Cobb, Gwinnett Not Quite Blue Yet…

The second worst part of an election aftermath is listening to the losing side try to delegitimize the winning side. The worst part is watching the winning side act like they won because they were smarter and not just luckier. Everyone would like to believe that voters make informed decisions in a rational manner, but the world doesn’t run that way. It’s run by people who are animated by, as someone once said, “the seven deadly sins and the weather.”

Keep that in mind when reading the current spate of news stories doing “deep dives,” “hot takes,” or worse, bringing “perspective.” There is no understanding people in any rational way. If we see the other side at all, it’s through the lens that shapes our world and comforts us by allowing us to see only what we want to see.

So if you think Cobb County turned “blue” because Hillary Clinton received more votes there than Donald Trump did, you’re probably a Democrat. If you believe Trump lost Cobb because he was unacceptable to many Republicans, you’re a moderate Republican, a political scientist, or the Chair of the County GOP. And if you think that a “steady incursion of left leaning Hispanics and blacks has diluted the voting strength of conservatives in Cobb…” you may not quite be a racist, but you’re probably just as bad as the liberals who have put a generation of faith in corrosive identity politics.identpols

Gwinnett County varies slightly from the “Republican strongholds turning blue,” narrative. There, Hillary Clinton won just over 50% of the votes cast, and US Senator Johnny Isakson won slightly less than 50% (but still four points ahead of his Democratic opponent). If you think this means Gwinnett is now a Democratic county, look at the all-Republican Board of Commissioners, all-Republican School Board, all-Republican county-wide offices and the mostly Republican state legislative delegation. If that’s turning “blue,” Gwinnett Republicans are delighted.

Democrats in Gwinnett are holding out hope for the next election cycle, when the tide of diversity in Gwinnett should have turned in their favor. “We know we’re 53-56 percent majority minority, so it’s only a matter of time that we should be competing,” said Jim Shealey, chair of the Gwinnett Democrats. (Note: Mr. Shealey lost 53%-47% to incumbent Commission chair Charlotte Nash, whose campaign was managed by my company, Apache Political).

What’s clear from these two county results is that Trump lost Cobb, but Hillary won Gwinnett –and that’s a distinction with a difference.

Cobb County gave Mitt Romney 55% of its votes in 2012 –some 171,000 ballots. Barack Obama only took 133,000 votes that year -or just over 42%. That’s a 13 point advantage for a Republican. The Republican in Cobb who took that advantage this year? Incumbent Sheriff Neil Warren, who bested his opponent 56% to 43%. Which is 13 points if you’re keeping score. US Senator Johnny Isakson, who’s from Cobb, beat his opponent by (only) 11 points. While Trump’s candidacy might be partially responsible for that 2-point dropoff, the point is that the Republican votes were there, but Cobb Republicans weren’t buying what Trump was selling.

In Gwinnett, though, there were at least 164,709 votes available to Republicans in contested races –that’s the number of votes Charlotte Nash received while beating her opponent by 5-and-some %. Johnny Isakson didn’t carry a majority in Gwinnett (154,000 votes or 49.7%) but he still beat Jim Barksdale’s 140,000 votes by just under 4.5%. Donald Trump, though, lost outright, getting only 146,000 votes (45%) to Hillary Clinton’s 165,000 votes (50.1%)

Demographically, Cobb is whiter and wealthier than Gwinnett, and as long as there’s no polarizing figure at the topic of the ticket in 2018, Cobb should return to form as a county with 10-12 point Republican advantage. Gwinnett, though, joins Clayton, Rockdale, Henry and DeKalb as former Republican strongholds.

As long as identity politics shapes the world, demographics will still be destiny.

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Dave BearsedunwoodymoderateMike Hassingeredatlanta Recent comment authors
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It’s risible to say that liberals are the only ones playing identity politics (I mean, “liberal” is a pejorative FFS) but yes, overall I think you are correct. There is also something to be said for incompetent county parties which George posted about on FB that may also skew down-ballot results more for Republicans. You mention that Cobb is wealthier. As we see wealthier voters become more Democratic don’t you think that’s a dire signal for Cobb Republicans? Especially as it seems most of the new wealth are ITPers with families who now want more space but keep their political… Read more »

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Ed, there’s nothing funny about it. I’m interested in learning about the GOP liberals of whom Mike writes.


I would also say that on the local level, Republicans in counties that are switching over from red to blue tend to outlast the presidential results by a cycle or 2. That was the case in Rockdale and also the case in Douglas. Obama carried Douglas in 2008 and 2012 but Republicans were still elected to county wide offices. They also outperformed Romney/McCain by about 5% similar to what Chairman Nash did in Gwinnett this year. Fast forward to 2016, Clinton carried Douglas by 10 points and democrats won all countywide offices. I agree Cobb was more about Trump than… Read more »

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

This election marks the beginning of a Gwinnett GOP majority in elected office surviving on incumbency. They deserve to survive because for the most part they’re doing a good job.

Incumbency sustained many Democrats for a few years. The only question is whether the GOP Gwinnett County officeholder majority will gradually dwindle into a minority when offices become open as incumbents retire or move on, or whether an increase in Dem officeholders winning those open seats will reach a tipping point that actually flips some Republicans out of office.