tv After Words Greg Bluestein Flipped - How Georgia Turned Purple and Broke... CSPAN April 30, 2022 10:00pm-11:01pm EDT
with us to talk about flip this book about such an important moment in our political history in the state of georgia. i've been a fan for a while and obviously if all of you quite a bit on social media and so it's it's an honor to be able to ask you these questions that we can't fit into tweets. is honored to be here, thank you for having me. greg can you tell people not familiar with you who you are and what you do and how you got to this position? yeah, greg bluestein. i'm here a metro atlanta native. i grew up just north of the city. i've wanted to be a journalist since fourth grade and really jumped into it starting in high school, but was the editor of the school newspaper at the university of georgia where i first started covering governor brian kemp. he was a state senate candidate running against an incumbent democrat back then when democrats ruled the state and he flipped the sea, so maybe that was the first flip i've covered was way back in 2002 and ryan camp wanna athens bay state
senate seat, and since then i've covered the rise of sunny purdue as the first republican governor since reconstruction and documented nathan deals two terms as governor of georgia, and then really got into the the transformation of georgia starting with john assoffs run in 2017 when he proved that that the suburbs of atlanta were very competitive and almost slipped us house seat just north of atlanta where i live actually and covered the 2018 gubernatorial race between brian kemp and stacey abrams relentlessly, and of course 2020 which was the the most epic election cycle that i've ever covered for sure my two decades of covering georgia politics culminating in the senate runoff sweeps of john ossoff and rafael warnock beating the republican incumbents. what you've got quite a few more elections to go including when this year so that 2020 election could be trumped, you know to use a popular overuse term right now, and so i wanted to get back
to your history of political journalism when you were a student. did you know that this was the path that you wanted to be in? you know as a young student as an elementary school student, i wanted nothing more than to cover the atlanta braves i grew up in the worst to first era of the braves when they went from last place to first place in the early 90s and then became a dominant powerhouse and i was obsessed and atlanta journal constitution. beat reporter ij rosenberg came and spoke to my fourth grade class. so i i became obsessed with covering the braves and my mom told me well to do that. that means you have to learn how to type and at the time that seemed way too daunting, so i'll do something easier. i'll cover i want to be a doctor and so for a while there i had this dream of becoming a doctor even though i had twos and i had bad grades all my science classes and my ap exams and it was in high school where i recaptured the bug to go cover politics and at the university of georgia as the editor of the school paper and working for the school paper.
i got very involved in covering. campus movements political groups and the rise of a time the rise of republican politicians in georgia politics because again democrats run ran everything at the time. well for better or worse as you know, politics can sometimes very much feel like sports and you're seeing some figures from the sports world enter politics that you probably wouldn't have predict while you are an athens people like herschel walker. it's that race right there been a surprise for you at all. yeah, that's a great segue because it has i mean hershel walker someone like me who grew up in atlanta grew up in georgia, you know, i wasn't born when he led the uga to his first national championship in decades, but i grew up hearing stories about it. that's why he has such high name recognition even folks like me who never got to see him play at uga grew up hearing stories about his athletic feats and all that so that helps put him in the position. he's in right now.
he has both donald trump's endorsement and mitch mcconnell's endorsement. he's at 60 70 80% in the polls that we've seen a commanding lead over his republican primary rivals closer, of course and the general of the test polls we've seen but he's in a solid position to win the nomination and it's partly because he probably doesn't need mitch mcconnell's endorsement or donald trump's endorsement. he could probably be in the same general area without their support because of that high name recognition, but he's still a blank slate in some ways as a candidate. we still don't know where he stands. on a number of issues we still we still at the land of general constitution haven't had a sit down interview with him many other mainstream media outlets have yet to be able to talk to him because he's reserved his his interviews mostly with friendly audiences. so there's a lot that remains to be seen and certainly how he navigates a troubled past that includes allegations of domestic spousal abuse erratic behavior and questions about his business background still loom large in that race.
i want to get to 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 it's a response to how the republicans did in 2020 in the senories? a lot of it is the response of getting one wanting to have a new face an outsider right georgia republicans and really republicans throughout the country, but i think particularly in georgia are obsessed with the idea of an outside david perdue who's now a candidate for governor. he ran for us senate in 2014 with the outsider label. it was front and center. it was about everything he talked about was he was the outsider politician and you know, there's no outsider quite like herschel walker he hasn't lived in the state in for years. he lived in texas and just moved back to run for office and he's certainly wasn't involved in conventional politics. he was a big trump sir again, but he wasn't involved in day-to-day politics in georgia.
