GA-Sen: The Devil is in the Details in Georgia

You may recall that right before the general election in November, I put together benchmarks that selected statewide candidates would need to hit, on a county-by-county basis, in order to get over 50% in closely-fought states. I wanted to go back and see how well this measure worked; Georgia seemed like an apt place to start, not just because it was very close at both the presidential and senatorial levels, but also because a bit of troubleshooting is in order to see what happened with the steep dropoff in the senate runoff. Let’s start with the original table, which contains the 2008 benchmarks (and the 2004 Kerry/Bush numbers, on which they were based:

County % of 2004
statewide vote
What we need to
break 50% statewide
2004 Pres.
Statewide 100.0 50/49 41/58
Fulton 10.2 68/31 59/40
Cobb 8.5 46/53 37/62
DeKalb 8.4 82/18 73/27
Gwinnett 7.4 42/57 33/66
Chatham 2.8 59/41 50/50
Clayton 2.4 79/20 70/29
Cherokee 2.2 29/70 20/79
Richmond 2.1 66/34 57/43
Henry 1.9 42/58 33/67
Muscogee 1.9 60/39 51/48
Bibb 1.7 60/40 51/49
Forsyth 1.7 25/74 16/83
Fayette 1.6 37/62 28/71
Hall 1.5 30/69 21/78
Columbia 1.4 33/66 24/75
Houston 1.4 42/57 33/66
Coweta 1.3 34/65 25/74
Douglas 1.3 47/52 38/61
Paulding 1.2 32/67 23/76
Clarke 1.1 67/31 58/40
Carroll 1.1 38/61 29/70
Dougherty 1.0 68/32 59/41

Now let’s take a look at the 2008 numbers, including both the senate general election and runoff. (I’ve also included the white percentage of each county, as a means of seeing if a higher non-white electorate meant a higher drop-off in the runoff. But, as an indication of how polarized Georgia is, notice how well the white percentage in each county correlates with the Republican share of the vote in that county.)

County % of 2008
statewide vote
2008 Pres. 2008 Senate
% of 2008
statewide vote
2008 Senate
2007 white %
Statewide 100.0 47/52 47/50 100.0 43/57 62.0
Fulton 10.3 67/32 63/33 10.4 60/40 48.5
Cobb 8.0 48/54 42/53 8.6 36/64 63.4
DeKalb 8.2 79/20 76/21 8.7 74/26 33.9
Gwinnett 7.4 44/54 43/53 7.8 36/64 61.0
Chatham 2.8 57/42 55/42 2.7 52/48 54.9
Clayton 2.5 83/17 81/17 2.4 80/20 24.8
Cherokee 2.4 24/75 24/71 2.4 18/82 83.9
Richmond 2.0 66/34 64/34 1.9 59/41 43.4
Henry 2.2 46/53 46/51 2.2 42/58 61.5
Muscogee 1.9 60/40 60/38 1.6 57/43 47.6
Bibb 1.7 59/41 57/42 1.7 53/47 46.2
Forsyth 1.9 20/78 20/75 2.0 15/85 80.4
Fayette 1.5 34/65 34/62 1.8 31/69 73.5
Hall 1.5 24/75 26/68 1.6 20/80 86.9
Columbia 1.4 28/71 28/69 1.4 24/76 78.8
Houston 1.4 40/60 40/57 1.4 35/65 66.3
Coweta 1.4 29/70 30/66 1.4 25/75 77.4
Douglas 1.4 51/49 50/46 1.4 44/56 62.2
Paulding 1.4 30/69 32/64 1.3 26/74 81.8
Clarke 1.2 65/34 61/35 1.1 62/38 67.5
Carroll 1.1 33/66 35/60 1.1 30/70 n/a
Dougherty 1.0 67/32 64/34 1.0 64/36 33.3

