Party politics … suck.
I say that as a Democrat, but I know it’s true across the board. The internal struggles over form and process, cliques and factions are horrible things that sane and principled people ignore when they can.
The very tight state senate race between Republican State Senator Fran Millar and Democratic former State Representative Sally Harrell — a race that increasingly looks like it is going to be decided by fewer than a thousand votes with more than 50,000 ballots cast — might be an exception within Democratic party circles.
The center of gravity for the 40th district is in Dunwoody, but it covers Chamblee and Doraville, parts of Sandy Springs, Norcross, Peachtree Corners and elsewhere. While it has working class Buford Highway and Norcross, it’s also Perimeter Mall, manicured lawns, hot yoga, Whole Foods and one’s choice of Costcos, tech burbs and Teslas.
It’s inundated by politics right now. People who still have cable television will be seeing ads from both candidates. The lawn signs do not say slow down and namaste. It’s a district everyone wants to flip, from the Kemp and Abrams campaigns to the nuclear battlefield that the 6th congressional district has become. Dunwoody’s state house seat, long held by Republican Tom Taylor, is open. Democrat Michael Wilenski and Republican Ken Wright are in a knife fight for the job in a house district that flipped for Clinton two years ago. Conditions are almost the same next door, with Republican Meagan Hanson in Brookhaven trying to fend off a challenge from Democrat Matthew Wilson for a Brookhaven-based seat that has flipped three times in three cycles. Sandy Springs Democrat Josh McLaurin is suing the Georgia GOP over misleading campaign advertisements made in support of Republican Alex Kaufman’s campaign (a suit that the GOP settled at almost exactly the moment I published this story, it seems). Every house in the 40th state senate district is being knocked upon again and again by all of these people, with the mentats from both parties parsing early voter data to figure out who still hasn’t voted and who won’t shoot the next canvasser at the door.
Endorsements are usually the sort of thing that might only matter in the internal factional struggles of a party primary. In a general election, they’re the sort of thing one gathers from elected officials on one side of the aisle or the other as a matter of course. Usually, they don’t really matter.
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond has pointedly refused to endorse Sally Harrell, despite repeated inquiries from fellow Democrats. Thurmond offered praise for Millar after the passage of the T-SPLOST and homestead tax plan last year, which bought $600 million in property tax relief for DeKalb voters at the cost of increased sales taxes. Thurmond said in a statement released by the Millar campaign in February that “the $600 million transportation, police and fire safety improvements and property tax relief would not have happened without Senator Millar … Bipartisanship is essential for our continued success in DeKalb.”
How many votes is that gesture of bipartisanship worth? Hard to say. Given the apparent tightness of the race and the shifting partisan leanings of the district — which narrowly voted for Clinton over Trump in 2016 — both candidates are looking for every vote they can find.
Harrell has been quietly puzzled by Thurmond’s reticence. Harrell has broad support from the Democratic coalition, won in part because she spared the party from a bruising primary in 2017 by stepping out of the 6th district congressional race, clearing a path for Jon Ossoff. She didn’t exactly cut a deal to back out in return for the party’s support later in this state senate challenge, but people in the party saw the move and have reacted as though it were so. Only now, the most powerful Democratic official in her district is refusing an endorsement.
“He is staying out of the race. Why would he want to get into the race?” Thurmond’s spokesman said. “In terms of his support for Democrats, he has a long history of support,” he said … while failing to explain why Thurmond has chosen to withhold his endorsement. “I haven’t discussed it with him.” Others have asked him, but he has yet to make a public statement explaining his view of Harrell as a candidate.
Millar has subsequently run advertisements touting Thurmond’s comments. Thurmond hasn’t offered similarly-quotable praise for Harrell, who said that some financial donors told her they have stayed on the sidelines because of Thurmond’s non-endorsement.
I know Fran Millar, and I like him personally. His campaign, however, has been dinged by efforts to appear bipartisan, citing the “support” of elected officials who are actually voting for Harrell. Earlier today, Chamblee city councilman Brian Mock found it necessary to post a message on Facebook clarifying that he was a Harrell supporter, after Millar’s campaign used his name in political advertising.
“This caught me off guard as while Fran is a friend, no one had discussed this with me, nor would I have approved of it,” Mock wrote. “Realizing that mistakes happen, I did not get upset, but did feel the need to set the record straight. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Crier, but it did not make it to print. I’m therefore correcting this here as I believe in full transparency. I’ve already voted, and I voted for Sally Roettger Harrell. As stated, I like Fran and consider him a friend, but I have to vote according to my values and my beliefs. Having had many conversations with Sally, I’m convinced that I made the right choice. I would ask that you give her your every consideration.”
Endorsements are usually marginal things in a race, but the race itself is going to be decided in the margins. This is probably the closest senate race in the state and arguably one of the closest state senate races in the southern United States. National groups have made targeted advertising purchases and donations to both candidates because of the closeness of the race and the potential for a Democratic pick up in a state where Republicans are only one vote short of a supermajority in the senate. The state senate right now can overcome a veto or place a constitutional amendment on the ballot by flipping one Democrat. A Harrell win would double that number, which is to say, would halve Republican opportunities to do so.
But it’s hard to win when all the Democrats aren’t on the field.