tv After Words Greg Bluestein Flipped - How Georgia Turned Purple and Broke... CSPAN June 3, 2022 4:05am-5:04am EDT
about this book is such an important moment in our political history in the state of georgia. i have been fan for a while. obviously foley quite a bit on social media pretty to an honor told to ask you these questions we cannot fit into tweets. cronk john it's good to be here thank you for having me. >> can you tell people not familiar with you, who you are and what you do? and how you got to this position? >> yes greg bluestein i am here a metro atlanta native i grew up north of the city but i wanted to be at journalist since fourth grade. had really jumped into starting in high school but was editor of the school newspaper, university of georgia where he first started covering governor brian kemp. he was east candidate running against incumbent democrat back then when democrats ruled the state and he flipped the seat. maybe that was a first flip i've covered its way back in 2002 when frank kemp won that seat.
since then have caused and filed the rise of center purdue is a republican governor and since reconstruction. documented nathan's two terms as a governor of georgia. and then really got into the transformation of georgia serving with john in 2017 he proved the suburbs of atlanta that were very competitive. almost flipped a u.s. house seat north of atlanta where i live actually. cover the 2018 gubernatorial race between brian kemp and stacy abrams relentlessly and of course 2020 which was the most epic election cycle i have ever covered for sure my two decades of covering georgia politics. culminate in the senate runoff sweeps. >> have quite a few more elections to go including won this year. that 2020 election could be trumped to use a popular overused term right now.
we wanted to get back to history political journalism. when you are a student in june of this is be in? >> as a young student as an elementary school student i would nothing more, i grew up in the worst first era of the braves in oakville from last place the first place in the early '90s they became a dominant powerhouse and i was obsessed. atlanta journal-constitution boat reporter spoke to my fourth grade class. i became obsessed with covering the braves spread my mom told me it well, to do that mean you have to learn how to type bird at the time that seemed way too daunting i will do something easier i will be a doctor. so for a while there i had this dream of becoming a doctor even though i had bad grades in all my science classes in my ap exams produce high scope are recaptured the bug to go cover politics. the university of georgia the head of the school paper and working for the school paper got
very involved in covering campus movements, political groups and the rise of at the time the rise of republican politician in georgia politics. twenty-one for better or worse politics and very much feel like sports and you are seeing some figures from the sports world enter politics that you probably would not have predicted while you were in athens people like herschel walker it's that race right there been a surprise to you at all? >> that's a great subway. it herschel walker someone like me who grew up in atlanta, grew up in georgia. i was not born with lead that you jake the first national championship in a decade by gripping stories about it for that is why he has such high name recognition for even folks like me i never got to see him play at your ga grew up hearing stories about his athletic feats and all of that. that helps put him in the position he is in right now is both donald trump and voiceprint
and mitch mcconnell's endorsement he is at 60 -- 80% in the polls are using commanding lead over the rivals but of course your general election it's in the solid position to when the nomination and it is partly because he probably does not need met mitch mcconnell or donald trump endorsement depriving the same general area without their support because that high name recognition. he is still blank slate in some ways as a candidate for b do not know how he stands on a number of issues but we still have not had a sitdown interview with him. many other mainstream media outlets you have to talk to him because he is reserved his interviews mostly with friendly audiences. there's a lot there remains to be seen. certainly how he navigates a troubled past including allegations of domestic household abuse, erratic behavior and questions about its business and background still loom very large in that race.
