The fabled New Georgia, promised to appear at any moment since Republicans took power four years ago, emerged in full view in last week's governor's race.
As my colleague Dick Williams notes, New Georgia may be the reddest state in the nation - despite the re-election of dozens of down-ballot Democrats.
The big race on Nov. 7, the one for governor, is the election that told the world who Georgians are and where they are headed. The Georgia electorate is now mostly Republican. They don't care what anybody thinks; they are headed upstream, against the national current.
Just how Republican is that? What happened to the Democrats?
We set out to find the answers. With the help of a savvy consultant and human-like software, we painted by the numbers the portrait of the 2006 election contest between Republican Sonny Perdue and Democrat Mark Taylor.
We were astounded at the picture.
- Three of the state's most populous counties - Bibb (Macon), Chatham (Savannah) and Muscogee (Columbus) - went for Perdue. It marked the first time in 40 years that voters in those counties cast most of their ballots for a Republican gubernatorial candidate. One has to go all the way back to the 1966 battle between Lester Maddox (D) and Bo Callaway (R) to find Bibb, Chatham and Muscogee in the GOP column. Even more surprising, all three counties backed liberal Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.
- In Fulton County, Georgia's most populous county, Perdue received 43 percent of the votes - the best showing in Fulton for a GOP gubernatorial candidate since 1970, when Atlanta TV personality Hal Suit was the Republican candidate against Jimmy Carter. Last week, Taylor captured Fulton with only 52 percent of the vote - 7 percent less than Kerry's Fulton total in 2004.
- In DeKalb County (a must-win county for any statewide Democrat), second-place Perdue received 13,000 more votes than he collected there four years ago. Taylor won 14,000 fewer votes there than Gov. Roy Barnes got in 2002. Though Taylor won DeKalb with more than 60 percent of the vote, the turnout was miserably low. Champion vote-getter Cynthia McKinney was gone and mostly forgotten.
- Perdue won 48 percent of the vote in majority-black Richmond County (Augusta) on Nov. 7 - 10 percent more than he received four years ago. Perdue lost Richmond County by 11,000 votes in 2002; this time, he lost the county by fewer than 1,000 votes.
- Across the state, Perdue beat Taylor 58 to 38 percent. Libertarian Garrett Hayes received 4 percent. Perdue won 68 percent of the white vote and an amazing 17 percent of the black vote. Statewide, Perdue captured 129 counties - 83 of which he took by a margin of more than 60 percent. Taylor managed to win 30 counties, and took only 8 of those by more than 60 percent. Outside the metro area, Taylor won only one North Georgia county: Clarke. In the end, Perdue beat Taylor by more than 400,000 votes. In 2002, Perdue defeated Barnes by slightly more than 100,000 votes.
So what do all these numbers mean? For starters, they mean old political assumptions (urban centers and blacks always vote monolithically Democratic) are dead or dying, and so is the Democratic Party of Georgia as we know it.
We also learned that Taylor and his brain trust ran a wretched campaign. Strapped for cash after a bruising primary, they spent nearly everything on TV ads - which didn't work. They ignored grass roots organizations, which might have helped.
The Taylor team reached out for white male voters by vowing to get tough on criminals and abolish parole. Instead of recruiting white men, they turned off black men and black women - the core of their base - who are not typically supporters of law-and-order candidates.
"Never run against your base" is a rule written in granite in everybody's campaign manual. The Taylor folks must have lost their manual.
The Taylor bunch also fixated late in the campaign on Perdue's questionable but complicated real estate deals and never pinned down the incumbent on his specific plans for the state. Party discipline also disappeared, if it ever existed. After her defeat in the Democratic primary, Cathy Cox seemed to take orders from Republican strategists. Former Gov. Zell Miller, still flying the Democratic banner, ran all over Georgia and Pennsylvania campaigning for Perdue and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. Santorum lost. No Democrat in Georgia bothered to call out the renegade Miller.
When he ran for governor and senator, Miller repeatedly rated Mark Taylor and the Taylor family among his most generous and loyal supporters. In 2006, Miller went all out to defeat Taylor. There's probably a lesson to be learned here, and we'll let you figure out what it is.
Also, people calling themselves "flaggers" - those unreconstructed rebs who promised to battle Perdue to the end - no longer live in New Georgia. At least we could not find any after Nov. 7.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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