Rockdale’s historic Democratic sweep of all eight local seats in the November General Election was in some ways simply a case of local politics catching up to the changing demographic reality that had already been on the ground for some time. But in other ways, it was also the result of strategic planning and coordination by local Democratic organizers that pulled off a feat not seen in any other county in the state – election of Democrats to all eight seats.
In the last decade, Rockdale had seen a wave of new residents. The county has grown by 21.5 percent to about 85,200 residents counted in the 2010 Census. The proportion of black residents grew from 18.1 percent to 45.8 percent from 2000 to 2010. The proportion of white residents decreased from 72.7 percent to 40.8 percent. The proportion of Hispanic residents grew from 6 percent to 9.5 percent. Of the younger population, in Rockdale County Public Schools, the student population is now 61 percent black, 20.5 percent white and 12.7 percent Hispanic.
In that time, Rockdale County’s per capita income also lagged behind the state average. In 2008, the county’s per capita income was $2,219 less than the state average. The number of students on free and reduced lunch in the Rockdale County Public School system has grown 32.5 percent between from 2000 to 2009 and was about 60 percent in 2009. The state average was 56.1 percent in 2009.
Rockdale’s 2008 general elections saw the first black Commission Chairman and Commissioner and Clerk of Court elected to office. The county also went to President Barack Obama.
The 2012 election served to solidify that momentum by electing the first black Sheriff, Probate Court judge and Magistrate Court judge. The county went to President Obama by 58 percent to 41 percent to Mitt Romney.
Rockdale Democratic Party chairperson Tisa Washington acknowledged the national momentum that benefited local candidates, but also pointed out the coordinated campaign that had been run for the “slate of eight” local Democratic candidates.
“I can’t say it wasn’t a perfect storm. We benefited from having the President at the top of the ticket, a shift in demographics in the county.” But, Washington said, “If you had to pinpoint what the one thing was, everybody bought into the whole idea of getting everybody elected.”
That meant when one candidate canvassed a neighborhood, they did so on behalf of all the candidates so that more area could be covered and efforts weren’t duplicated.
That meant the Rockdale Democratic party offered its candidates a central office after the primary, so the funds that would have been used for renting space could be used for other purposes.
That meant the local party retained all the qualifying fees candidates had paid, instead of giving back a portion of it. The funds were then used for coordinated advertising, such as door hangers that featured all eight Democratic candidates.
“In years past, one of the strategies that had been done was the party gave the candidates back a part of their qualifying fee to run their campaigns. The candidates were used to that. We got a lot of push back when we said we’re not going to do that,” said Washington.
In addition to candidates working together, local political organizations such as the Young Democrats and the Rockdale/Newton chapter of the Georgia Federation of Democratic Women.
Another key component was making it firmly clear after the primaries that the purpose was to work together.
“A lot of times , especially in local communities, you have people very committed to the fight and not necessarily committed to the work. We kind of scaled back on the fight aspect of it,” said Washington.
“We had that meeting after the primary. It was a come-to-Jesus meeting. ‘I don’t care who in here doesn’t like who. It doesn’t matter to me.’ At that point we had maybe 11 weeks. I said all of our efforts will be focused on getting these eight folks elected. If we end Election Day with one person on this list who is not elected, we have not done our job. I don’t care if you don’t like this one, I don’t care if you didn’t support this one during the primary. It’s time to get on the phones, it’s time to get on the streets and knock on doors.
“ I heard there were people who were angry or upset because they felt like I was saying they need to get over it... I was excited that was the message that came across, because that was exactly what I meant. “
Rockdale Republican Chairman Don Williamson also emphasized the coordinated effort that Republican candidates carried out.
“All the campaigns worked with one another. It was a good unified effort that I don’t think could have been improved upon.”
The coordination mainly involved communicating and networking with one another, said Williamson. “ That tended to be enough. All the candidates had their own base of volunteers that was working with them.”
In the end, said Williamson, the Republican candidates were simply out voted.
“I think the big thing is neither party knew where all the voter base was because of all the foreclosures. It’s hard to tell how strong a base you have, with all the people moving in and out and moving to apartments.
“Possibly what we’re looking at is the base of solid Republican voters may not be what it was 2008 or 2010.”
He said whatever the party did going forward, the Rockdale GOP was going to stick to its values.
“We’re not going to change in terms of principles and convictions. We just hope more people will understand that form of governing principles and ideals would serve them better if that was in place.
Williamson continued, “In regards to the newly elected Democrats, we wish them well and certainly hope they succeed. If they do, fine, they can start their own performance record. If they begin to falter, the residents of the county will see that. If they begin to falter based on what their party stands for, based on taxes or whatever mindset they have, I would think that the people would recognize it for what it is and decide to vote in some other fashion.
“I commend everybody that worked on all the campaigns and all the candidates. It just apparently just wasn’t enough to do what needed to be done.”