Cobb’s party chiefs don’t agree on much, but they do on one point: “Cobb has turned blue like most of the metro area has,” Cobb Republican Party Chairman Jason Shepherd said.
Shepherd uttered these words with much less joy than Cobb Democratic Party Chair Michael Owens, who has long been reticent to say them aloud.
“Cobb turned blue,” he said Wednesday morning. “I think it’s the first time I’m officially actually saying that. Cobb turned blue because we’ve had thousands of people engaged across the county that are for the ideals, values and principles that the Democratic Party is about.”
In Tuesday’s election, Cobb residents preferred Democratic candidates in statewide races. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams beat out Republican Brian Kemp by nearly 10 percent in Cobb County— 54 percent to about 44.7 percent.
Down the ballot, from lieutenant governor to labor commissioner, Democratic candidates took Cobb by smaller but significant margins.
The trend follows the 2016 presidential election, which saw Hillary Clinton carry the county.
Clinton received 47.9 percent of the vote in Cobb to Donald Trump’s 45.7 percent.
Owens said part of this week’s Democratic victory came down to organization, planning and hard work. In 2016, he instituted a program to lay the groundwork for getting out the vote in future elections by planning out ways to reach out to voters through door knocking, phone banking and more.
“This has been a trajectory we’ve been on in the last several years in Cobb County, working on the ground to engage voters all over,” he said. “We’ve literally engaged citizens from Acworth to Austell, from Powers Ferry Road to Powder Springs. We’ve reintroduced what our values are. We gave them a clear picture of our platform and what we stood for. We went out and worked with the grassroots. We worked with other organizations, and we spread that message.”
Shepherd agreed that the change has been in the works for years.
“I brought this up when I first ran in 2015, the Republican numbers have remained relatively stable over the last few election cycles, in fact going up a little bit, but if you look at Democrat numbers going up to 2012, they’ve been steadily increasing,” he said. “When I brought this up in 2015, I was kind of laughed at, like ‘this is no big deal,’ but we’ve seen the results of that.”
Shepherd said Cobb Republicans went all out to get out the vote this election— a door knocking event tagged to reach 1,000 homes ended up hitting 2,000, and a last-minute phone bank with a goal of 50,000 calls reached 75,000— but unofficial results show that wasn’t enough.
“In the past, the Republican Party has done a great job at the state level getting out absentee voters,” he said. “This time, that didn’t happen. The state party did not make an effort to reach out to absentee voters, while Stacey Abrams and the Democrat Party of Georgia did.”
Shepherd also said the Cobb GOP was not able to match the amount of money that came into Democratic campaigns from outside donors.
He said he is hoping to correct those deficiencies before 2020, when important local offices are on the ballot, including Cobb Commission chairman, sheriff and district attorney.
And he’s confident Republicans could come out on top in those races if they work hard enough.
“You can run the perfect campaign and end up losing,” he said. “Sometimes you run the worst campaign ever and find yourself the victor on election night. One thing about politics is nothing is ever permanent … The Democrats lost Congress in 2010, and today they’re celebrating having it back, so nothing’s permanent, and if we do what we need to do, Cobb County won’t stay blue very long. But it’s always going to be a fight.”
But Owens said Democrats are also already looking ahead to 2020.
“We won every statewide election (in Cobb) that was on the ballot,” he said. “If you put that out to what voters across the county want, then you can start to see how we now are in position to win countywide races, which directly sets us up for 2020 if we put same amount of effort. Our values and principles don’t change … Going into 2020, obviously the Cobb Commission chair, the district attorney race and the sheriff’s race are three races we’ve already said publicly we’re going to go after, try to win.”
Kerwin Swint, a political science professor and interim dean of Kennesaw State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, attributed Cobb’s swing, in part, to Georgia’s changing demographics.
“Georgia seems to be trending more diverse, less white, and that’s probably manifesting itself in election totals,” Swint said. “You could see the demographics changing five or six years ago but now you’re starting to see it show up at the ballot box.”