what i went to the 2020 and your book but i want to stay on this 2022 race for a while. how much of herschel walker selection by the gop do you believe is a response to how the republicans did in 2020 in the senate race? >> a lot of it is the response of wanting to have a new face, an outsider. georgia republican really republicans throughout the country partly in georgia are obsessed with the idea of an outsider per david produced no coat candidate for governor he ran for u.s. senate in 2014 with the outsider label front and center everything he talked about he was the outsider politician. and there no outsider quite like a walker pretty has lived in the same for three years he's been in texas and has come back to run for office. he wasn't involved in conventional politics bears a big trumped surrogate but was not involved in day-to-day politics in georgia. so he is running as an
outsider's also running with the trump brand. it might not matter he might have been in this position even without trump's endorsement. certainly he has looked of his approach trumped slate that is coming to georgia and part of the former president image. his attempt to remake republican party georgia and his own mind and his own image. he wants to oust a lot of incumbents. who either in line with governor kemp feels a lien against him but a lot of this 2022 election is already hinging on the republican side of fascination you mention republicans with an outsider or at least an outsider label. quite frankly or talk about that in your book about when it comes
to purdue and that also applies to walker. these are people who are not actually outsiders. they are very familiar to republicans in the state who have been paying attention for a while. is that fair? >> their first time candidates. they are a name brand figures but herschel walker has almost universal recognition. even though he himself is not very well known when he ran for u.s. senate 2014 he comes from of the most famous political families in georgia. study purdue's cousin was first republican since reconstruction produce some of produced network and his political operation at his side as he ran for this campaign. even brian kemp ran as an outsider for governor against the lieutenant governor at the
time. but brian kemp evenly called himself an outsider, his office was directly across from the rotunda. his secretary of state. so you see that in politics everywhere. in georgia you see people who elected statewide officials say there outsider to the political journey even though they have been in state office for years. quicksort is the value of that? who does that appeal to? certain people know these are individuals who are not literally outsiders. but when they defined themselves as outsiders who do they have hoping to reach? >> the conservative basin states like georgia. you hear it over and over again talking to voters they want someone who can shake up atlanta. they dealt with the status quo. there is the sense there is corruption or there is gridlock they want someone who could help
fight for them. republican officials in georgia. the same sentiment was how republican voters flocked with donald trump there tried to arm the same power that it's been hard for the candidates. who was defeated by brian kemp he had a real challenge with that because he had been a three term lieutenant government he was been a fixture of the state x-uppercase-letter who he was. to see those forces be turned against him the same sense that got him to be the front runner on the republican side in 2018 was turned against him just a few years later. >> at that appeal to the conservative base because of dissatisfaction with the base but the status quo and the gop? >> it is a feeling folks are being left behind. they are being forgotten.
their values are not being embraced. it is a lot like donald trump's line in 2016 fighting for the forgotten man. there's a lot of voters especially in rural georgia feel like they are being forgotten. even though the people in power often times rural white georgians just like them. it mentioned the desire to turn out the base. the focus on quite a bit democrats are little more conservative about winning people from outside of their base. may be independence and even republicans. do you see that it all with the republican party? it seems like these candidates may not be able to be as successful in turning out people who are not true believers, is that fair? >> they believe in keep the coalition together. they keep the same coalition its
power the office for years in georgia. the change we've seen it's on the democratic side. long time in georgia especially in the early to thousands the late to thousands we saw democrats really try to win back suburban voters who'd gone to the gop moderate middle-of-the-road voters who felt alienated by national democratic policies but that's what we had statewide candidates who embraced issues stayed away we saw that change was stacy abrams. not only did she support gun restrictions she boasted of her rating with the nra.
statewide candidate called themselves in an irate democrat party saw this change with democrats playing to their base really for the first time aggressively rather than going. >> i saw what happened necessary with the democratic party at the national level. and even now the desire for the white house to appeal to people beyond a base is something that makes bite and the object quite a bit of criticism. he seen that in georgia as well? >> is a feeling among democrats that magic that happened in 2020 where you had a huge surge and turn out voters. am sorry and suburban voters. a huge surge in suburban voters in the base showing up in the urban parts of georgia. to re-create that won't be easy. especially without donald trump on the ballot.
