For Republican candidates and office holders, Donald Trump is the force that one dares not offend. The potency of his endorsements or tweets was shown more forcefully in Georgia than in most states when he weighed in on the behalf of Brian Kemp during the 2018 gubernatorial runoff turning what had been a competitive situation into a runaway. In 2018 and 2020, rare was the Republican candidate who staked out positions at odds with that of the president. The few who did often paid a price as illustrated by South Carolina Representative Mark Sanford who lost in the GOP primary.
Georgia had become a competitive state in 2018 when Kemp bested Stacey Abrams by 55,000 votes, the narrowest gubernatorial victory in a generation. Two statewide contests went to a runoff when the GOP nominee failed to poll a majority. The competitiveness heralded in 2018 became more widespread in 2020 when no statewide candidate could muster 51% of the vote.
Often the candidate at the top of the ticket gets the most votes which gives rise to the notion of coattails. The attractiveness of the candidate atop the ticket draws support to less well known and less popular fellow partisans competing for other offices. Despite his popularity among Republicans, Donald Trump did not lead the GOP ticket in Georgia. David Perdue outpolled Trump by a few hundred votes.
Even more surprising is that if one looks at share of the vote, Trump turned in the poorest performance on the Republican ticket. The final recount showed Trump with 49.26% of the vote, 0.24 percentage points less than Joe Biden received.
The most successful Republican, Jason Shaw competing for Public Service Commission District 1, got 50.11%. Two of the candidates competing in the January runoff, Perdue and PSC District 4 incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, attracted 49.73 and 49.91%, respectively. Had Trump’s vote share equaled that of any of these three Republicans, he would gotten Georgia’s Electoral College vote.
Not only did Trump trail the other Republicans competing against a Democrat and a Libertarian, he got a smaller share of the vote than the combined vote for Republicans competing in the Senate special election. The six Republicans, led by Kelly Loeffler, secured 49.37% of the vote.
Trump also performed less well than Republicans competing for seats in the U.S. House. The 14 Republican nominees, eight of whom won, took 51% of the votes cast statewide. The GOP congressional vote total actually exceeded Trump’s vote by 28,500.
The good news for Republicans is that Trump’s loss in Georgia was a personal defeat. While the GOP margins have shrunk, the party still enjoyed a narrow advantage over Democrats in the other general election contests. Democrats can take heart from further narrowing of the GOP advantage in down-ticket elections.
Charles S. Bullock, III, is the Distinguished University Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. He is co-author of The South and the Transformation of U. S. Politics.