AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Election day came and went with many results, but, for one race, the craziness continues. So The Means Report wanted to take a look at the winners and losers, as well as the runoff the state of Georgia will be facing in just a few weeks. Plus, what were the takeaways, and what should we interpret from the results. To do all of that we turn to Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte, Augusta University Social Sciences professor.
Brad Means: Dr. Lizotte, thanks for being here and thanks for honestly helping us understand all of this.
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Thanks for having me.
Brad Means: Let’s start with the governor’s race, and we’ll look at the Senate race in a minute, y’all, but let’s start with Governor Brian Kemp and his win over Stacey Abrams. Last time four years ago, he won by about 50,000 votes. This time, around six times that. What’s that mean? Does it mean that Georgians are satisfied with the direction the state’s headed?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: I think it sort of means that. So governors who are incumbent governors, they tend to get reelected. It’s very rare for them not to win. So I think he had that, you know, going into it, he got to benefit from the fact that the Biden economy is pretty good in terms of job creation and unemployment. But he also got to say, “Hey, inflation’s not my fault. It’s, you know, Biden’s fault.” And so he really got to kind of play both sides of the economy very effectively, strategically. He did a great job doing that. And you know, he got to benefit from a lot of COVID relief that was given to the state from the federal government. So I think that voters really like that he did not try to overturn the election in 2020 and that there were some middle of the road voters who wanted to support him for doing that and generally thought, “Yeah, he’s doing a good job.”
Brad Means: Dr. Lizotte, what does the non-incumbent do in that situation then? Not just here in Georgia, but everywhere, to say, “Look, I know I haven’t had a chance to prove that everything I’m saying will happen. Please give me that chance.” How do you overcome the incumbency advantage that you’ve talked about?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: You know, it’s really, really hard. It’s basically only if there’s some sort of political scandal, that someone can come in and beat an incumbent. I would say that, you know, Abrams ran a really good campaign. Her people gave her really good advice. She did a great job. I think she was just up against, you know, a lot of headwinds that didn’t work in her favor. And so, I don’t really know. I would say that it would be probably particularly hard for a Black woman candidate to win in that situation against an incumbent, particularly in a state like Georgia that is more, you know, purple but has that red state history very recently. So I think that ultimately, you know, things that weren’t up to her may have influenced some of that and made it that much more difficult for her to win.
Brad Means: Let’s give Stacey Abrams some credit though. Kind of walk us through her role in making Georgia purple and in making sure that more voters, more people signed up to vote.
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, Abrams definitely should be lauded her organization, her efforts to, you know, definitely get a lot of low propensity voters to actually turn out. And I think, you know, her attempts to change some of the electoral rules have been less successful. But I think she’s brought a lot of awareness to some of the issues with different electoral rules in the state of Georgia. And you know, I think the state was gonna turn purple no matter what, but she definitely had a hand in that happening when it did.
Brad Means: Why is this happening? And I think I asked you this the last time we were together. Are we seeing more people from out of state come to Georgia and help contribute to that purpleness? And if so, what do you see for the future? Might we eventually just become a full on blue state? Is Kemp the last Republican governor?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: So I would say that it’s mostly demographics from within the state, a little bit of people moving here, but you know, the white population is a lower percentage than it used to be. Non-whites tend to be more likely to vote Democratic, particularly Black Americans, and Stacey Abrams being able to get so many of them registered to vote, and voting is important. Also, young people. Young people in the state of Georgia are very different from their parents. They’re on average more liberal. And so I think that that is going to probably make Georgia a blue state in the next 10 or so years. If we just look at those demographics, I think it will be a purple state for a while and then eventually probably be a blue state.
Brad Means: All right, that makes sense. What about Brian Kemp going forward? And really Stacey Abrams for that matter, so it’s a two part question. Is Stacey Abrams finished in the world of politics? ‘Cause she’s a national figure. And what’s next for Brian Kemp? Could he take a step toward the national stage or is it too early?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: I think that, you know, it will really depend on what he does in office in this second term, which there’s a lot of speculation about how extreme he’s going to be, what makes sense to do if he wants to have more of a national presence. I would not be super positive about that happening, him, you know, running for the presidency or something down the line. I don’t see him doing that. But you know, I could definitely be completely wrong. I don’t think Abrams is finished. I think that she’ll probably run again for a statewide office, possibly for a Senate seat or a gubernatorial election in the future. I think she’ll continue to be involved in politics regardless though, right? You know, when we look at everything that she’s done with her, you know, attempt to raise voters who haven’t participated that much in the past.
Brad Means: Dr. Lizotte, let me get you to walk us through two things. And I know it’s kind of civics 101, but for those of us who have forgotten those lessons, take me through election night when there are two things that stand out, when I’m looking at the results and I’m sure many of you are too on election night, when you see the numbers come in, they may immediately show a humongous lead for one candidate, a lead that when the night is over never pans out. What early numbers are we seeing that does that? And then second of all, the map, Georgia’s map looks like it’s 94% red, but then there are these blue spots, greater Atlanta area, some other areas, and in many states you see that, where even though the color blue is only apparently minimally represented, the Democrat wins. What are we looking at in those two things?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Sure. So you know, when it comes to the map and what it looks like, it really comes down to population size. And ultimately, there are better ways to represent that in terms of a map. It is very misleading to see all that red because a lot of those areas just don’t have a high number of people living in them. And so, you know, those blue areas tend to be more densely populated, and so that’s why it looks that way. It’s definitely very misleading. There are maps online that you can find that better represent what it actually looks like by having the size be determined by the population density of an area rather than looking exactly like the state and how the districts are drawn.
Brad Means: What about those early numbers? When you log on you say, “Oh, okay, with 0% reporting, candidate A is beating candidate B by a million votes,” and then that changes when the night’s over.
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah, so I mean that really has to do with who turns in their, you know, results early.
Brad Means: They count those early votes first, right, before the day of votes?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yes.
Brad Means: All right, so early ballots get counted first.
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yes, and so early voting, those who tend to vote early tend to be a little bit different than those who vote on election day. You know, people who are very enthusiastic tend to vote early. So that can have a huge influence. And really, it’s difficult because you really need to pay attention to where are these early results coming from and you need to take them with a grain of salt if they’re so completely different from what the polls had been saying.
Brad Means: Yeah, you pretty much just answered my question, and it’s the last one before we go to the break, but it’s, should we deduce anything from early voting and the scenes we see on TV with these super long lines? Should that make us think that it’s an advantage for one candidate or the other? Or should we just deduce nothing from that and wait until all of the votes are in?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah, I really think that trying to read the tea leaves there isn’t the best idea. To what extent that we can make anything of that, I think we have to keep in mind the difference between midterm and presidential year elections. So midterm election years turnout tends to be different than in presidential years. And so the early voting numbers are going to be different in how we interpret them in a midterm year because you know, Republicans were really enthusiastic to turn out and vote for Kemp and vote for Republicans ’cause they don’t like the Biden administration. And so those high turnouts may have not been very indicative of a lot of Democrats actually coming out.
Brad Means: So when we come back, we’ve covered Kemp and Abrams pretty well in our first segment. We’ll talk about the Senate race in our second, including why didn’t Brian Kemp’s success translate to Herschel Walker. Why is that race so tight, and what happens going forward over the next four weeks or so? In a moment.
Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. We’re talking about the recent midterm elections. One of those races continues until December 6th when we’re gonna have a runoff in the all important, once again, Georgia Senate race. It is shaping up to be the race that decides the balance of power in this nation. Mary-Kate Lizotte, professor at Augusta University in the Social Sciences department and political expert, we lean on her a lot and we’re doing that today. Dr. Lizotte, we talked about how Governor Brian Kemp easily won his race. Why didn’t Herschel Walker, the Republican, easily win his?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah, I mean, Walker did worse than all of the statewide Republicans. And I think it was ultimately his inexperience and some of the alleged scandals that have plagued him. And just the fact that to some extent that he is a Trump Republican. And I think that a lot of Georgia Republicans love Trump, but then there’s a good amount of them that aren’t so sure anymore and would rather support someone like Kemp who was willing to be principled against Trump.