special topics or new circumstances we had during the pandemic with the surgeon mail in voting. that is why stacy abrams is running for governor right now. she is already kind of lucked down the image among liberals being this progressive icon. right now her campaign is revolving it can be kind of summed up in two words expanded medicaid pray that it's an issue she feels has a broader base of support. once she ties back to every question she gets. whether it be about infrastructure development, about the lights of rural georgia paid whatever it is she finds a way to tie that back to expanding medicaid. : :
can you explain some of that to people? >> this wasn't some sort of overnight success. it took years of work from organizers who had this plan to start building the party back up and engage with bookers who are alienated from the process, if she was that matter to them rather than try to stick to the middle on every issue they started embracing their core authentic values whether that be gun-control or criminal justice reforms that included decriminalizing marijuana. whether that meant different taxing policies that involved more income tax credits for the middle class and lower income
families. others played into this entire pitch that also included expanding medicaid which was issue 14, 18 and 22 and georgia. we don't have to necessarily alienate the entire time so they started pushing for democratic leaning voters particularly the younger voters of color who didn't vote often in midterm elections and skipped a lot of midterm presidential elections. >> but that's not the approach they took in terms of expanding the coalition. i think you talked about that a bit earlier. can you explain to people who may not know what the coalition looks like in georgia and how it may look similar? >> the coalition of 20 years ago was in tatters urban and mostly
black democrats and republicans picked up the voters to the point now the counties that went 80% donald trump and 90% two years later so republicans are basically trying to bring out every vote they can in the parts of georgia knowing there's no guarantee of these are places where the populations are lingering and struggling in the long-term to keep relying on these counties but in the short term it feels like it's enough to keep them in power and that's going to be a strategy for whoever ends up the republican nominee that will be part of their strategy in november as well. in the suburbs it's gone not
just but decisively undemocratic. the very populist counties in the northeast and northwest where more than a million people live combined, those are counties that used to be republican. they've grown more diverse as they've gotten more out of state residents who moved there and does the state has become more politically competitive they've flipped. grant county particularly was pushing 60% democratic support right now and those have become the cornerstones of democratic success while at the same time it's worth it in those counties and they've become much more important republican based keeping the counties so that's how we've seen the republican strategy sort of evolved and they are not necessarily aiming
their messages they are trying to wring out as much support as they can and we are seeing that right now as the session continues with a number of cultural war issues meant to energize. >> so it's been a steady identity politics in every way possible when you look at the changing demographics of georgia and at the cities and rural communities the past decade have had that effect on state and national politics. >> they used to be the same. there is urban and rural and now there's four in the sense that there's urban, rural and each have different compositions and electorates and different issues. that's a challenge for any state, finding the sort of package of messaging that appeals to all of the various electorates because of different priorities. agriculture is by far the number one industry in georgia and
voters in that industry have distinct concerns up in the metro atlanta suburbs and just a little further out who rarely come into atlanta but live in the excerpts and like it that way. >> what are some of the lessons learned that you've witnessed from the republican party since 2020 that can influence how things turn out this fall? >> and the one sentence they can learn from democrats in terms of engaging in voters who rarely vote. it became a huge roof of support for stacey abrams and joe biden in the last two election cycles to capture the votes and energize them who felt like they were not part of the process. that takes years of work and the republicans have done it.
so that will continue to potentially help democrats who can just kind of point across the party i'll. >> why do you think republicans were so aware or conscious about the waves coming in 2020 the gop has been incredibly successful for more than a decade in the state when it comes to some of the biggest raises. >> they control every statewide office. they control a majority of the congressional delegation so there's a good question why worry. in 2014 they won by eight points and 2165 points.
republicans were aware of those efforts but we need to find those messages he's always interested in what the competition is doing so to what stacey abrams and her allies were doing to energize their voters and mobilize and connect, register, all those things you need to do to get a groundswell of new support they were paying attention to that and wondering how they could do it as well. >> how divided is the state republican party when it comes to trump? we know the former president endorsed a hand load of candidates and walked away from some that he seemed to be on good terms with back in 2020 or
even before. are you seeing the party and not be completely sure where they want to go in terms of the future of the gop? >> i think georgia is the biggest test and it's not just because of the sheer number of candidates. it's because of the nature of the candidates that he endorsed. not just incumbents but a significant number of challengers with high name recognition who've been in the business for years and in some cases you've done nothing to alienate donald trump other than being supported by governor camp so georgia is the test case and we will see may 204th in the primaries if the republican mainstream voters come out behind governor kemp or if you see the sort of groundswell of pro- donald trump support crash
a wave over the incumbents who were not backed by it. but certainly those issues continue to divide republicans and i know the stories been written a number of times and it's also included in my book the fact republicans now say we need to focus on 2022 on inflation and global supply chain issues in healthcare, different if she was priorities of the georgia voters and there is a faction of republicans that essay we will look at that but 2020 is the main thing right now going back to 2020 and all these conspiracy theories and falsehoods multiple election officials said there is no thero indication of any fraud and even the own attorney general but there is this obsession with 2020 and i saw firsthand at the
rallies a few days ago when issues about crime, corruption still got to some of laws but when any of the speakers talked about the 2020 there was a roar from the crowd so it showed that the supporters at the rally there is still significant motivation talking about the 2020 rather than 2022. >> when we think of these officials who seem to be consumed with 2020, what is the end result that they are hoping for and if they don't get that, which is unlikely that they won't get whatever the end result is that they are desiring will they let go with this focus on 2020 and 2022 or is this just going to be the new priority? >> i was shocked in mid november of 2020 when we were still talking about contesting the
election and the republican trump supporters were fixated on that. i had no idea it would still drag on but that's what's happened. there are rallies around the state still. somehow you would be reinstated. it has a number of meanings but there's a lock him up chance in reference to brian kemps or it becomes this energizing fuel to
the supporters in georgia and i'm sure beyond who still think that there was a fraud. all those conspiracy theories donald trump has been talking about. >> paying attention to brian kemp for some time what's it been like covering his decreasing popularity with some people in the gop, has that come as a surprise or did you see that coming before this moment? >> six days before the runoff he sends out a tweet saying essentially he would be the best republican on the ticket and give a full support of endorsement. that changed the game.