so he's running as an outsider. he's also running with the trump brand right as i said, it might not matter. he might have been in this position even without trump's endorsement, but certainly he's looked at as part of this pro trump slate that is coming to georgia and part of the former presidents image. his attempt to remake the republican party of georgia in his in his own mind in his own image. he wants to oust a lot of incumbents who either align with governor kemp or he feels like aligned against him in the 2020 election, even though there was pretty much locksted report for the former president among the gop here but a lot of this this 2022 election is already hinging the republican side at least around a fascination with 2020 and these false claims of election fraud in, georgia. you mentioned republicans in georgia's obsession with an outsider and then you went on to say or at least an outsider label and quite frankly you talk about that in in your book a bit
when it comes to purdue and i think that also applies to walker. these are people who aren't actually outsiders. they're very familiar to republicans in the state who've been paying attention for a while. is that fair? yeah, their first time candidates later produce case back in 14 and herschel walker's case now, but they're they're name brand figures right herschel walker has almost universal recognition name recognition among among voters here in georgia because in part because of his athletic feeds and david perdue, you know, even though he himself was not very well known when he ran for for us senate in 2014. he comes from one of the most famous political families in georgia sunny purdue. his first cousin was the first republican governor in georgia since we construction so he had sunny purdue's network and his political operation at his side as he ran for this campaign, look even brian kemp. he ran as an outsider for governor against the lieutenant
governor casey cagle at the time in the republican side. but brian kemp, even though he called himself an outsider. his office was directly across their capital rotunda from casey giggles. he was secretary of state. so you see that in politics everywhere but especially in georgia, you see people who are literally elected statewide officials who still say their outsiders to the political game even though they've been in state office for years. what's the value of that? who does that appeal to? i mean certainly people know that these are individuals who are not literally outsiders, but when they define themselves as outsiders, who are they helping hoping to reach? the conservative base and in states like georgia, right? it's it's you hear it over and over again when you're out there on campaign stops and just talking to voters. they want someone who can shake up atlanta. they want someone who can shake up washington. they don't want the status quo. there is this sense that there's corruption or there's malaise or there's gridlock and they want
someone who can help fight for them and it is been the sort of the calling card for republican officials, especially in georgia to say that they're the outsider to say that they can be that candidate who can maybe channel a little bit of donald trump that same sentiment that we saw republican voters flock to with donald trump. they're trying to harness that same power and it's been real hard for the inside irish candidates right? acagel the lieutenant governor at the time who who was defeated by brian camp. he had a real challenge with that because he had been a three-term lieutenant governor. he was a fixture of the state capital that was who he was and to see those forces kind of be turned against him the same things that got him, you know, come to front run in the republican side in 2018 was turned against him. just a few years later. and with that appeal to the conservative base be because of dissatisfaction with the base with the status quo and the gop. yeah, it's a feeling that folks are being left behind.
they're being forgotten that they're not being their values are not being embraced. it's it is a lot like donald trump's line in 2016. he's fighting for the forgotten man, and there's a lot of voters especially rural georgia who feel like they're aggrieved to feel like they're being forgotten left behind even though the people in power oftentimes our rule white georgians just like them. you mentioned the desire to turn out the base, you know, that's something that both the democrat sam republicans focus on quite a bit understandably, but it seems sometimes as if democrats are a little more concerned about winning people from outside of their base, maybe independence and even republicans. do you see that at all with the republican party because it seems like these candidates may not be able to be a successful and turning out people who aren't true believers. it's that fair. yet republicans in georgia believe that they can keep that coalition together if they can
keep the same coalition that is powered them the office for years in georgia for the last two decades, then they can win they can just turn out their base. they can win the change we've seen is on the democratic side right for for a long time in georgia, especially in the early 2010s and late 2000s. we saw democrats really tried to win back suburban voters who had gone to the gop, you know moderate middle of the road voters who felt alienated by national democratic policies, and that's why we had democratic statewide candidates who embraced issues like expanding gun rights, you know who didn't who didn't really wade into culture wars either for or against who stayed away from barack obama and other nationals and we're going to figures when they came to town. we saw that change with stacey abrams when stacy abrams ran for governor in 2018. she not only did she support gun restrictions. you boasted of her f rating with nra when just four years earlier
the gubernatorial statewide candidate democratic candidate, you know call themself an nra democrat. so you saw this sort of sea change of democrats playing to their base really for the first time aggressively aggressively rather than going towards the middle. but that's not what happened necessarily with a democratic party at the national level and even now i mean the desire for the white house to appeal to people beyond the base is something that makes biden the object of quite a bit of criticism. we see often from those in the base. have you seen that in georgia as well? yeah, there's a feeling among democrats this cycle right the in 2020. it would be really hard to recreate what happened. the magic that happened in 2020 where you had a huge surge and turnout voters. sorry and suburban voters a huge turnout surge among suburban voters and the base showing up especially in urban parts of georgia to recreate that won't be easy. especially without donald trump on the ballot, right, especially
