With several thousand ballots remaining to be counted statewide Thursday, Georgia Democrats had so far only gained one new seat in the Republican-controlled House – far short of the 16 seats needed to flip the chamber.
House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, was also turned out of his rural district seat southwest of Atlanta after state and national Republicans pumped millions of dollars into defeating him.
Republicans also fended off challenges to several suburban Atlanta lawmakers to lock down the state Senate and ensure they will oversee the coveted redistricting process next summer.
Democrats were hoping to build on the 13 state House seats they flipped in the 2018 midterm elections and take control of a General Assembly chamber that has stayed in Republican hands since 2005. But Republican incumbents from Savannah to Athens to the Atlanta suburbs batted them back, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
“It was not the night [Democrats] were hoping for,” Bullock said. “They didn’t come up completely empty-handed but the movement in the Democratic direction dramatically slowed down from what we saw two years ago.”
As of Thursday, Democratic candidates were poised to flip two seats held by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, and state Rep. Dale Rutledge, R-McDonough. And they trailed by fewer than 1,000 votes in six other races with more than 60,000 ballots left to be counted across the state.
But the loss of one of their most prominent voices in Trammell marked a resounding victory for Republicans that state and national leaders trumpeted as proof a so-called “blue wave” of Democratic wins in Georgia had been halted.
"Georgia voters punished Bob Trammell yesterday for the Democratic Party's irrational opposition to legislation that would have protected first responders from terroristic intimidation," said David Shafer, chair of the Georgia Republican Party. "Democrats have so thoroughly embraced the 'defund the police' agenda they refuse to protect firefighters, ambulance drivers and paramedics."
Trammell, who helped roll out a legislative package of criminal justice reforms in July amid nationwide protests against police brutality, was targeted as the only Democratic lawmaker holding a rural seat in Georgia that had long gone to Republicans.
The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a national group focused on state legislative races, devoted nearly $3 million to hold Georgia seats including $1 million to support Trammell challenger David Jenkins, a U.S. Army veteran and air ambulance helicopter pilot.
“Georgia’s Republican leadership has been second-to-none, never giving up the fight to ensure safety and economic security for every Georgian,” said Austin Chambers, the RSLC’s president. “We could not be more proud to have been on the front lines of defending this Republican majority.”
With control of both chambers, Republican state lawmakers are poised to dominate the upcoming process to redraw district boundaries following completion of the 2020 Census last month. The political party in charge of that process could tweak the boundaries in their favor to capture potentially decisive voting blocs for the next decade.
Despite falling short of their goal, state Democratic leaders saw progress in recruiting so many new candidates to challenge Republican incumbents and pointed to future elections as more opportunities to take control of the House.
“It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of so many organizers, volunteers and candidates that more Republicans than ever were forced to play defense this year,” said Maggie Chambers, a Democratic Party of Georgia spokeswoman. “Thanks to them, Georgia Democrats have built a lasting infrastructure across the state that will continue to give Georgians a choice for years to come on who will represent them and their values.”