With Trump off the Ballot, Can Democrats Win in Georgia? | Opinion

As Democratic contender Stacey Abrams looks to defeat Governor Brian Kemp in the highly anticipated rematch of the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, former president Donald Trump's absence from the ballot could prove detrimental to Democratic Party efforts in the state.

Despite narrowly backing Joe Biden and electing two Democratic senators in 2020, Georgia is far from a blue state. The Democratic Party's recent success in Georgia is commonly attributed to efforts to get out the minority vote, but this is not the complete picture.

Initiatives driving Black and Latino voters to the polls were premised on the necessity of defeating the former president. In Georgia and across the nation, Democrats painted the 2020 election as a once-in-a-generation movement to rid the country of a perceived public enemy. Very little excitement surrounded President Biden and his agenda, but that didn't matter. Biden was merely acting as the placeholder candidate and a harmless alternative to Trump.

Anti-Trump Republicans are plentiful in the state. Having lived in a suburb just north of Atlanta my entire life, I've seen firsthand the disgust among my neighbors of the former president and his rhetoric. While many voters agreed with the Trump administration's policies, a sizable number of Georgia Republicans couldn't stomach four more years of the president's antics. Biden was the lesser of two evils to these never-Trump voters.

In Georgia's upcoming gubernatorial election, the Democrats and Stacey Abrams will be fighting an uphill battle with Trump out of office. Now that their former strategy of using anti-Trump messaging to boost poll numbers is unavailable, the Democrats will need to offer a new reason for their base, and particularly minority voters, to come out on election day.

This will prove challenging, as the Democratic Party's dominance at the federal level has done little to alter the day-to-day lives of Georgians. As the pandemic rages on and the stimulus checks have long since stopped, Abrams will struggle to convince voters that she will bring changes that the Democrat-controlled House, Senate and presidency have not.

Stacey Abrams
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 09: Stacey Abrams speaks onstage during the 2021 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award Gala on December 09, 2021 in New York City. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

To make matters worse for Abrams, she cannot rely on the support of the anti-Trump Republicans in the state as Biden did in the presidential election. Ever since Governor Kemp denied accusations of election fraud in Georgia, tension between him and the former president has been high. Trump even went so far as to argue that Kemp "should resign from office" in a late 2020 tweet. This animosity towards Kemp takes the previously prominent anti-Trump conservatives out of the picture. As long as the two are estranged, never-Trump voters will rest easier backing Kemp, since their political values generally align.

Overall, Abrams will struggle on election night so long as the Democratic Party remains ineffective, and Kemp wins his own party's nomination. However, the gubernatorial race is far from a lost cause for Abrams. The Democratic Party's saving grace is the remaining staunch Trump supporters. While Trump being off the ballot prevents Abrams from using anti-Trump messaging to her advantage, the Trump base could indirectly help her become governor.

In a 2021 speech to his followers in Georgia, Trump claimed that "having [Stacey Abrams], I think, might be better than having your existing governor, if you want to know what I think. Might very well be better." While this was far from an endorsement of Abrams, Trump did say, "Stacey, would you like to take [Kemp's] place? It's OK with me." Joking or not, such blunt resentment of Governor Kemp will resonate with the former president's loyal followers and affect how Kemp fares on election day.

A recent Fox 5 Atlanta/Insider Advantage poll revealed that Trump's endorsement of former senator David Perdue for governor of Georgia had split the Republican base. The results showed that among likely Republican voters in the state who knew about the endorsement, 34 percent intended to vote for Kemp in the primary, with another 34 percent going towards Perdue. This infighting within the Georgia GOP gives Abrams a fighting chance in November.

If Kemp wins the primary, then the question becomes whether Trump's most loyal supporters will show up on election night. Many probably won't, conceding the election to Abrams in the process. Conversely, a Perdue victory in the primaries makes the anti-Trump Republicans relevant again. Many conservatives who backed Biden will likely do the same for Abrams if Perdue wins the nomination.

Regardless, the Democratic Party's hopes to solidify its position in Georgia rides on whether Abrams can distinguish herself from the Biden administration's lackluster performance—and whether the Georgia GOP is split beyond repair.

Alex Blecker is a student at Oglethorpe University. His writing has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and the Washington Examiner.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.