Let’s start with how Obama and Martin (in the general) fared against the benchmarks that I set for them. On the whole, their actual percentages seemed to lag the benchmarks by about 2-3%, which is apt, as they both finished around 47%, 3% shy of a majority. There were only a few counties where they exceeded their benchmarks, and these are also the counties that are undergoing the most demographic change (in a way that’s favorable to the Democrats). Cobb and Gwinnett Counties are two of the four large counties in the Atlanta metro area, and are traditionally very conservative (they were Newt Gingrich’s turf back when he was in the House). But with Obama getting up to 48% in Cobb County and 44% in Gwinnett, they’re approaching swing county territory. (Cobb County is seeing growth in middle-class African-Americans and Gwinnett County is becoming an entry point for many Latino and Asian immigrants.)

More analysis over the flip…

Slightly further from the core of Atlanta are Clayton, Henry, and Douglas Counties, and these counties are being transformed even more rapidly by a rapid influx of African-American exurbanites. Clayton County’s white percentage, 24.8% in 2007, is down from 34.9% in 2000. Douglas County’s white percentage is 62.2%, down from 75.9 in 2000, and Henry County’s white percentage is 61.5%, down all the way from 80.1% in 2000… and that is matched by the double-digit swings in their voting patterns since 2004, and the way they exceeded their benchmarks (in fact, by 7% in Douglas County).

This is balanced by the mostly white and right-wing exurban counties at the northern fringes of the Atlanta area (Cherokee, Forsyth, and Hall Counties). Here, Obama and Martin trailed their benchmarks by the largest margins (by 5 or 6%).

The whitest counties (Hall, Coweta, Paulding) were the only counties where Martin (in the general) actually outperformed Obama, further suggestive of the racial polarization of the vote. By contrast, Martin tended to underperform Obama the most in heavily African-American counties (down 3% in DeKalb, 4% in Fulton, 3% in Dougherty). Interestingly, Martin also way underperformed Obama (by 4%) in Clarke County, not heavily black but home of Athens and the Univ. of Georgia. To me, this suggests that the underperformance has less to do with Obama/Chambliss ticket-splitting than with undervotes (i.e. casual or sporadic voters, probably disproportionately young and/or black, voting for Obama and not voting downballot). There were nearly 180,000 undervotes statewide between the two races (3.93 million total in the presidential, vs. 3.75 million in the senate race).

Now let’s turn to the dropoff in Martin’s performance between the general and the runoff. My initial assumption (and that of many other observers) was that Martin suffered for a lack of African-American turnout in the runoff, without the draw of Obama at the top of the ticket. That’s probably still true, but it’s a little more complicated than that. I’d expect the heavily black counties (DeKalb and Clayton) to have formed a smaller percentage of the statewide vote in the runoff than in the general, but that didn’t happen; in fact, DeKalb County’s share of the vote went up a lot, from 8.2% in the general to 8.7% in the runoff. The percentages of the vote didn’t change much, either. Martin only gave up 2% in DeKalb and 1% in Clayton, while the lone counties where Martin actually performed better in the runoff than the general were Dougherty (mostly-black Albany, downstate) and, again, Clarke (Athens/UGA).

Instead, the big dropoffs seemed to happen in the in the suburbs and exurbs, where Martin’s runoff numbers tended to revert back to very close to the 2004 Kerry/Bush numbers. For instance, out in wingnut land, Martin slipped from 20% to 15% in Forsyth County, 24% to 18% in Cherokee County, and 26% to 20% in Hall County. More alarmingly, the same rate of slippage happened in the more favorable suburban counties, like Cobb County (42% to 36%), Gwinnett County (43% to 36%), and Douglas County (50% to 44%). Interestingly, the percentages of the statewide vote in these counties, as with DeKalb County, went up too (8.0% to 8.6% in Cobb and 7.4% to 7.8% in Gwinnett), suggesting that the reliable Republicans who haven’t white-flighted it out of these counties yet continued to vote reliably in the runoff, while participation by other voters in these counties fell off dramatically.

