MILLEDGEVILLE — A top Georgia Republican is traveling the state this week to shore up support for vulnerable incumbent GOP lawmakers, aiming to avoid a repeat of November 2018 when Democrats gained ground in the battle for control of the state House.
House Speaker David Ralston made a stop Monday in Warner Robins to show support for state Rep. Heath Clark and in Milledgeville to boost the chances of Rep. Rick Williams after both drew challenges from Democratic candidates who showed in the June primary they can turn out voters. This week’s crisscrossing of the state is intended to fend off a top goal of Georgia Democrats – to take at least 16 GOP-controlled seats of the chamber’s 180 to gain the majority on Nov. 3.
Ralston said during his stopover at the Baldwin County Regional Airport this is a pivotal election, from the presidency to the state legislative seats he is working to preserve. He predicted Republicans will at least retain control of the chamber.
“We are eight days away from the most important election in the history of the state of Georgia and I’m serious when I say that,” Ralston said at the campaign stop in Milledgeville stumping for Williams. “Georgia’s at a crossroads right now.”
Ralston praised Williams’ legislative push for laws that target human trafficking, expand transportation options and boost mental health care in Georgia.
The Blue Ridge Republican said he believes about a dozen of the 20 or so House races Democrats are targeting are truly competitive. So, even if Democrats won all 12, that would leave the party short of the seats needed to take over. He said he’s “guardedly optimistic” that his party will not only win many of those races but also make some headway in a couple of others.
Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping to build on 2018, when they gained 11 seats in the House and two in the Senate. They are training their sights largely on competitive districts in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, but Ralston’s itinerary is further evidence that districts in other parts of the state are in play as well. Republicans took control of both legislative chambers in 2005 and in some years since have neared a two-thirds supermajority in the House.
Williams appears to be in a dogfight to keep his job, judging by the number of primary votes cast for his two Democratic challengers. About 5,200 GOP primary voters cast ballots for Williams and about 5,400 voters who requested a Democratic ballot in June. Quentin Howell of Hardwick emerged the victor to take on Williams.
So, Williams was happy to have Ralston, about a dozen state officials and a crowd of about 100 people stand with him at the airport hangar Monday.
“It’s very humbling,” he said of Ralston’s backing. “I’ve worked with these people for the past four years, and they know me, and they know that I’m a workhorse. I’m not a show horse. I’m a workhorse that when I get there, I go to work and they can depend on me.”
Howell, who is campaigning on promises to increase funding for education and raise the state minimum wage, said it’s unfortunate that Ralston and other Republican leaders are just now showing up in his district.
“We have suffered so much job loss, so much pain and anguish, that the Speaker should have shown up three years ago, not just during election time but when people needed better leadership in this community,” Howell said.
Ralston said this week he plans to visit about 10 cities across Georgia as he makes a final push for his party. The visits include a mix of campaign stops and official business.
Other stops on Ralston’s pre-election tour include St. Simons Island Wednesday to show support for Rep. Don Hogan, facing a challenge from Democrat Julie Jordan. Hogan won more than 6,100 votes in the June 9 primary while more than 4,500 Democrats cast ballots for Jordan.
Not that Republicans are conceding that incumbent Democrats will hold all of their legislative seats when the votes are counted after Nov. 3. In fact, they are targeting the state House’s top Democrat. A national GOP group says it will spend $1 million to unseat House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, who is the only rural white male in the chamber.
Georgia’s legislative contests in recent years were often settled during party primaries because district maps were drawn to favor Democrats or Republicans. Most districts were not competitive and many legislative campaigns went uncontested. This year, more than 120 are competitive in the general election.
And the spoils of victory this year include who gets to draw the new legislative districts after the 2020 census is counted.
Ralston said Democrats are leaning too far left in Georgia these days and are no longer the conservative loyal opposition of the 1990s.
“This is not the Democratic Party of your father’s or grandfather’s,” he said. “You know, we used to say all the nut jobs in the other party were in Washington. Well let me say, they’re at your state capitol in Atlanta.”
On the same day Ralston visited the middle Georgia cities to sell voters on giving Williams and Clark two more years, one of his chamber’s fellow Republicans threatened to go after the speaker’s job if both men are still in office in January when the General Assembly is scheduled to convene.
Rep. David Clark announced Monday he intends to challenge Ralston if the Buford Republican wins his re-election bid. Clark was one of 10 state representatives who unsuccessfully pushed for Ralston to resign from his speaker’s position last year.