without the extraordinary circumstances. we had to in the pandemic with a surge in male and voting and that's why stacey abrams. she's running for governor right now. she's already kind of locked down to image among among liberals of being this progressive icon right now. her campaign is revolving on it can be kind of summed up in two words expand medicaid that's an issue that she feels like has a broader base of support and one that she ties back to kind of every question she gets whether it be about infrastructure about economic development about the plight of rural georgia, whatever it is she finds to tie that back to expanding medicaid. you mentioned the magic of 2020 the coronavirus pandemic trump being on the ballot. also these social justice movements, which you talk about in your book is really making people think differently about a lot of issues that they perhaps had and reflected on quite a bit. but you also mentioned in your book that what happened with the democrats in georgia the
success. they experience didn't come out of anywhere. there was strategizing and organizing and just work involved and that had been on the in the making for years. can you explain some of that to people? yeah, it's important for especially a national audience to know this was not some sort of overnight success and miracle that just, you know, just happened to happen, right it took years of work from stacey abrams, but also from organizers on the grassroots level who had this plan 10 years ago to start building the party back up and to engaging with voters who felt disconnect the disengaged alienated from the process on issues that matter to them rather than trying. run as republican lights rather than trying to stick to the middle on every issue democrats started to embracing their core authentic values whether that be gun control whether that be criminal justice reforms that included decriminalizing marijuana whether that meant different taxing policies that involved more income tax credits for middle class and and and
lower income families all those played into this this entire broader pitch that also included expanding medicaid which was an issue in 14 and 18. and now in 2022 in georgia. so all these kind of played together with democrats saying hey, you know, we can still win the middle. but we don't have to necessarily alienate the left by aiming at the middle of the entire time. and so they started pushing for for democratic leaning, you know core voters particularly those younger voters and voters of color who didn't vote often in midterm elections and even skipped a lot of presidential elections. but that's not the approach republicans to in terms of expanding their coalition. i think you talked about that a bit earlier. can you explain to people who may not know what the coalition for the gop looks like in georgia and how it may look similar or different from the national gop coalition. yeah as the democratic coalition
of 20 years ago tat was enters. it was basically rural white democrats who were kind of yellow dog democrats. they had been democrats forever and urban mostly minority black democrats voters of color in in cities like atlanta and savannah and columbus as that tattered republicans picked up those rural voters to the point now where rural counties that went. 80% donald trump went 90% brian camp. just two years later. so republicans are basically they're trying to ring out every vote. they can in rural parts of georgia knowing that hey look, you know, there's no guarantee. these are places where population is dwindling, right? they're gonna struggle in the long term to keep on relying on these rural counties, but in the short term, they feel like it's enough to keep you know to keep them in power and that's going to be a strategy of governor camp or david perdue whoever ends up the republican nominee. that'll be other strategy in november as well. meanwhile the suburbs of atlanta
have gone not just not just how they flipped they've gone decisively democratic cobb county gwinnett county. these are very popular counties northeast and and northwest and northeast of atlanta where you know more than a million people live combined those are counties that used to be republican fortresses and as they've grown more diverse as they've got more out of state residents who have moved there and and as the state has become more politically competitive those states have flipped solidly blue gwinnett county particularly. so is pushing 60% democratic support right now, and those have become the cornerstones of democratic success while the same time the growing excerpts just north of those counties have become much more important to the republican base right now, right the republican formula is keeping those counties not just read but solidly red and so that's how we've seen the republican strateg. sort of evolve but no the
republicans aren't necessarily aiming their messages or focusing their messages the middle of the electorate. they are trying to ring out as much support as they can for the base and we're seeing that right now as george's legislative session continues with a number of basically culture wars issues that are meant to energize republican voters. yeah, it's been a study and identity politics in every way possible when you look at the changing demographics of georgia and the cities and the rural communities over the past decade and how that affects state and national politics. it seems you're right, and there used to be the saying georgia. there's two georges. there's urban and rural and now there's four georges in a sense. there's urban rural suburban and eggs urban right and each have very different voter compositions. they're very different electorates very different issues. and that's the challenge for any statewide candidates finding this sort of package of messaging that appeals to all those various electorate because very different priorities agriculture is still by far the
number one industry in georgia and and voters who who are in that industry have distinct concerns from voters. let's say up in the metro atlanta suburbs or voters in just a little further out who rarely come into lana 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? one one sense. they can learn from democrats in terms of engaging voters who rarely vote it became a trove of support for stacey abrams for rafael warnock for john ossoff or joe biden in the last two elections cycles to capture those votes and energize those voters who skip midterm elections who felt like they were part of the process who didn't find a candidate who can message to them effectively that takes years of work and a republicans are have done it. right? i mean, it's not something that
