As Americans look away for a brief moment during the Rio 2016 Olympics, Georgia political insiders have started to meet and discuss the 2018 Georgia elections. Only the Georgia legislature, Sen. Johnny Isakson, and members of Congress are on the ballot in 2016 along with, of course, the presidential election.
Needless to say, the outcome of the 2016 election will have a big influence on who decides to step up to the political plate in 2018 to challenge what is currently a Republican juggernaut. Many believed in 2014 that Georgia had started to make the turn toward purple with Democrats fielding some strong candidates for U.S. Senate (Michelle Nunn) and governor (Jason Carter).
Yet, it was not to be. Georgia Republicans dominated the state, winning every Constitutional office, the U.S. Senate race (David Perdue), and control of both Houses of the Georgia legislature. Incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal was re-elected with 53 percent of the vote to Carter’s 45 percent.
Of course, Georgia Republicans had the benefit of running against a second-term lame duck President Barack Obama with no scandals or real liabilities on their side of the ballot. Although many insiders believed that Georgia demographics continued to trend Democratic, it was not enough to make the 2014 elections really competitive (notwithstanding early polls suggesting otherwise).
When 2018 rolls around, a lot of things will have changed. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election, both nationally and in Georgia, will dramatically alter the landscape. If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wins, then Georgia Democrats — a beleaguered political party with little bench strength and even less political standing — will regain some momentum, resources, and status.
If Donald Trump wins the presidency, then it is anyone’s guess regarding what it will mean for politics in America and in Georgia. Adding to this political uncertainty is the fact that popular Gov. Nathan Deal is term-limited, leaving no incumbent in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election. The trickle-down from this one vacancy will reach all the way from Georgia’s highest office to virtually every local office in the state.
Make no mistake, regardless of the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, there will be no shortage of Republican and Democratic candidates in 2018 for every Constitutional office (including governor) to local school boards. It is the one time that comes every eight years (unless a sitting governor loses) that virtually the entire political landscape is up for grabs.
The governor’s race alone should yield some interesting political dynamics. Some of the possible candidates appear obvious regardless of the outcome of the presidential election. No one will be surprised when shortly after Nov. 8, 2016, Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle makes clear his intention to become Georgia’s next governor. He has been in full campaign mode since his re-election in 2014.
Yet, other races might very well depend on who does win the 2016 presidential election. Should Hillary Clinton win, there will be no shortage of potential gubernatorial candidates who get tapped to serve in her administration instead.
The top three Georgia Democrats are good examples. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed will almost certainly have plenty of options to choose from — not the least of which would be a run for governor. On the other hand, as a close confidante of President Obama and strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, he is almost certain to be offered a position in a Clinton administration. But, knowing Mayor Reed, he may just opt for the private sector where he will be among the state’s biggest movers and shakers while having the opportunity to actually make some real money.
2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter and 2014 Democratic Senatorial nominee Michelle Nunn would likely fall into the same category. Most believe that former state senator Carter still has the bug for politics and will likely make another run for governor. Michelle Nunn may not be so keen on another stint in the political arena. But both are strong candidates and would be formidable gubernatorial opponents in 2018.
However, the Democratic list of potential gubernatorial candidates does not end there. Many believe Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams has positioned herself well for a run and other former Democratic members of Congress as well as fellow members of the Georgia legislature will undoubtedly be interested. And, of course, the self-funders out there (like Democratic Senate nominee Jim Barksdale running now against Isakson) may also consider running for governor.
On the Republican side, the list is just too long to cover all the possibilities. Following the lead of Gov. Deal, who moved from Congress to the governor’s mansion, some interesting possibilities arise. The three most prominent include former First District Congressman Jack Kingston, former Third District Congressman Lynn Westmoreland and current Sixth Congressional District Congressman Tom Price. Both have strong bases among Georgia Republicans and could follow Gov. Deal’s path to a primary win followed by a general election win.
Other names often mentioned include Attorney General Sam Olens and Secretary of State Brian Kemp. One sleeper might be Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton who has systematically moved himself into the top tier of potential GOP gubernatorial candidates. And, like Senator David Perdue, do not be surprised if a businessman or two takes a serious look.
Regardless, for everyone who thinks this election year is a bit crazy, just wait until 2018 in Georgia.