, it will take more than just an improvement in the Atlanta and urban/suburban areas of the state to flip it Democratic. It also takes shaving points off the large share of the vote Republicans like Trump and Kemp can generate from small town, exurban and rural parts of the state. Biden supporters argue that the former VP is much better suited for this challenge than Clinton or Abrams. He's not as polarizing and starts the race with higher positive ratings than Clinton.
It's also important to note that this poll was taken at a time when,
- President Trump is at a low point.
- Biden has not yet been 'defined' (a.k.a. not buried under millions of dollars of negative ads).
More important, as one Democratic strategist said to me, Georgia is not a 'tipping point' state, so it's going to be hard for the Biden campaign to justify spending the money that it will take to compete there when you are also trying to put other expensive states in the win column. In other words, Biden doesn't need Georgia to hit 270. He does need Pennsylvania. And, Michigan. And Wisconsin or Arizona. Plus, they also have to play defense in states that lean blue but could become competitive — like Minnesota or Nevada.
For Democrats, winning Georgia is like trying to lose those last 5-10 pounds. On paper, it doesn't seem all that hard. But, once you spend two weeks desperately looking down at a scale that doesn't budge, you realize it's going to take a ton of effort to lose each and every pound. For now, Georgia stays in Lean Republican.