they were not caught sleeping at the wheel in 2020 in georgia. they knew this blue wave was on its way and they were trying to build what they called the big red wall to fight back to fight it back and in 2020, it wasn't the big red wall was not tall enough to to keep the wave from crashing over them, but they feel like they're already starting to do the work to energize their base in different ways and to reach out to those voters that that skip 2018 and might have stayed home in 2020 their biggest issue though. it can be continues to be trump. the former president is endorsed seven candidates now in georgia including challengers to governor kemp including candidate herschel walker for us senate and including a lot of challenges for down ticket races that most georgians really frankly aren't paying that much attention to right now and this trump-fueled dynamic continues to to impact the race trump even had a rally just a few days ago in the excerpts of northeast, georgia where he talked about voter staying home in november
if brian kemp was the party's nominee and so that will continue to hamper republicans in georgia and potentially help democrats who can just kind of point across the party island and say hey, there's still fighting we're united. why do you think republicans were so aware or anxious about a blue wave 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 races. you're right. i mean they control up until 2020 they control every statewide office. they control a majority of the georgia legislature. they control majority of the congressional delegation. and so at one one sense, you know, there's a good question. why why worry, you know, they're winning every election, but the other since you look at just the track in 2014 nathan deal won by eight points to to be reelected as as governor in 2016. donald trump wins by five points to captures the state by five
points in 2018. brian kemp runs by wins by appointed a half, right? so the track starts getting more narrow, but also republicans were very well aware of those efforts from democrats who believe that hey demographics is important, but it's not necessarily destiny. we need to find those messages. we need to find those ways to energize voters and so republicans were looking david peru said as much, you know, he's a he's a corporate executive. so he's always interested in what the competition is doing. so he paid very close attention as did other senior republicans to what stacey abrams and her allies were doing to energize their voters to mobilize 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 that the former president has endorsed a handful of candidates and walked away from some that he seemed to be
you know in good terms on good terms with back in 2020 or even before are you seeing the party not be completely sure where they want to go in terms of the future of the gop. you know, i think georgia is the biggest test of donald trump's clout in the entire nation, and it's not just because of the sheer number of candidates. he's endorsed here, which is seven. it's because of the kid it's because of the nature of the candidates he's endorsed right? he's endorsed. these aren't shewins right. he didn't just endure us a bunch of incumbents who are likely to win. he endorsed a significant number of challengers who were going up against strong incumbents with high main recognition and have been in these races for years and in some cases encumbents who have kind of done nothing to alienate donald trump other than being supported by governor camp. so georgia is that test case and we'll see if we'll see a may 24th doing our primaries if republican mainstream voters come out and force behind governor kemp. or if you see this sort of groundswell of pro donald trump
support come and and crash a wave over republican incumbents who aren't backed by him. but certainly those issues that continue to divide republicans and i know this story has been written a number of times and it's also included in my book, but the very fact that republicans now there's a faction of republicans in georgia that say we need to focus on 2022 on inflation on the global supply chain issues on health care on different issues that are priorities among georgia voters and there's a faction of republicans that says, hey we'll look at that too. but 2020 is our main bag right now that going back to 2020 and all this all these conspiracy theories and falsehoods about election fraud in georgia, which are all bunk right there. they're multiple election officials have said there's no indication of any fraud. we've had three tallies of votes. we've audits even trump's own attorney general said it was a free and fair election, but there's this obsession with 2020
and i saw it first hand at donald trump's reality just a few days ago. when issues that used to be applause lines. time about corruption they still got maybe tepid applause. but when donald trump or any of the speakers talked about 2020. there was a roar from the crowd so it showed that at least among trump supporters at that rally. there are still significant motivation factor from talking about 2020 rather than 2022. but when you think of these voters and these even elected officials who seem to be you know consumed with 2020, what's the end result that they are hoping for and and if they don't get that which is unlikely, it's likely should i say that they won't get whatever their end result. is that their desiring. will they let go of this focus of on 2020 and 2022 or is this just going to be the new priority for these voters? look i was shocked in mid-november of 2020 when we
were still talking about contesting the election and republican trump supporters were were fixated on that right? i didn't i had no idea it would still drag on to 2022, but that's what's happened. they're a rallies around the state still where people were trump won shirts and have trump one signs. i interviewed voters who were convinced at this rally that donald trump would be president, you know now not in 2024, but that somehow he'd be reinstated it and and you see statewide candidates for attorney general for secretary of state some of the top offices in georgia who said that their first steps would be to launch investigations into what happened in 2020 into quote. hold folks accountable, right which has a number of meanings. but when david perdue said something along those lines a lock him up chance erupted right behind him and that was in reference to ryan camp. so again, it becomes this it is still become this energizing