To me, these numbers suggest some miscalculation at the organizing level… perhaps a focus on turning out every possible vote in reliable Democratic constituencies (DeKalb, Clayton, and Clarke Counties), while allowing other counties to slip through the cracks that people still aren’t used to thinking of as potentially Democratic counties (Cobb, Gwinnett, Douglas), as apparently many young and/or black infrequent voters in these rapidly-changing counties didn’t make it to the polls in the runoff. Not that these missing votes really mattered much in the end — Martin needed to not just match his general election numbers in the runoff but beat them by another 3% — but it’s food for thought on where to go trolling for those last few votes to try and get over the top in Georgia.

GA-Sen: Two More Polls Have Chambliss Ahead

Public Policy Polling (11/29-30, likely voters, 11/22-23 in parens)

Jim Martin (D): 46 (46)

Saxby Chambliss (R-inc): 53 (52)

Undecided: 1 (2)

(MoE: ±2.7%)

Tom Jensen says:

Chambliss is up 71-28 on Jim Martin with whites. For Martin to win the runoff with that performance, the electorate would have to be 34% African American. Given that it was only 30% for the general election with Barack Obama at the top of the ballot and that early voting was less than 23% black, that does not seem particularly likely.

Not looking good. The other survey, from Insider Advantage, isn’t looking much better (11/30, likely voters, 11/23 in parens):

Jim Martin (D): 46 (47)

Saxby Chambliss (R-inc): 50 (50)

Undecided: 4 (3)

(MoE: ±3.5%)

Matt Towery of IA offers some succor:

The race could be a 10-point blowout for Chambliss, or under the right circumstances, a very tight contest. This is like trying to forecast snow in Georgia – almost impossible.

I’m not sanguine. Nine polls by five different pollsters have all given Chambliss the lead. Could they all be wrong, Alaska-style? Sure, but I wouldn’t count on it.

GA-Sen: Seventh Straight Poll Has Martin Trailing

Research 2000 for Daily Kos (11/23-25, likely voters, 11/17-18 in parens):

Jim Martin (D): 46 (45)

Saxby Chambliss (R-inc): 52 (51)

Undecided: 2 (4)

(MoE: ±4%)

The problem for Jim Martin is that, for him to win, every single poll of the run-off needs to be wrong:

It is possible, of course, since everyone seems to be struggling in terms of projecting turnout (as you might expect with a one-off election like this). But I should point out that the first-round polls were pretty good (they had Saxby up four in aggregate, while his final margin was three).

Martin does have a 56-44 lead among early voters. Unfortunately, that’s rather similar to his 56-39 lead with early voters in the final R2K poll before Nov. 4th – clearly, it seems, all of the libertarian’s support migrated to Saxby. However, if election day turnout among Republicans is weak, there’s a chance this early vote might carry Martin, despite the much lower early African American turnout. Interestingly, it looks like a greater proportion of likely voters have voted early this time – 28% vs. 12% in that late October poll.

We’ll know soon enough.

GA-Sen: Chambliss Leads By 6

Research 2000 for Daily Kos (11/17-19, likely voters, 11/10-12 in parentheses):

Jim Martin (D): 45 (46)

Saxby Chambliss (R-inc): 51 (49)

(MoE: ±4%)

The newest R2K poll of the Georgia senate runoff shows Jim Martin falling further behind incumbent Saxby Chambliss at 51-45, but Markos points out an interesting detail: the previous week’s poll, which was 49-46, found that the respondents had voted 49-47 for Chambliss in the general election (which closely mirrored the actual 49-46 result). This sample, however, finds that the respondents voted 52-44 in the general, suggesting a more Republican-leaning batch.

The fluctuation may also reflect some difficulty in pinning down who exactly fits the ‘likely voter’ mold for a runoff election: is it anyone who voted in November, or only someone who votes with regularity? Martin probably owes his close showing in the general to high turnout from young and/or African-American voters with sporadic voting track records but who were highly motivated to come out for Obama… and Obama seems hesitant to expend too much political capital on this race right now. On the other hand, with Republicans probably demoralized and undermotivated to return to the polls, and with a lot of Obama staffers deployed to the state, it’s at least possible Martin could pull out the upset through disparities in ground game.

