After weeks, months even, of prognosticators saying the state would be drawn into lengthy, expensive runoffs spanning Christmas and even the New Year, the Peach State last night sent a resounding message to the contrary. David Perdue defeated Michelle Nunn without need for a runoff, becoming the state’s next senator, and Governor Nathan Deal won re-election over Jason Carter, a state lawmaker many heralded as the siren song of Democrats’ Georgia revival, along with Nunn.
It was not to be. Farther south, Democratic Rep. John Barrow was vanquished by Republican Rick Allen, who was handily outspent in a race that flew under the national radar, despite having more ads run in it than any other House contest in the country. Despite Barrow’s raising massive sums of money, and running some of the best ads of the cycle, he was vanquished by the same percentage he himself won by just two years ago.
The unsung story in all of this is one that should be told, and it involves the ground game of Perdue and Georgia Republicans.
Prior to the May primary, the highest polling number Perdue put was 29 percent, and that was in March. Granted, he led the entire way and most assumed his easing into a runoff spot was eminent, but he outpaced his Real Clear Politics average by 5 percent. In the runoff, it was a similar story. His average heading into that contest was 41 percent, also his high-water mark of independent polls surveying the race leading up to that point. He won with 51 percent. And last night, he took 53 percent of the vote to Nunn’s 45.
The RCP average leading into a contest had Perdue at 48 percent of the vote. The closest to 50 he came over the campaign’s last month was 49.8 percent in a poll released just 24 hours prior to what turned into a soggy Republican tsunami, and he was given a 2.8 percent advantage over Nunn. He won by roughly 8, easily besting the average polling margin.
The first-time candidate consistently outperformed every expectation onlookers had for him and his team, and it showed on the grandest stage last night. Following their runoff win in July, Perdue’s general consultant Paul Bennecke took to Twitter to explain what most considered an upset, and repeatedly cited the effort they’d put into identifying voters, supporters, and repeatedly engaging them for months on end.
In my estimation, as both a Georgian and a Republican, the Perdue ground game will go down as the most underreported part of this entire cycle, yet still it was remarkably vital.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Deal outperformed the polling averages of him versus Carter, too. Prior to Election Day, he was pegged with 48.4 percent to his rival’s 43.8. The same poll showing Perdue on the cusp of avoiding a runoff had the governor doing so, and he beat the expectations of what his percentage would be, tallying roughly 53 percent to Carter’s 44.8.
Georgia sent a message last night that it is not on the cusp of battleground status, and the entire ground operation of GOPers in the state will again probably be the unsung piece of the puzzle in stories about this. A longtime white whale for Republicans was unseated from his House perch, runoffs were avoided, and an entire slate of statewide officers were again re-elected by overwhelming margins.
It’s not a victory lap to recount this, nor is it one to praise the ground game. We rest today, for soon we’ll be moving into what’s sure to be a chaotic and fascinating 2016 election cycle. The story of Georgia, and so many others across the country last night, is one that gives reason to be fired up that we have finally begun to push back against the ground game advantage so long enjoyed by Democrats. Those lessons must be gleaned from and remembered.
That said – late last year MSNBC’s Chris Hayes pined on the air that a “liberal surge” was “brewing” in Georgia.
I can’t help but wonder how he feels about those comments today.
Brandon Howell is an account director at Hynes Communications and a contributor to the Peach State political blog Georgia Tipsheet. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonDHowell.