The Washington Post reports, “Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said Wednesday that he will resign at the end of 2019 due to health problems, setting the stage for two competitive Senate races in Georgia in a presidential election year. . . . Isakson’s departure immediately shifted attention to Democrat Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the governor’s race in 2018. . . . Democrats had previously courted Abrams to challenge [Sen. David] Perdue, but she turned them down and has focused on building a national voter protection program.”
Although the pressure on Abrams will be intense, she has already put out a statement reaffirming that she doesn’t want the job. If she is serious about sticking to her work in attacking voter suppression and increasing turnout, her efforts, one could argue, become even more important, with two Senate seats — plus the presidency, of course — in play.
Well before Isakson announced his retirement, Georgia was on Democrats’ list of states they could possibly flip. President Trump won the state by about 5 points, but two years later Abrams came within 50,000 votes (in an election rife with claims of chicanery and suppression tactics) of winning the governorship and the Georgia 6th Congressional District flipped from Republican to Democratic with the election of Rep. Lucy McBath, whose son was killed by gun violence. Moreover, according to recent polling Trump’s favorability in the state has gone from +18 to +2. With a strong presidential nominee, someone who can turn out African American votes in large numbers, it’s not inconceivable that Georgia and at least one of the Senate seats might go Democratic.
Isakson’s resignation should underscore a few observations about 2020.
First, Democrats’ Senate takeover certainly is within the realm of possibility, especially if Alabama Republicans repeat their 2017 error and nominate Roy Moore once again to go up against Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala. Other highly vulnerable Republican incumbents include: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, (who professes to be “sad” her vote for Justice Brett Kavanaugh cost her support among pro-choice voters who expected her to behave like the independent voice she has claimed to be), Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., (running in an increasingly blue state with a possible opponent in former governor John Hickenlooper) and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. (Appointed in a state also trending Democratic to fill the seat once held by the late John McCain, McSally lost the Senate race against Kyrsten Sinema to fill Jeff Flake’s seat and will likely draw Democrat and former astronaut Mark Kelly, the and husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who will run on a strong gun-safety platform.) Other feasible pickups include Iowa, North Carolina and even Montana, if Montana Gov. Steve Bullock drops out of the presidential race. That Republicans even have to worry about losing Senate seats in red states tells you about their fortunes in the Trump era.
Second, Senate pickup chances in states such as Georgia and Arizona (not to mention Texas, should presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke or Julián Castro be convinced to run) remind us that the map for Democrats is expanding in states with substantial nonwhite populations and upscale suburbs (where Republicans bombed in the 2018 midterm congressional races). Considering a presidential candidate’s electability means looking at the electoral map where the right nominee (say a woman and/or nonwhite person) could pump up votes in big Midwest cities and suburbs all over the country, and African American and Hispanic votes in swing southwestern and southeastern states.
Third, it is increasingly likely that if Democrats find a candidate who can spread the map, the nominee may help deliver the Senate with states such as Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona. In short, a candidate who can win in the Upper Midwest and elsewhere may be the key to the presidency and the Senate.