fuel rocket fuel in the sense to the donald trump supporters in georgia, and i'm sure beyond who still think that there was some sort of fault fraud rampant corruption fraud rigged election all those conspiracy theories that donald trump has been talking about has firmly rooted itself in at least a faction of the georgia republican party. as someone who's been paying attention to brian camp for quite some time. what's it been like covering his decreasing popularity with some people in the gop for you has that come as a surprise or did you see that coming before this moment? it's been head spinning because remember governor kemp owes in part owes his election victory in 2018 to donald trump six days before the runoff republican vote. donald trump sends out a tweet saying essentially the governor kemp would be the the brian kemp would be the best republican on the ticket and he gave him his full throated endorsement that
changed the game for brian. he was in a he was in the he was in the lead in the polls, but he was in a very tight race. okay against lieutenant governor casey cagle at the time. he went from close like when but close to a runaway route. i mean, he won every one of georgia's 159 counties, but two so that just shows you even one casey cagle's home county that just shows you what the trump endorsement meant in 2018. you could see their ties were starting to strain a little bit doing the pandemic and particularly and i go into this great detail on the book, but when governor camp picked kelly leffler for an open us and it see against or not with the full broader approval of the president at the time. so that was when the strange really started, but they accelerated doing the election process and afterwards were trump wanted brian kemp to call a special session it could have resulted in lawmakers trying to overturn the election results. he did not want brian kemp to to
verify to kind of sign off on the results of the election to certify those results. even though governor camp was bound by law to do so, and then there was other trump supporters who felt like brian kim should be on the airwaves talking up these conspiracy theories. brian can be used to be secretary of state. so he knows election law is better than you know, most people around the nation and in georgia because he was you know, has had a hands on approach to all these election issues and he wasn't ready to go there for donald trump. and that that peeve donald trump to the point where you saw this escalating outrage that ended in not only donald trump calling for brian kemp to resign but also saying early last year that he would hold rallies. he'd be back in georgia to rally against brian kemp and that is exactly what he's done. based on your conversations with insiders people who have known camp for a while. what's it been like for him to see someone have such a major
role in their success and and perhaps their failure if things continue to go the way the former president wants at first it was according to folks around him. it was frustrating. it was maddening. you know, they felt like he had done everything that brian kependent and everything possible to support the president's agenda and his support his time in office now, it's kind of baked in now. it's you know, now whatever donald trump says and his rallies anything he could do. he's already said it before he's already. he's already gone so far as to even say in september that he'd rather see stacey abrams as governor the brian kemp. so there's in the republican world. there's not much worse. you can do than say you'd rather see this or the arch nemesis of georgia republicans be the governor then brian kemp. so in that sense, you still won't see brian kemp. you will not hear brian kemp say a bad word publicly about about donald trump when he's asked about the endorsement and about, you know, his his opponents
trump back campaign. he'll focus on david purdue or focus on his own agenda and he'll just say hey, i can't control what other people are doing. i can only control what i'm doing and that's become as sort of standard line again. you're not going to hear him bash the president the former president. you won't hear him trying to engage in a in a fight with him because he's not gonna win that fight right now. he's not gonna he doesn't have more twitter follow well, he does now, but he doesn't have more email followers or all this. it doesn't have the same megaphone that the former president has or the same 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 bryan camp if that were a possibility. what is the democratic party saying as a whole in terms of abrams, is she the individual that they fully support or is there a wing that believes that maybe the democrats could have been more successful in the last governor's race if they had someone who was not as
associated be it perception or fact with the most progressive parts of the party. that's a great question because in 2018 there was sort of a never abram's wing of the party that thought that she would be. an ineffective governor that she's the wrong candidate to run statewide, but you saw that pretty much effectively stamped out very fairly quickly. she beat a formidable democratic component in 2018 who had the more conventional approach to running for office. she was her opponent stacey evans ran the same sort of campaign that many other statewide democrats ran which was trying to appeal to the middle, you know keeping the left energized, but trying to appeal to the middle more than anything and she was trounced in a primary competition and that was seen as a mandate for the stacey abrams approach and when stacy abrams came with an appoint and a half of beating brian camp 55,000 or so votes in 2018, and then parlayed that
even more national higher national profile, right? even governor camp marvel how stacy abrams in her in her defeat seemed to become a even bigger national figure than brian kim became in victory and certainly she did. in some sense, right? she was a national talk shows. she wrote a string of best-selling books. she went on national tours that sold out. i mean i was with her in not that long ago in san antonio, texas in a ballroom that was packed to the gills and i was looking around i was like, this is the stacey abrams. i knew a decade ago that you know was was fairly anonymous and now she's selling out crowds and in all over the nation, so she's become this sort of superstar nationally that of course democrats. sorry that republicans we use against her to say that she's more interested in using the governor's office is stepping stone to the presidency then she is in georgia, but right now you're seeing sort of a united democratic party behind her she has no primary opposition very