he was in a very tight race against the lieutenant governor and he went from close to a runaway around. he won all of the counties so that just shows you what the endorsement meant. you could see the ties were starting to strain a little bit during the pandemic and particularly integrated into this in detail in the book when they had an open u.s. senate seat against or not with the approval of the president at the time so that is where it started but we accelerated during the election process and afterwards where they wanted him to call a special session that could have resulted in the lawmakers trying to overturn. he didn't want him to verify to
sign off on the results even though he was bound by law to do so and then there's other supporters who felt like he should be on the airwaves topping off the conspiracy theories. he used to be secretary of state and knows better than most people around the nation and georgia with a hands-on approach to all of these issues. he wasn't ready to go there for donald trump and that was to the point where you saw this escalating outrage that ended not only in donald trump calling for him to resign but also saying early last year that he would hold rallies, he would be back in georgia to rally against him and that is exactly what he's done. >> based on your conversations with insiders and people who've known him a while, what's it been like for him to see someone have such a major role in their success and perhaps their
failure if things continue to go the way the former president wants? >> at first it was frustrating. they felt like they had done everything possible to support the president's agenda and at the time in office and now it's kind of baked in. now whatever donald trump says at his rallies, he's already said it all. he's already gone so far as to say in september he would rather see stacey abrams. there's not much worse you can do than say you would rather see them arch nemesis be the governor so in that sense you still want to see him or hear him saying that publicly about donald trump. when he is asked about the endorsement and his opponents campaign he will focus on david
a perdue or just to say i can't control what other people are doing. i can only control what i'm doing. again you're not going to hear him bash the president, former president or try to engage in a fight with him because he's not going to win that fight. he didn't have enough followers or the same megaphone or appeal nationally. but what he does have that he's running on is a record that he thinks the conservative voters will end up supporting. >> speaking of stacey abrams winning instead of camp if that were a possibility, what is the democratic party saying as a whole in terms of abrams? is she the individual they fully support or is there a ring that believes may be the democrats could have been more successful in the last governors race if they had to someone who was not as associated perception or fact
with the most progressive parts of the party? >> that's a great question because in 2018 it was a never abrams party that thought that she would be an ineffective governor and the wrong candidate to run statewide. but you saw that pretty much effectively stamped out fairly quickly. she beat the democratic opponent in 2018 who had the more conventional approach. her opponent when the same sort of campaign which was trying to appeal to the middle class, keeping them energized and she was in a primary competition and that was seen as a mandate for the approach and when she came within a point and a half of beating brian kemp 55,000 or so votes and then parlayed that to even more national profile even
governor kemp marveled at how stacey abrams in her defeat seemed to become an even bigger national figure and she did in some sense, she was on national talk shows and a string of best-selling books, she went on national tours and they sold out. i was with her not that long ago in san antonio texas in a ballroom that was packed. this was the stacey abrams i knew a decade ago that was anonymous and now she's selling out crowds all over the nation so she is become a sort of superstar nationally that of course the republicans will use against her to say that she's more interested in using the governor's office as a steppingstone. right now you're seeing the sort of united democratic party behind her. very few democrats and elected
officials if any say anything negative about her. it seems like one of those cases it was the winning in terms of everything that came from her defeat. not long after, chuck schumer was urging her to run for u.s. senate and gave her a chance to give the official rebuttal. she was a fixture on national tv shows and podcasts and the group she founded raised $100 million in just over a year as she expanded the national profile that set her up to do what she's
doing right now that in georgia we figured and there's a lot of talk about whether or not she would run for governor again. i was convinced for better or worse the moment she ended her campaign i was convinced we were headed towards a rematch. >> kind of interesting that abrams is more focused on a national platform and higher office than georgia because many people haven't made it clear that that's what she wants. many people that know her well when others have suggested that it's actually had he won he would have liked to do something more outside of georgia. is that fair or accurate? >> it's true because she had never been shy talking about her ambitions. she feels like she shouldn't be
shy. especially with women of color to talk about what they want and not to be reserved about the higher ambitions, so as early and this becomes as early as 18-years-old she has her career trajectory on a spreadsheet that included at the time she kind of abandoned that idea and replaced it with being governor and the ultimate goal was to be president. she talked openly when joe biden was recruiting she made it very clear she wasn't going to be shy about it. she was actively engaged in trying to be his running mate but it didn't work out that way and that meant she could completely focus her attention but that's why we've seen some of those attacks because they've openly talked about federal ambitions, white house ambitions.
