Razor-Thin Margins Make Georgia And Ohio Governor Races Too Close To Call

The two states are among a dozen tossup races for gubernatorial seats held by Republicans.

There are new polls in Georgia and Ohio that cement the tossup status of the two states going into the midterm elections. While the GOP candidates are not losing beyond the margin of error in either case, Democrat gains indicate that Brian Kemp and Mike DeWine have not been able to close the deal with voters and both races remain in true tossup status. The two states are among twelve Republican tossups in which gubernatorial seats are at risk of being flipped by Democrats.

In the newest poll, Democrat Stacey Abrams leads Republican Kemp by a single point. Previous polling over the past month has consistently given Kemp a two-point lead. The average of the polls puts the race well within the margin of error.

Despite the fact that Georgia is considered a deep red state, there are several factors at play that may create a perfect storm for Republican Brian Kemp. The gubernatorial race in Georgia has garnered national attention due to the allegations of voter suppression by Kemp, who is currently secretary of state. Although these allegations have been debunked repeatedly, they continue to dog the Kemp campaign.

Abrams, who is black, may benefit not only from the voter registration controversy but also from the excitement generated by a black female candidate in a state with a large minority population. In the 2016 election, blacks made up 30 percent of Georgia’s electorate. If other nonwhites are included, that number increases to 40 percent. Both groups voted Democrat by an even larger margin than the white majority voted Republican. In 2016, Donald Trump won the state by less than six percent, about 230,000 votes.

This year, there are indications that the minority share of the electorate may be increasing even further. The Atlanta Journal reported in June that the share of white voters in Georgia’s primaries had decreased as the number of minority voters increased. In 2014, Republican primary ballots outnumbered Democrats by more than a quarter million. This year, the margin was just over 50,000.

Georgia Democrats may be benefitting from an Obama effect in which a black candidate at the top of the ticket inspires black voters to get to the polls in larger numbers. White liberals may also be motivated by the historic nature of the race.

Conversely, Republicans also be suffering from Kemp’s primary strategy of appealing to the Trump base, which is predominantly white, with ads that have been used against him in the general election. Kemp doubled down on his association with Trump, electing to skip the last debate to campaign with the president. Trump has a 49 percent approval rating among likely voters.

Kemp remains a slight favorite due to Georgia’s law requiring candidates to win with a majority of the vote. With both candidates polling below 50 percent, the race is almost certain to go to a runoff in December without Libertarian candidate Ted Metz in a two-way race that should favor Kemp as Libertarian voters turn out against Abrams’ plans for a Medicaid expansion for the state and her extreme position on gun control.

In Ohio, another race for an open seat previously held by Republican John Kasich looks more likely to go blue. Ohio is a perennial swing state so the close race there should be less surprising than the one in Georgia.

Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate, trailed Democrat Richard Cordray in October polling including a new Emerson College poll that put Cordray ahead by three points. Another poll by Baldwin Wallace University found that voters favored Cordray in a two-way race by one point, but, when third-party candidates were included, DeWine held a lead of less than half a point. In either case, the polls are well within the margin of error and the race could go either way, especially considering that 15 percent of voters still say they are unsure.

The bad news for Republicans here is that Democrats hold leads in other statewide Ohio races. In some cases, the Democrat lead is significant and, in others, it is within the margin of error, but the Democrat advantage is consistent across the board. Republican candidates also are hampered by President Trump’s 49 percent disapproval in the state.

Both Georgia and Ohio will be states to watch closely next Tuesday. A win for Abrams in Georgia would catapult her to celebrity status among Democrats as a black woman who won in a red state. That would automatically make Stacey Abrams a contender for 2020. The outcome in the purple state of Ohio could give an indication of which way the state, which is vital for Republican presidential candidates, would lean in 2020.

[Photo Credit: David Thornton]

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Merrie_Soltis
Merrie_Soltis

Editor

Good analysis.