few democrats who are like that officials if any are willing to speak out against her say anything negatively about her because they're all on the same page right now and they're all kind of eating popcorn watching republican inviting across the aisle. it definitely seemed like one of those cases where losing was the real winning for her in terms of everything that came from her defeat after the election. it really did. i mean not long after election chuck schumer the senate at the time the senate minority leader was was urging her to run for us senate. gave her a chance to give the official rebuttal to donald trump's state of the union speech. she was a fixture on national tv shows and national podcasts and the group she founded right after her election defeat fair fight action. it raised a hundred million dollars and just over a year. so she became the sort of fundraising juggernaut as she expanded her national profile on
her political organization, which set her up all to do what she's doing right now which we in georgia always figured. i never really thought she was the one for us senate and as a lot of there's a lot of talk about whether or not she'd run for governor again, i was convinced the moment for better for worse the moment. she ended her campaign against brian camp. i was convinced. we were headed towards a rematch in four years. and here we are. it's kind of interesting that camp was suggest that abrams is more focused on a national platform and higher office than leading, georgia because many people haven't made it clear that that is exactly what she wants people who know her well and her plans. when others have suggested that it's actually kemp who had he won would have maybe wanted to do something more outside of georgia. is that fair or accurate? you know, it's interesting because stacey abrams has never been shy about talking about her ambitions. she feels like she shouldn't be
shy she wants to be an inspiration to other young women, especially women of color to talk about what they want to do and not to be reserved about about higher ambitions. so as early as and this is becomes sort of a famous story in stacey abrams world, but as early as she was as she was 18 years old when she charted it out her career trajectory on a spreadsheet that included at the time at least atlanta mayor. she kind of abandoned that idea who replaced it with being governor, and then her ultimate goal was to be president and she's talked openly that that yeah. she has white house ambitions when she was you know, when joe biden was recruiting a running mate. she made it very clear. she wasn't gonna be shy and and about it. she was actively engaged in trying to be his running mate. it didn't work out for that way and that meant she could completely focus her attention on being governor, but that why you've seen some of those attacks because she's talked about openly talked about, you know, federal ambitions white house ambitions one day not running for us senate but being
having a role in the white house and the executive branch one day brian kemp, who knows, you know, he's he i know he loves being an athens where he's from i know he likes being in georgia. i know a lot of those republican politicians say they hate washington that's become like a standard, you know, most line about how much they hate washington, but we've heard from a lot of congress members how much they don't like washington yet still run every two years to get up there. right. that's very true. very very true. one of the main talking points from democrats has been that they perhaps did not win because there was something wrong with 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 their defeat.
in 2018, you know, there was concerns that the system. if not, it's not. if not, you said the word rigged was set against them right because you had a republican got brian kemp was the secretary of state and that when that means he oversaw the election system in georgia and even as he was republican secretary of state, he was still running for governor. he didn't step down despite calls from stacey abrams and many of her allies that he should step down. so that was sort of the first strike against governor camp ryan kemp in that 2018 election the democrats saw, but there was a strict use of there was restricted hearings to georgia election laws, and that meant that provisional balance that had questions around them were thrown out that meant that absentee ballots. that didn't exactly match signatures could have been questioned that meant that you know, if you used a nickname and one document in your formal name on another that you're about your vote could be kind of
question right scrutinized heavily. so that was maybe the top concern of stacey abrams doing that entire run-up was the a pool of votes was being questioned and she filed litigation during a 10 day. i could always call it the purgatory period but the 10 days after the vote in november of 2018 and before she conceded or she she ended her campaign, she never conceded, but she ended her campaign. she about a number of litigation trying to get those ballots counted all over again. and it wasn't enough. you know, it probably wouldn't have changed the outcome of election. even if every single one of them was counted, but there's a number of questions and that's played in majorly in 2022. because last year in georgia republican led legislature passed in a rewrite of georgia election laws that includes new obstacles to vote for many includes photo ids for absentee
ballots in georgia. it includes stricter limits on absentee ballot deadlines and request windows and includes more limits on ballot dropboxes and a number of other changes and we're not sure exactly how that will affect the electorate go to the fact hundreds. could it affect thousands could affect more we won't really know until it's stress tested and we haven't had a big trust stress test of that election yet. we had municipal votes last year. those were lower turnout. we're about to have millions of people head to the ballots and georgia and that will be the biggest test and that will be for us to see how how much that has changed that dynamic in, georgia. well assumptions from liberals in the state are that it will change turnout in terms of how the election goes disadvantaging the left. is that correct? that there is a worry among democrats that yes, this will target voters of color disproportionately. they will affect poor voters who
might not have photo ids who might not be aware of these changes, you know who are used to the way things were in 2020 and before and who got used to the idea of ballot drop boxes being in more abundance than they will be in 2022. there'll be a lot of voter confusion beyond that just but the redistricting a lot of a lot of voters have different congressional representatives and legislative representatives. they live in different districts now so that that will be a major factor and again, look it the outcome will help shape this because if we're looking at a very close race like we had between president biden and donald trump in 2020 where the total vote was affected by about 11,000 or split by about 11,000 votes then yeah, you know, even the most minor change not saying i'm not saying these changes to minor but even minor changes could have affected that outcome, but if it is divided by 200,000 votes 300,000 votes then