having a role in the white house and executive branch one day. brian kemp, who knows. i know he loves being in athens and georgia and a lot of those politicians say they hate washington. that's become a standard baseline how much they hate washington but we've heard from a lot of members how much they don't like washington but still run every two years to get up there. >> very true, very true. 1 of the main talking points from democrats has been that they perhaps didn't win because there was something wrong with of the system. maybe there was some type of advantage that republicans had that was unfair or unethical but are you seeing much conversation among the democratic party about reflecting on what they actually did do wrong that led to this? >> in 2018 there was concerns
that the system not the use of the word was said against them because you had a republican secretary of state and that means he oversaw the elections in georgia and even then he was still running for governor despite the calls with many of her allies so that was sort of the first strike but there is a strict use and development of the provisional balance had questions that were thrown out and absentee ballots that didn't exactly match signatures could have been questioned. that meant if you used a nickname on one document and for all name on another, your food votecould be kind of questioned,
scrutinized. so that was the top concern a pool of votes is being questioned and she filed litigation the ten days after the votes in 2018 and before she conceded. she had a number of litigations trying to get those ballots counted all over again. it probably wouldn't have changed the outcome even if every one of them was counted but there's questions that's played in 2022 because last year in georgia the republican legislature passed a rewrite that includes new obstacles to vote, includes photo ids for the absentee ballots in georgia and
strict limits on absentee ballot deadlines and amendments on the drop boxes into a number of other changes and we are not sure how that will affect the electorate. could it affect hundreds or thousands, you won't really know until the stress test and we haven't had a big stress test since then. we had the votes last year that were lower turnout in we are about to have millions of people head to the ballots in georgia and that will be the biggest test waiting for us to see how much has changed. >> assumptions from liberals in the state are that it will change the turnout in terms of how the election goes disadvantaging the left. is that correct? >> there is a worry among democrats that yes this will target voters of color are disproportionately and those who
might not be aware of these changes who are used to the way things were in 2020 and before and who got used to the idea of the ballot drop boxes being in more abundance then they will be in 2022. there will be a lot beyond that just with redistricting. a lot of the voters have different congressional representatives and legislative representatives in different districts now, so that will be a major factor. again, the outcome will help shape this because if we are looking at a very close race like we had between president biden and donald trump where the total vote was affected by about 11,000 or split by 11,000 votes than yes even the most minor change, even minor changes could have affected that outcome but it is divided by 200,000 or 300,000 votes, whoever's on the
losing end will have that argument. >> there's been a lot of attention to the gubernatorial race and even the senate races in washington after the 2020 election but they saw these changes that we saw implemented last year from the republican legislature. have you seen the democratic party at all increased emphasis on the need to vote in more local elections? >> yes. there's a robust effort to recruit the candidates on the party lines. we have more democratic candidates involved van we have seen in decades. a number of democrats are running legislative districts where it is not just safe but
impossible for democrats to win. we are seeing democrats raise their hand and run in part because they want to challenge and maybe they can pull off a miracle but from the party level, to engage voters, just to energize every vote counts. a local democrat that has no chance of winning that can still get 50 extra people to the polls that wouldn't otherwise vote, that can add up but we are seeing republicans do that with congressional campaigns against undefeated democrats and the interesting thing the republican majority could have been much more aggressive and draw lines to pick up the congressional seats in the u.s. house and multiple legislative seats but instead they decided to play it is safer to maintain the