Five ways to help win a Senate seat in Georgia (updated)

This is a quick reminder that the runoff election for U.S. Senate in Georgia will be on December 2, and there are many ways you can help Democrat Jim Martin beat Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss.

Depending on how the recount in Minnesota turns out, which won’t be resolved for a few weeks, Martin could be the key to getting Democrats to that magic filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

1. Go donate to Martin’s campaign. It will only take a minute of your time.

2. Help google-bomb Saxby Chambliss. This is easy, and Chris Bowers explains why it is helpful:

Have you started linking to Saxby Chambliss yet? The more people who do, the higher it will appear in search engine rankings. If we can push it into the first ten results for Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, then it will result in a lot of excellent voter contacts. Everyone who encounters the site will be a voter looking for more information on Saxby Chambliss, and we can show them this great website made by an enterprising activist.

Log on to the various blogs where you comment, and click on your user page. Then click “profile.” There should be an area where you can write text that will be your “signature,” attached to all comments you make.

You want to embed a link to the Saxby Chambliss website. Here is what I did:

See if Saxby Chambliss is helping you.

If you don’t know how to embed a link, write this all on one line with no spaces in between:


a href




Saxby Chambliss




3. Kick in a few more bucks to Martin’s campaign.

4. If you live in Georgia or close enough to travel there, sign up to volunteer for Martin’s campaign during the next few weeks. You were planning to take some time off for Thanksgiving anyway, right? Set aside extra time to volunteer.

Remember that there are many ways to volunteer besides knocking on strangers’ doors and calling strangers on the phone. You can help sort literature for the canvassers. You can help stuff envelopes. You can bring a home-made meal to the campaign office for the staff and other volunteers. I heard of one woman in Iowa who used to do laundry for field organizers renting apartments without washing machines. Every hour that staffer doesn’t have to spend in a laundromat is an hour he or she can be getting out the vote for Jim Martin.

5. Ask some friends or relatives to make a campaign contribution. Explain to them that this race will affect the Republicans’ ability to obstruct the change we need.

Please feel free to suggest other ways activists can help Martin bring this race home.

UPDATE: MyDD commenter ATL Dem made a fantastic suggestion:

In the meantime, I’m also running this Google ad to assist in desmoinesdem’s project No. 2:

Hi from Saxby Chambliss

Read about my work in D.C.

Too bad it’s not for you!

It’s getting monster response — over 15 percent of people searching for “Saxby Chambliss” are clicking it. The bad thing about that is that my $10 a day budget gets used up pretty fast, so if you’re of a mind to, go to Google and click on “Advertising Programs” and set up another ad.

Please feel free to steal this idea!

GA-Sen: Let’s Get Ready to Runoff!!!

PPP (10/31-11/2, likely voters, no trendlines):

Jim Martin (D): 46

Saxby Chambliss (R-inc): 48

Allen Buckley (L): 4

(MoE: ±2.8%)

SurveyUSA for WMAZ (10/30-11/1, likely voters, 10/11-12 in parens):

Jim Martin (D): 44 (43)

Saxby Chambliss (R-inc): 48 (46)

Allen Buckley (L): 5 (6)

(MoE: ±3.8%)

Two new polls of the Georgia senate race seem to confirm that, unless something weird happens, neither candidate is going to clear the 50% mark and we’ll be faced with a December runoff. The race has become remarkably stable in the last few weeks, with Martin never leading but almost always within a few points.

There’s a fierce race at the top of the ticket, too; PPP’s first poll of Georgia also finds Obama trailing only 50-48 (with Barr picking up a measly 2%), but with Obama leading 52-47 among early voters. SurveyUSA finds McCain up 52-45.

GA-Sen: Six Point Race?

