Gwinnett County could play a key role among swing counties in Georgia during this fall’s presidential election, according to a new poll from Monmouth University.
The poll shows former Vice-President Joe Biden has a 58% to 38% lead over President Donald Trump in a group of 14 swing counties, “led by the large Atlanta suburbs of Cobb and Gwinnett.” Officials who worked on the poll said they do not provide specific poll numbers for Gwinnett because its sample size was too small, however.
Statewide, Biden and Trump were neck and neck at 47% apiece among registered voters who participated in the poll.
“There is a lot of parity between the two candidates. Trump has a lock on his base but Biden is performing much better than Clinton did in key swing areas,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
A strong showing by Biden at the top of the November ballot raises questions about how it could impact down ballot raises, particularly those for local officials, such as county commission chairman, two commission district and two school board seats, district attorney, sheriff and tax commissioner among others.
“What the top of the ticket does, especially in presidential elections, is it gets people to go to the polls who don’t often vote in special elections or may even sit out a mid-term election when we elect our governor,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said. “The attention given to the presidential contest bring those marginally interested voters to the polls. So they go to the polls and they want to vote for their candidate who’s running for president.
“Once they get there, they see all those other contests with names they don’t recognize so what do they do? They vote by party identification.”
Hillary Clinton narrowly carried Gwinnett in the 2016 presidential election, the first time in decades that a Democratic nominee for president had carried the longtime Republican stronghold.
In the 2018 general election, where Democrats had a strong showing in Gwinnett and flipped several seats — including some that surprised even Democratic Party observers — the party’s gubernatorial nominee, Stacey Abrams carried the county with 56.5% of the votes cast in the governor’s election.
Bullock said he now considers Gwinnett to be a “Robin’s Egg Blue” county rather than the red county it had been since the 1980’s, or the purple county it had been portrayed as in recent elections.
“What you’re witnessing in Gwinnett is a pattern similar to what was taking place 30 years ago,” Bullock said. “Except 30 years ago, it was Democrats gradually losing control as Republicans were taking more and more of the county. Now, it’s a reversal of the role of the party. It’s Republicans whose success has peaked and they’re on the decline.”
Gwinnett County Democratic Party Chairwoman Bianca Keaton said she believes there will be a trickle up effect on the ballot, with enthusiasm about local Democratic candidates, driving up support for top of the ticket Democrats rather than the other way around.
“I think our down ballot candidates, and the emphasis that we place on them, is actually going to have an upward impact on the top of the ticket,” Keaton said.
Gwinnett County Republican Party Chairman Edward Muldrow is not as sure a trickle-up effect exists, however.
“That’s what they would like it to be, but here’s the deal, the state that we’re in right now with everything that’s going on around the country, people don’t have an appetite for the craziness for the extremists — especially in Gwinnett County,” Muldrow said.
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said he did believe lower races could help generate support for candidates higher up on the ballot — although he also said that he believes that a presidential contest will draw voters who may not even vote in a gubernatorial race. Collins addressed the Gwinnett GOP at its monthly breakfast on Saturday.
“These local races matter,” Collins said after the breakfast. “What most people realize is that their county commissions, their sheriffs, their boards of education, those are the folks that they see every day so to speak so I do believe a lot of times your local races do generate enthusiasm.”
The county’s GOP chairman said this election will be about where Gwinnettians has been under Republican leadership — 2018 was the first time since the early 1980’s that Democrats had been elected to county offices — and where they want to see it go in the future.
That entails looking at the quality of Gwinnett’s schools, the safety of the community and other quality of life issues, he said. If Democrats think the quality of life in the county is bad, Muldrow said, then “they need to own that.”
“This is the time now where we have to prove what we’re made of in Gwinnett County,” Muldrow said. “Are we leaning towards wanting to look like DeKalb County or are we leaning toward wanting to continue to grow a successful Gwinnett County? We have to answer that question on the third of November.”
One factor that Keaton said is helping generate enthusiasm for local Democrats who will be on the November ballot is that several of them are from minority groups.
“I would be dishonest if I didn’t say there’s still some rumblings that people have about nominees and the uncertainty and wanting candidates of color, and particularly with this being a very diverse county.
“We don’t necessarily have that sort of diversity on our federal ticket, especially if you live in the (7th Congressional District). All of the federal candidates are white save the (Sen. Kelly Loeffler) seat, which we can’t really claim one or the other because it’s a jungle field of 21 people.”
More locally, however, there are several candidates of color running for local offices. Officially, there is a Democratic Party primary runoff between Nicole Love Hendrickson, who is African-American, and Lee Thompson, who is white, but Thompson has suspended his campaign and is encouraging his supporters to vote for Hendrickson, making her the party’s de facto nominee.
“When we look at the top of our local ticket, we’ve got Nicole Love Hendrickson at the top of it and I think she’s a very attractive candidate for a number of reasons and I believe she has an appeal towards a number of different constituencies as well,” Keaton said.
State legislative races will be a key area to watch in the general election. That’s because the Georgia General Assembly will be dealing with redistricting next year. If Democrats can flip at least one chamber of the legislature, they will have a seat at the redistricting table.
Bullock said there are some legislative races in Gwinnett that could be considered vulnerable.
“Several of those Gwinnett County seats, I know Chuck Efstration’s (state house seat) is one, are very marginal,” Bullock said. “They were marginal two years ago and with the Democratic numbers increasing, it’s going to be harder for Republicans to hold onto seats there in the legislature or the county commission or the school board.”
Keaton is confident about Biden’s chances in Gwinnett — even going so far as saying “we know Biden is going to win Gwinnett” — but she also said the amount by which he wins the county could have ramifications across the state.
Keaton pointed to a July 11 tweet by New York Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin, who said it might be possible for Biden to win Georgia if he can capture 60% of the vote in Gwinnett and pick up even a little bit of support in rural areas.
It’s a notion Bullock concurred with.
“Gwinnett has had this pretty heavy incline in Democratic voting percentages,” Keaton said. “I mean, it was historic turnout for Abrams, 56.6%, and I’m hoping the trend for increased Democratic performance in presidential years holds and then we’ll see that number shoot up.
“And, hopefully, we’ll get that 60%.”