Brad Means: What did those people do? Say, you know, they mashed the button for Kemp, and did they skip Senate or did they vote Democrat or Libertarian in that race?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: So there were a number of people who skipped the Senate, which is really, really interesting. I think it’s around 20,000, which, you know, isn’t huge, but it’s something. I think that there were a number of Warnock Democrats who wanted to sort of reward Kemp for the fact that he, you know, didn’t bow down to Trump. And so they thought, “Yeah, he’s doing, you know, a good enough job and so I’m gonna vote for him, but then I’m gonna vote for Warnock.” Some of them definitely did vote Libertarian, but that split ticket voting is the most interesting to me because it’s so rare. And again, it was rare in this race as well, but it happened enough to make it so close.
Brad Means: Let’s look at that Libertarian candidate, Chase Oliver, and if memory serves, he got about 70, 80,000 votes more than enough to cause this runoff. Does one side or the other perhaps behind the scenes insert a Libertarian candidate into the race? Or did this guy just organically wanna run for Senate? Because he threw a wrench into Warnock and Walker’s plans, and he’s making this thing go into overtime. Do parties sometimes in the background put candidates up like that to ensure runoff?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: I don’t think so.
Brad Means: Am I being kind of a conspiracy theorist?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah, I mean I don’t think so. I think that the Libertarian party isn’t, you know, of the mind to try to cause a runoff, but they really wanna get awareness to their issue positions. They really wanna have as much influence on Republicans as they possibly can because-
Brad Means: Okay, so it’s that.
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah.
Brad Means: It’s just letting our voice be heard ’cause you know you’re not gonna win.
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Right.
Brad Means: Okay, all right, understood. Does a runoff favor either candidate?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: I don’t think a runoff necessarily in general favors, you know, one or the other. I think in this instance, Warnock might benefit from the fact that some of those Kemp voters might not show up to vote for Walker. They might not take the time. You know, if this is the seat that decides control of the Senate, that might increase the likelihood that those, you know, Kemp voters do show up to vote for Walker. But I’m not sure.
Brad Means: Does the December 6th date bother you or concern you as a political scientist? Is it too close to Thanksgiving, too close to Christmas shopping, or is it a good time for everybody to go out? I know people are always looking for excuses not to vote. Is December 6th benign enough to make us all not have an excuse that day?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah, I don’t think that it’s any different from November 8th to be honest. I think that, you know, in a lot of other democracies, they have a holiday. I think that would be great.
Brad Means: I’d love the day off, honestly. No, I mean in the news business we couldn’t. But yeah, why not close schools, shut everything down so everyone can do that?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah, you could have more polling precincts, you know, make it easier in terms of counting everything. You wouldn’t have to worry about using churches as much as we do to have precincts. So I think that that would be really great. And then for a lot of people, it would make it easier for them to vote. You know, obviously that’s not gonna happen. I don’t think that December 6th is gonna make a big difference. We’re still gonna have, you know, a week of early voting, and that gives people a great opportunity to vote if that date doesn’t work for them.
Brad Means: Right, and weather should be okay that time of December. It’s not bad weather typically. Did you think that there was going to be a red wave for Republicans and should they be disappointed that there wasn’t?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: So I would have to say that we still don’t know, right? I have seen so many things that have been written and said on social media or in the news media, “What happened to the red wave? Where’s the red wave?” There’s a bunch of house seats, we don’t know. It’s very possible that the Senate could end up being 51, 52 Republican to Democrat. We still don’t know, you know, how those few Senate races are going to go. So I think people need to calm down about all of that. We still don’t know. But yeah, I think that ultimately the Republican party expected to do better. I think that a lot of people, given the fundamentals, given the fact that Biden’s not super popular, that people are concerned about inflation, that it’s a midterm election, Republicans probably should have more handedly won on election night. There should have been a bigger red wave. But we still don’t know.