Suburban women who voted for Hillary Clinton two years ago and Abrams and Democrat Lucy McBath on Tuesday are also skewing Georgia’s politics to the left, he said.
Another major factor in this election was the president, according to Swint.
“Donald Trump definitely motivated the vote on both sides,” he said. “But some independent voters voted for Stacey Abrams separate from that just because they were attracted to her candidacy.”
Abrams’ decision to campaign in Cobb didn’t hurt either, Swint said. She held a rally with Oprah Winfrey last week at the Cobb County Civic Center before the two went door-to-door.
Swint says going forward, Cobb’s GOP should be alert.
“There’s no margin for error like there was 10 years ago,” he said. “They’ve got to squeeze every possible vote they can get. Turnout is huge. They have to spend a lot of time and resources maximizing turnout.”
Now that the midterms are over, the 2020 presidential campaign can begin, he said.
Eight of the 15 seats in the state House that include portions of Cobb County may soon be in Democratic hands following the apparent victories of Democrats Mary Frances Williams and Erick Allen.
Williams appeared to defeat incumbent Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, in District 37, which includes part of Marietta and unincorporated Cobb County to the city’s north and west.
Teasley has been in office since 2010, but unofficial results show Williams with a lead of less than 150 votes.
Those results are unofficial because there are still votes yet to count, including thousands of mail-in votes across the county, although there is no way of knowing how many of those come from District 37, according to Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler.
There are also provisional ballots yet to be counted — ballots that record a voter’s choice when there is a question about his or her eligibility.
But Eveler said those will be counted over the weekend after elections officials go through them and determine whether they are eligible to be counted in the precincts in which they were recorded.
In District 40, which includes parts of Smyrna, Vinings and Mableton and a smidgen of Atlanta, Democrat Allen’s victory over Republican Matt Bentley for the seat held by retiring state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, seems more solid.
Allen leads by nearly 3,000 votes, 55.3 percent to 44.7, according to unofficial results.
In the State Senate, no incumbent let his or her challenger get close, leaving the six seats that include potions of Cobb perfectly balanced at three from each party.
In one notable race was State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, whose District 6 seat belonged to former state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, until last year when he stepped down to run for governor. Jordan picked up the seat in a special election in 2017, and Republicans were eager to win it back, but Jordan easily defended her seat from Republican challenger Leah Aldridge with 58.3 percent of the vote.
One major responsibility of local legislative delegations is to pass local legislation.
If the county commission or a Cobb city wants to make specific changes, such as redrawing district lines, making changes to homestead exemptions or changing salaries of county officers, they must go through the delegation.
Retiring state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, Cobb’s longest serving legislator, said that’s a good thing because it keeps the General Assembly from getting bogged down with local issues from everywhere in the state.
“(Local legislation is) 99.9 percent of the time … a pro forma vote,” he said. “Even though it’s called local legislation, it still is statewide, it takes 91 votes to pass (the Georgia House of Representatives), but… (we) would go up in smoke if every single pay bill had to be decided by everyone in the state. Imagine if every time legislators, say in Cobb or Macon, have an issue with each other, they would leverage their local probation judge’s salary over it. That would be a recipe for gridlock and disaster.”
For local legislation to pass, it must be independently approved by a majority of the House and Senate members from that locality, then it is sent to the Capitol, where lawmakers typically approve it quickly in the belief that the local legislators know what is best for their own district.
Ehrhart said having Democrats in control of the House portion of the Cobb Delegation will change the dynamic, but maintaining a 3-3 split on the Senate side will be a check on the Democrats because at least one Republican will need to sign on for local legislation to pass.
“I assume they’ll have some priorities they’ll want to flex their muscles on,” he said, “But if it comes to a partisan vote, if it’s 8-7 in the House, it will be 3-3 in the Senate. It will go nowhere. That’s a net zero. Any attempt to gerrymander the Cobb Commission districts to benefit their party will be an example of that, a net zero.”
Ehrhart added that most of the items that come up are not controversial and that he was using gerrymandering as an extreme example.
“I think they’ll get along most of the time,” he said. “Just like with anything, if they overreach, then their percentage of success will be less.”