Partisans Battle Over Southwest Georgia

Plains, Georgia
Plains, Georgia

So much of Georgia is discussed politically in broad brush strokes. We’re a “red state”. Democrats are mostly urban creatures found inside or near Atlanta’s Perimeter. The battle of attrition is usually one discussed as the long awaiting “changing demographics” of Atlanta’s suburbs. For bonus points, “white suburban women” have been long publicly acknowledged as a group that Democrats believe they can flip from R to D. A few choice House seats in Gwinnett and Henry counties are viewed as canaries in the coal mine to see if Georgia’s deep red is showing signs of purpling.

Largely lost in the partisan game of attrition is the battle for Southwest Georgia. Well away from Atlanta’s media market, the corner of Georgia below Columbus and Macon doesn’t fit into many of the large brush strokes in which the state’s political makeup is often discussed. It’s rural but represented in Congress by Sanford Bishop, a Democrat. It doesn’t have a growth problem like Atlanta. Economic Development is usually something residents read about, but rarely experience. It’s an area that trails much of the rest of the state in per capita income. It’s also quite racially diverse.

In the heart of Southwest Georgia is House District 138. It stretches from the southern end of Ft. Benning in Chattahoochee County to Americus in Sumter County. In the middle of the district is Plains, home to the state’s only former President – A Democrat. It is represented by Mike Cheokas, a Republican. Such are the characteristics that make the area difficult to pigeonhole on partisan grounds. It’s also difficult to predict.

As such, SW Georgia has been getting some high level attention from both parties. Speaker David Ralston recently completed a tour of the area stumping for incumbents Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert), John Corbett (R-Lake Park), Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) and Cheokas, along with Diedra White of Valdosta who is challenging Democratic Representative Dexter Sharper.

Rep Mike Cheokas and Speaker David Ralston speak during an event in Americus, Georgia
Rep Mike Cheokas and Speaker David Ralston speak during an event in Americus, Georgia

I was able to attend a gathering with Rep Cheokas and Speaker Ralston last Monday. The event, held in Americus’ Ryland theater, was a meet and greet with local supporters. It was a diverse crowd, with many local civic leaders of various backgrounds present. The power of the majority party is strong in SW Georgia, as it is an area that relies on the ability to move legislation and appropriations through both Washington and Atlanta to fund many of the regions large employers.

The power of having a long serving Representative and his ability to get things done was touted by the Speaker in his remarks to the crowd, noting that Choekas was able to secure funding for a local college construction project so that it could open on time. Afterwards the Speaker said of his friend and colleague:

“No one works harder than Mike Cheokas,” said Speaker David Ralston. “Mike is a dedicated public servant who has risen through the ranks in the House to become a committee chairman and a trusted leader. He focuses on issues that really matter – from improving education to maintaining access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. The people of Americus and the surrounding area are blessed to have him advocating for them at the State Capitol.”

First Lady Rosalynn Carter campaigning with Rep Winfred Dukes (photo by Jill Stuckey)
First Lady Rosalynn Carter campaigning with Rep Winfred Dukes (photo by Jill Stuckey)

Meanwhile, the Democrats sensing opportunity, are not leaving the area unchallenged. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter is appearing and speaking on behalf of local Democratic candidates today in Southwest Georgia. She appeared with State Representative Winfred Dukes of Albany at the Albany Welcome Center.

There, she urged the crowd “Voting in every election, whether it is local, state or national, is very important. And every vote counts.”

Every vote counting is not a new theme, but will likely make South Georgia show inverse results to the North Atlanta suburbs. Internal polls show support for Donald Trump softer than a typical Republican nominee in parts of metro Atlanta that are typically Republican strongholds.

In Southwest Georgia, however, the opposite is true. There is above average intensity for Republicans due to the top of the ticket. Whether Democrats maintain their current standing or even lose a seat or two may depend on whether Hillary is able to inspire the same level of turnout President Obama did in 2008 and 2012.


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