There is soooooooo much being said and written about a pair of stories this week indicating Georgia is suddenly a swing state in the presidential election. Could it happen? Hey, with the unpredictable Donald Trump on the ballot, anything is possible. But are these two stories the signs Georgia Democrats have really been waiting for?
First, the Monday story about a poll showing Hillary Clinton is leading Trump in Georgia by a whopping 7 percentage points — well beyond the AJC’s poll showing a narrower lead for Clinton within the margin of error. Unlike the AJC poll, the poll by JMC Analytics and Polling was an automated poll (i.e. not with live operators). What’s more, the pollster doesn’t even sound certain that it was surveying actual Georgians: It describes its pool of respondents as “likely households residing in Georgia.” In plain language, that doesn’t even mean anything. Perhaps it means they were just dialing numbers with Georgia area codes and assuming the person on the phone lives here — even though in the age of mobile phones, VOIP phones and virtually no long-distance fees it is commonplace for people who leave the state for school or work to keep their old number for the sake of convenience. Heck, I had a 678 number when I lived in Belgium.
That may be one reason JMC wound up with a result that doesn’t pass the smell test. Georgia went for Mitt Romney in 2012 by almost 8 points. The notion that we have seen a 15-point swing in the favor of someone as generally unpopular as Hillary Clinton (the AJC poll had her favorability rating at minus-18 points) is incredibly hard to believe, even with a string of bad news for Trump over the past week-plus. As another data point, consider that JMC shows two-term U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who hit 58 percent of the vote in his past two statewide elections, polling at only 39 percent. The Isakson team is taking this election very seriously, but there is almost no chance he’s at less than 40 percent right now against a Democrat, Jim Barksdale, who has been abandoned by such Georgia Democratic heavyweights as U.S. Rep. David Scott and former Gov. Roy Barnes.
Now for the second story, via the Washington Post this morning, that the Clinton campaign “phoned state Democratic leaders in Arizona and Georgia on Monday night to alert them of plans to begin transferring funds to hire more field organizers in those states.”
That’s news, potentially big news. But it’ll only be big news if it involves big funds.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has opined that Clinton needs to put between $8 million and $15 million into Georgia to move the state into her column. Is that the kind of money the Clinton campaign is talking about? That remains to be seen. Keep in mind, the Obama campaign in 2008 also talked up Georgia as a battleground state but eventually did very little here.
Another point to consider: Reed’s number of up to $15 million came with a bit of a qualifier. Here’s the whole sentence: “If I were in Secretary Clinton’s shoes and I had an opportunity to win a state and I had a billion dollars, then $8-$15 million is a logical investment.” Emphasis added.
President Obama raised about $1 billion in 2012, but Clinton so far is lagging behind his pace. Politico on Monday reported on an internal campaign memo pointing out that she is about $51 million (or about 10 percent) behind where the Obama campaign was at the same point four years ago. The memo — titled “Wake Up Call” — also noted that Trump’s fundraising has soared, almost matching hers in July ($80 million vs. $90 million). So not only does Clinton have less money at her disposal at the same stage of the race than did Obama, who didn’t spend in Georgia and still won comfortably, but Trump’s campaign looks like it will have the money to defend Georgia if it comes to that.
Here’s what all this comes down to: It’s still unlikely that Clinton is well ahead in Georgia at the moment, and less likely that she will win the state in November. One thing to consider: While the “Now-cast” at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com has Clinton ahead in Georgia as of today, the site’s more comprehensive prediction of what will happen in November still gives Trump a 2-to-1 chance of taking our state.
Now, you might argue that the mere fact we’re talking about whether she could win states like Georgia and Arizona is bad news in the bigger, national picture for Trump. And I’d have to agree. When the evidence suggests she’s closer to flipping a Georgia than he is to flipping a Pennsylvania, his chances don’t look good.
Then again, it’s early August, exactly 13 weeks before Election Day. A quarter of a year will pass before the votes are counted. The drumbeat of bad news will probably turn away from Trump and back toward Clinton at some point — that’s what happens when both candidates are bad at things like the basics of politics and, you know, telling the truth — and the race will tighten again nationally. And as it tightens nationally, the angst about Trump among Georgians who might otherwise have voted for him is likely to ease.
But here’s what is true, and has been for some time: The big question for Trump, in Georgia and beyond, is whether he is capable of stanching the bleeding of typically Republican voters and then winning over any typically Democratic voters with his atypical brand of populism. So far, not so good.