whoever's on the the losing and it'll be a lot harder for them to make that that argument. obviously, there's been a lot of attention to the gubernatorial race and even you know, the senate races in washington based racist after their 2020 election, but based on these changes that we saw implemented last year from the republican legislature in athens. have you seen the democratic party at all? put increased emphasis on the knee to vote and more local elections for their members. yes, there is a there's this robust effort to recruit strong down party down ticket candidates along party lines. we have more democratic candidates involved in election system in the election elections in georgia than we've seen in in decades a number of democrats are running even in unwinnable races legislative districts where it's drawn to be not just
safe republican, but impossible for democrats to win. you're seeing democrats raise their hand and run in part because they want to challenge and they think they're you know, maybe there's a they could pull off a miracle but really, you know from the party level to engage voters even in these unwindable races just to energize, you know, every vote count. so if the local democrat who has no chance of winning a legislative seat, but can still get 50 extra people to the polls who wouldn't otherwise vote. that can add up but look we're seeing republicans do that too. republicans are waging congressional campaigns and legislative campaigns against undefeatable democrats in such safely blew districts as you can imagine and really, you know, the interesting thing about registering in georgia is republican majority could have could have been much more aggressive in a sense. they could have redrawn lines to pick up two two congressional seats rather than one in the us house in multiple legislative seats, but instead they decided
to play it safer in order to retain their majorities through the rest of the decade because some of those seats if they could have potentially flipped two seats in the us house this election cycle, but both those seats could have been vulnerable in 2024 2026 instead they drew one seat very safely republican. it's now democratic control and then another seat. it's now democratic control to be very safely democratic. so they're kind of hedging their bets. what are the ideas that you are seeing take center stage that there are hoping will be more winsome this year. that perhaps were not, you know primary in front and center back in 2018. on the republican side. we're seeing a return to culture wars in georgia that we really haven't seen in a long time, you know, one of the first things that governor kemp did when he took office was sign of sweeping anti-abortion law. and that was something that his predecessors tried to avoid and
he's expected to soon sign a very broad ranging gun rights expansion into law both aimed at energizing republican voters, but we're all seeing a return to sort of culture wars the classroom. we're seeing legislation that seeks to direct how teachers can talk about race and gender in the classrooms. what what republican sponsors called divisive concepts we're seeing legislation that gives school officials more power to ban what they see as offensive books obscene books restrictions on transgender athletes from from competing in certain high school sports. so we're seeing a broad range of those issues come up in the georgia legislature that governor kemp will put front and center in his election campaign as a reason for as a motivating factor for republicans to vote on the democratic side as i mentioned earlier. it's been if stacy abrams campaign can be summed up. it's expand medicaid. she's talking about other issues. she still has many of the same
platform ideas that she had in 2018, but she's not talking about them to the same degree that she is expanding medicaid but on the federal level. we're also seeing something different. we're seeing democrats acknowledge embrace for the fact that inflation and global supply chain problems and rising fuel prices are all going to be a major factor and how voters decide who they support november and so shortly after senator raphael warnock qualified to run for another term the first things out of his mouth where i'm going to go back to washington to help fight rising prices. so right now his top priority is a federal gas income tax break for for for gas at the full pumps. it is capping insulin. it's the price of insulin at 35 dollars. it is going after what he says or price. on the global supply chain, so he's going after issues like that that are you know, frankly, they're not divisive.
they're not really partisan. they're more populous than anything. but we're not gives a candidate who has critics are being very aggressive and somehow trying to you know associate with identity opposed to issues and you know symbolism far more so than some type of results. have you seen that campaign push back on that in a way that could be effective with voters that maybe aren't quite sure how they feel about or not. yeah, we saw that to a major degree in the 2020 campaign with a of the same attacks. wedged against barack obama doing his senate and presidential runs were we're leveled against raphael warnock in the debate that he had with kelly leffler. no fewer than a dozen times that she call him a radical liberal and you better believe that will be the republican attack line this time around because it plays into the fears of republicans that that the nation
is slipping down a more leftward path and certainly robert warnock has a progressive track record, of course, and and if you looked at maybe his biggest issue last year what he was most identified and associated with was federal voting rights expansion the john lewis act they got held up in legislative gridlock, but this year, of course, he has an abandoned his support for that at all, but this year you're not seeing him emphasized that issue nearly as much as he's emphasizing those other issues i talked about fighting rising inflation the federal gas tax break for fuel capping the price of insulin all those things or what he is the message that he is pounding every day and it's meant to show that hey he can work across party lines and you can embrace some of these more consensus driven nonpartisan issues. when you think about warnock and -- off were there victories surprising still after biden's or after or were they expected?