Mason-Dixon (10/22-23, likely voters, no trendlines):

Jim Martin (D): 39

Saxby Chambliss (R-inc): 45

Allen Buckley: 5

Undecided: 11

(MoE: 4%)

Sneaky, sneaky. NBC commissioned this poll from Mason-Dixon and announced the results on Meet the Press – but they apparently haven’t really pushed it out online (hence the link to Pollster above). This is the first poll in some time showing daylight between the two candidates, and it also has a relatively high number of undecideds. The good news here is that Chambliss is still under 50 and if he doesn’t get too lucky with the undecideds, we’ll be headed to a runoff.

GA-Sen: On Track for a Runoff

Insider Advantage (10/27, likely voters, 10/23 in parens):

Jim Martin (D): 44 (42)

Saxby Chambliss (R-inc): 46 (44)

Other: 2 (2)

(MoE: ±3.8%)

Say what you will about this race, it’s consistent. While nobody has shown an actual lead for Jim Martin, almost every poll in the last few weeks has shown him 2 points back, or thereabouts.

With such a close race, and with Libertarian Allen Buckley consistently gobbling up a few points, it’s starting to look likelier and likelier that Chambliss will fall slightly shy of the 50% mark. With Lunsford a few points short and Musgrove starting to dwindle, it’s looking like the question of whether or not we break 60 seats may well turn on a December runoff election in Georgia.

GA-01: Jack “Worse than Saxby” Kingston cuts and runs; DECLINES to debate Bill Gillespie– again

Jack Kingston has DECLINED to debate Bill Gillespie for GA-01. Is Jack afraid to debate his record? That’s understandable, since he’s worse than Saxby on the middle class, on veterans’ issues, and on the environment.

Or maybe  he just wanted to join the pack of his fellow Republicans who DECLINED: John Linder, leaving Doug Heckman the floor for GA-07; Tom Price, leaving Bill Jones free rein in GA-06; and Lynn “uppity” Westmoreland, leaving Stephen Camp GA-03 camped in front of the TV cameras.

Jack only debated Bill once, in Brunswick, where Bill trounced him, so it’s no wonder Jack has backed out of the two debates scheduled since then.

Guess we’ll get to see Bill Gillespie take 30 minutes instead of 3 to remind us why he’s better than Jack for Georgia’s First District.

That’s worth going to a debate party. Or, if you’re going to be in Atlanta, go on down to GPB and join the live audience.

By what margin will Bob Shamansky win?

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GA-Sen: Runoff If No One Clears 50%

Huh. So this pretty critical piece of information seems to have escaped a lot of people’s attention – including, I must admit, mine:

One possible scenario, which seems somewhat likely based on poll data, is that Chambliss wins a slight plurality, but not the 50% plus one required for a majority.

If Chambliss and Martin go into a run-off, the race will likely garner national attention and financial resources from national Democratic and Republican parties.

Andre in Atlanta explains the backstory:

After Wyche Fowler was defeated by Paul Coverdell in 1992, the Democratic-led Georgia General Assembly changed lowered the threshold for electoral victory to a plurality rather than a majority.  In 2005, the Republican-led General Assembly changed it back to a majority, 50% plus one, to win.

If necessary, a runoff would be held on Dec. 2nd, so props if you knew all this. Anyhow, with Libertarian candidate Allan Buckley in the race, a runoff is a definite possibility – Buckley’s been pulling about 5% according to the Pollster composites. What’s more, Georgia’s own Bob Barr at the, uh, top of the ticket on the Libertarian line, so that could draw in even more Lib votes.

The real question is whether a runoff would be a boon to us. On the one hand, you would no longer have Obama at the top of the ticket. On the other hand, you’d have the entire resources of what ought to be a pretty energized Democratic Party at the ready. Of course, the GOP thought the same thing in Louisiana in 2002 when they tried to eliminate Mary Landrieu. They had the hubris to call it “Operation Icing on the Cake” – but all they got was a pie in the face.

I’m very curious to hear what Swing Staters think about the likelihood of a runoff, and to whose benefit (if anyone’s) one would redound.