Georgia Democrats held their annual state dinner last week, vowing to capture both U.S. Senate seats next year. And while there were plenty of candidates already in the race to defeat Sen. David Perdue in his re-election bid, no candidate with the state party’s backing was yet in the running to succeed Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is retiring at the end of 2019 because of declining health.
Democrats vying for Perdue’s seat face a primary battle and the contender with high name recognition and proven fundraising ability is Jon Ossoff, who narrowly lost the 6th District congressional race to Karen Handel in the 2016 special election. In the race to succeed Isakson, the Democratic hierarchy is biding its time on picking a candidate to support, depending on whom Republican Gov. Brian Kemp names to serve from year-end 2019 until the Nov. 20 “jungle” special election, listing all candidates on the same ballot, regardless of party.
At their annual dinner, the Democrats talked a winning game in 2020. Their state chair, Sen. Nikema Williams of Atlanta, said the party is stronger than ever, aiming to turn Georgia blue next year. She told the enthusiastic crowd, “We’re going to elect strong Democrats who will fight for our values in the state House, in the state Senate and communities across Georgia. We’re going to send two strong Democratic senators to Washington because they need some help. … We’re also going to deliver 14 electoral college votes for the next Democratic president of the United States, because we all know that the road to the White House is paved right here through Georgia.”
Keynote speaker Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost to Brian Kemp in the 2016 governor’s race, told the crowd that Republicans have been given “an eviction notice” ahead of next year’s elections. But she said the 2020 Census ranks as the most important activity for Democrats. While they are canvassing for votes, they need to canvass for the Census to ensure that people are counted fairly, she said, accusing the Trump administration of “doing its level best to erase certain of us from the narrative of what is America.”
In pursuit of Isakson’s seat, the first Democrat to enter the fray is Matt Lieberman, son of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman. Matt Lieberman, 52, a Cobb County resident, has lived in Georgia since 2005. He is a single parent of two daughters who, he says, “have been longtime boosters of Planned Parenthood.” Laying out his left-wing platform, Lieberman says he will fight Georgia’s new anti-abortion law and “work hard to protect Roe v. Wade. He “supports a ban on the sale of weapons of war, like the AR-15,” and says Congress “is long overdue to pass a real, meaningful, universal background check law to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.”
Calling for “a new Voting Rights Act for the 21st century, Lieberman says that in 2000 his father “who, as Al Gore’s running mate, had an election stolen from them by a partisan Supreme Court.” And, Matt Lieberman, says there was “another questionable election result just last year in Georgia with Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor.” Lieberman says he is running for the Senate “to change a broken Washington and get things done for the people of Georgia.“ He “is fed up with the arrogance and cowardice of the politicians in Washington and the hatred, division, and stalemate that has resulted from our corrupted politics.” Echoing a theme of national Democrats, Lieberman labels President Donald Trump “the crazy man in the Oval Office” and supports his impeachment.
Lieberman told Politico he has a name recognition advantage, thanks to his father, who serves as an informal adviser to the Senate campaign. But Roll Call, the Washington-based newspaper, reports that Joe Lieberman could pose a problem for his son’s campaign as he is a registered lobbyist for ZTE, the Chinese tech company whose 5G network is deemed by U.S. national security experts to be capable of spying on its users “and send purloined data directly to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Roll Call says Lieberman “has played a behind-the-scenes role in the company’s efforts in Washington.” On that point, Matt Liebermn said: “If I am fortunate enough to be trusted with this Senate seat by the people of Georgia, I will, of course, abide stringently by all Senate ethics rules. If there’s ever a gray area, I will err on the side of propriety.”
Even so, Matt Lieberman enters the race with a hot-button issue already available for opponents to use against him. And even if his father resigns his lobbying job with ZTE, which seems unlikely, there will be questions hanging over the candidate, not the recipe for a successful run.
For Georgia Democrats, talk is cheap but they have shown growing strength in recent elections and are optimistic. Republicans still hold the edge but will face tough challenges in 2020. What happens on the national stage with the move to impeach President Trump could play a pivotal role in the Peach State.