i guess after biden's given how democrats turned out. you know the biggest challenge for all four of those candidates was trying to get the they all calculated very early if they can get the exact same coalition that helped elect biden or even voted for trump. they could get the same group of voters out they'd win because turnouts generally have lower runoffs generally have lower turnout, right but what it ended up being was basically the whole thing seemed like just a -- shoot right more than half a billion dollars for spend on tv ads. so it was hard for any individual ad to kind of stand out because there was such if you turned on a computer turned on your tv dared look at a you know, something on your smartphone you were gonna see an ad for one of these four candidates or for their allies even watching, you know christmas special or holiday movie. my kids were treated to all sorts of videos about rafael. we're not being radical liberal
or or kelly leffler being the worst human being or whatever. it might be at the time. you know, no one was spared in georgia as much as you might have tried so it became this this all-out battle and were both both parties and all four candidates kind of again retreated to their their course. rafael warnock and jonas have made the calculation very early if they can just reach the base again and if they can get every you know as many joe biden voters as possible to come back out for them. they'd win and kelly laffler and david perdue made the same calculation when it came to donald trump supporters, but their problem was donald trump kept them moving the goal posts kept that insisting on even more tests of loyalty and that culminated in his call for both david peru and kelly leffler to object on january 6th to the electoral college vote and both of them ended up saying that they supported donald trump's attempt to block his opponents electoral college confirmation. it's been clear that trump's
been very vocal in these races in georgia and will continue to be do you see that happening with people from washington like biden or harris or other popular lawmakers? you know be interesting to see how rafael warnock how stays abrams how other democrats treat joe biden because certainly they welcomed his support in 2020 and 2021. he came to georgia for several events. he also is here for a voting rights event earlier this year. they got a lot of attention stacey abrams ended up bypassing the event because of a personal conflict, but it was seen by some as her attempt to distance herself from the president. where as here in georgia, that is not seen really as as anything that she can possibly do because a she tried to be his running mate, right? she tried herself directly to him and be even if she tries to listen to herself. republicans have everything they already need to to attack her and you know, put her on every
flyer and tv ads alongside joe biden's face, so i don't think there's any real effort for stacey abrams at this point to distance herself from from joe biden. i think that democrats will take the same approach republic long had which is we'll take all the help we can get and you saw john assov even take that approach with bernie sanders, you know, asaf and 17 when he running for congress. he steered clear of national politicians every chance he could and in 2020. he he said you know what now? i'm embracing their support now now he felt like now they can only help what is it that you think people outside of the state of georgia don't understand about the state's politics that your book will provide some clarity and insight on. yeah, some major things one is we talked about earlier, but this was not some overnight success this took years of work years of different approach to messaging and it wasn't because republicans were sleeping at the wheel. they saw it coming to and they did everything they could to stop it. another major part is the
suburbs, you know people like to kind of view suburban areas as these lily white monolithic images of mostly white enclaves and in georgia and in the rest of the nation, but particularly in georgia, it's not the case at all gwinnett county just northeast of atlanta is one of the most diverse demographic areas in the not just in the state but on the eastern seaboard and suburbs are changing fast and politicians are changing their messages with it. and that's another thing is just authenticity, you know voters can smell when someone's being phony it doesn't mean that voters will always punish people for for holding views. they might not necessarily i think you they believe in but democrats embrace that authenticity they they stop running as republican lights i guess is a good way to put it and they were rewarded it took years, but they were rewarded in 2020 for that embrace of core values and republicans have been doing that in georgia as well. you know moderate is a bad word in the republican world and
you've seen republicans sort of go back to their core values too. another kind of point that we make intentionally in the book is too is there was not this sort of lurch to the middle in 2018 or in 2020. we'll see what happens in 2022, but there was not this pivot to the middle really and either there's racist because you know, both parties realize that they would get more bang for their buck. if they tried to energize a disconnected voters voters who stayed home or voters, who weren't that who were kind of apathetic in general about the political process. they felt like if they could maximize that turnout it would be more economically and efficient efficiently worth it than going to the middle and trying to spend time and resources to win the very few swing undecided voters that there are in, georgia these days. awesome. well, greg, i greatly appreciate your taking time to talk with us about your book and politics in the state of georgia and not only 2020 and 2018.