Brad Means: When we see Congress, so almost evenly divided, and when we see candidates from two major parties in a runoff, should we take that to show that the nation is divided or could we spin it in a positive light and say, no, both sides are really almost to the number fairly represented?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: I would say that the country is pretty divided. I would also say that a lot of Republican advantage has been given in states that have gerrymandered their districts, and the Senate also, the fact that every state gets the same number of seats, benefits Republicans. So if you look at a national poll, Republican identifiers are lower than Democratic identifiers but they tend to participate more, and that with the gerrymandering, with the way that the Senate is set up, it really benefits them a lot. And so the Senate ends up being not as democratic as the house, and then the house because of gerrymandering ends up not being as democratic as it should be if districts were drawn impartially.
Brad Means: Let’s take a look, and this next answer is either gonna age well or not age well but we’re just guessing. What’s Donald Trump going to announce next week? And this’ll air on Monday, so this week. Any idea of what he’s gonna say?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: I’m not sure. I mean, right now we’re seeing Murdoch owned news not being super supportive of Trump. You know, the New York Post front page calling him Trumpty Dumpty. They have really seemed to got behind DeSantis, especially after DeSantis did so well in Florida on Tuesday night. And so that could change his calculation about whether or not he’s gonna announce that he’s running. I think that he should probably hold off a little bit to decide whether or not he’s gonna run again because he doesn’t wanna negatively impact, you know, the runoff in Georgia. He doesn’t want that to hurt Walker in any way with good point, you know, Kemp Republicans, and also he probably wants to see, you know, how things work out with DeSantis and how he’s viewed in the next few months.
Brad Means: If Republicans do get a slight advantage when all the smoke clears, President Biden is in office, obviously, does this mean nothing gets done for the next couple of years?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: It probably means very little is going to get done, except for, you know, the very few issues where both parties agree, or in terms of executive orders, that’s always something that a president can use. I would say one thing to look out for is if Republicans control the house, which they’re very likely to do, they will probably start impeachment proceedings against Biden.
Brad Means: Really? Why?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yes.
Brad Means: It’s some sort of a payback or they believe he warrants impeachment?
Mary-Kate Lizotte: I think both. I think that, you know, we look at political theorists and political science, and they argue that we have entered into a stage of democracy that they call dirty democracy, in which both sides or, you know, all of the parties see each other as illegitimate, as threatening democracy and democratic institutions, and they sort of engage in this manipulation of the electoral rules. We’re seeing all of those things happening at, you know, the state level and also at the national level. And so I just think the parties don’t get along like they used to. And so that’s gonna be part of the reason why they go ahead and try to find a reason to impeach Biden.
Brad Means: All right. So we will watch for what happens going forward. My last question, and I’d just like to ask you this after each election probably, do you tell your students to go into politics or encourage them if the spark is lit to pursue that? Or is it a field where, really on what you just said, you say, “Guys, but maybe now it’s not the right time. Choose something else.”
Mary-Kate Lizotte: That’s a really good question. So I would say that I would definitely encourage any student who already has that ambition or who’s thinking about it. You know, a lot of my interest is in women in politics, and so I try to make the argument that women students should consider it as well, not just men, but I think, you know, it takes a special kind of person in terms of, you know, you’re opening up your life to a lot of scrutiny, you know, you’re not working a regular 40 hour a week or 50 hour a week job if you’re a politician, you really have to have a thick skin, you really have to be very self-possessed. And I think, you know, there are students and they know themselves pretty well. You might be surprised, you know, 18 to 22 year olds, they have a real sense of themselves, you know, and what they can handle. And so when they say that that’s something that they’re interested in, I definitely encourage them to pursue it.
Brad Means: Mary-Kate Lizotte, we covered a ton of ground. Thank you as always.
Mary-Kate Lizotte: Thank you. This was great.
Brad Means: It was very informative. I hope you come out of this better informed. I know I did.