majorities through the rest of the decade because some of those seats they could have potentially had in the u.s. house this cycle but both of them could have been vulnerable in 2024, 2026 instead they drew one seed that smelled democratic-controlled and another seat that smelled democratic-controlled so they are kind of hedging their bets. >> what are the ideas that you are seeing taking center stage that they are hoping this year perhaps were not primary and front of center back in 2018? >> on the republican side the return to cultural wars that we really haven't seen in a long time. 1 of the things the governor did when he took office is signed the antiabortion law and that is something the predecessors tried to avoid. he is expected to soon assign a
very broad ranging gun rights expansion law aimed at energizing republican voters but we are all seeing the return to the sort of cultural wars in the classroom and legislation that seeks to direct how teachers can talk about race and gender in the classrooms and what republican sponsors call divisive content. we are seeing legislation that gives school officials more power to ban what they see as offensive books. restrictions on transgender athletes from competing in certain high school sports. so we are seeing a broad range of those issues come up in the georgia legislature that the governor will put front and center in the campaign as a reason and a motivating factor. on the democratic side as i mentioned earlier, it's been if it can be summed up she's talking about other issues and the same platform and ideas that
she had in 2018 but she is not talking about them to the same degree she is expanding medicaid on the federal level you're seeing something different, democrats acknowledge and brace for the fact the global supply chain problems and rising fuel prices will be a major factor so shortly after they are qualified to run for another term the first thing out of his mouth i'm going to go back to washington so right now his top priority is federal gas income tax break. it's capping the price of insulin at $35. it's going after the price counters on the global supply chain so he's going after issues like that. they are not divisive or partisan. they are more populist.
>> he gets a candidate that the critics are being very aggressive and somehow try to associate with identity and symbolism far more so being some type of resource. have you seen that campaign push back on that in a way that could be effective with voters that maybe are not quite sure how they felt? >> we saw that to a major degree in the campaign with a lot of the same attacks against barack obama and against warnock in the debate that he had no fewer than a dozen times did she call him a radical liberal and you better believe that will be the tagline this time around because it plays into the fears of republicans that the nation is slipping down that path and
certainly a progressive track record of course. if you look at his biggest issue last year what he most identified with was federal voting rights expansion. the act got held up in gridlock but this year of course he hasn't abandoned support for that at all. this year you're not seeing him emphasize that nearly as much as others. the federal gas tax breaks and fuel, capping the price of insulin. all those things is the message he is pounding every day and meant to show you can work across party lines and raise some of these were consensus driven nonpartisan issues. >> were the victories surprising still or were they expected
after given how democrats turned out? >> the biggest challenge for all of the candidates they all calculated very early they could get the same coalition to help elect biden were voted for trump. they generally have a lower turnout but what it ends up being. you are going to see in and out of her one of these candidates and their allies.
>> do you see that happen to people like biden or harris or other popular lawmakers. for the support in 2020 and 2021. stacey abrams ended up bypassing because the personal conflict. here in georgia that isn't seen as anything she can possibly do because she tried to beat his running mate. to put her on every flyer in tv
ads. democrats will take the same approach. and they even took that approach with morgan sanders. he felt like now they could only help. we don't understand about the politics that your book will provide some clarity and insight on. it isn't because republicans are slipping at the wheel. they saw it coming.
when the county just northeast is one of the most adverse demographic areas not just in the state but the eastern seaboard and some of them are changing fast and politicians were changing their messages with it. democrats and brace that. they were reworded in 2020 before that embrace of core values and in georgia as well.
another point that we make in the book in 2018 or 2020. but in either of those races because both parties realized they would get more bang for their buck if they tried to energize disconnected voters who stayed home or were kind of empathetic and general. they felt like if they could maximize the turnout, it would be more economically and efficiently worth it than going to the metal to spend time to win the very few. >> i appreciate you taking the time to talk about your book and politics in the state of georgia and not only 2020 but this year and perhaps in the future as
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