When you’re a journalist, there is no day like Election Day.
We live for that moment — the moment when we can declare a winner and begin wrapping up a story that often takes a year or more to conclude.
Everyone wants to know who’s next. It’s what drives the excitement of Election Day. But even when the returns start rolling in, deeper questions inevitably emerge.
Among them: How did a candidate win? And why? What do the results say about us?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff works tireless to not only cover campaigns, but to also mine those deeper questions about what election results mean. In a time of unconventional candidates, swift demographic shifts and party realignment there is meaning to be found in each result. The how and the why is worth knowing.
Our new subscriber politics site, Politically Georgia, features such deeply reported political stories, aimed at providing insight into our choices.
This year was supposed to be a light political year. In 2018, we will elect a new governor and a new Georgia legislature. Mid-term congressional elections will determine which party seizes power in Washington, D.C. By comparison, this year was projected to be relatively quiet, the lone exception being the race for Atlanta mayor to replace the term-limited Kasim Reed.
Then this happened.
- Georgia produced the most expensive congressional race in our nation’s history, as money poured in from across the country in the race to replace the seat once held by U.S. Rep. Tom Price. After Price, a Cobb Republican, was tapped to run the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there was a stampede of Republicans who emerged to run in the historically conservative Sixth Congressional District. But national Democrats thought the seat was in reach after Trump underperformed in the Sixth. Democrat Jon Ossoff emerged as a monied and credible challenger in a district that had elected Republicans for three decades.
- In neighboring Alabama, Judge Roy Moore, known for courting controversy, emerged as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate to replace the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore was not the choice of national Republicans. He was the choice of controversial and ousted White House advisor Steve Bannon, who announced he was waging war against establishment Republicans. The race took a turn when several credible accusers said pursued them when they were teens and Moore was in his 30s. Moore would come from ahead and lose, electing Alabama’s first Democratic U.S. Senator in more than two decades.
- And the race for Atlanta mayor produced a first: two women in a runoff to decide who was going to lead Georgia’s capitol city. When Atlanta City Council members Keisha Lance-Bottoms and Mary Norwood emerged as runoff opponents, the nonpartisan contest managed to become a race between a proud Democrat and a pragmatic independent.
So what did we learn?
THERE ARE LIMITS TO WHAT YOU CAN BUY
In the race for Sixth Congressional District, which Handel won more narrowly than her Republican predessessors, we learned the district that Newt Gingrich once represented is still a Republican stronghold and tens of millions of dollars could not change that fact. Political columnist Jim Galloway and political reporter Greg Bluestein kept tabs on the money in the race.
It raced past $50 million, with Ossoff holding a significant fundraising advantage due to national Democrats seeking to make the race a referendum on Donald Trump. Ossoff overperformed against Democrats from the recent past. But the incessant calls and the deluge of advertising spending might have turned off some voters.
DEMOCRATS CAN WIN IN ALABAMA
Bluestein traveled across the border to talk to Alabamans. The world was watching, and it was possible that Moore’s imploding candidacy could yield a Deep South Democrat, unthinkable recently. In talking to voters and following the results, he found that a women and African-Americans were flocking to Democrat Doug Jones. Rural voters stuck with Moore. But urbanites and suburban voters supported Jones and were turned off by the allegations against Moore.
PARTY MATTERS IN A NONPARTISAN RACE
The race for mayor was certified with Lance-Bottoms besting Norwood by 800 votes. Norwood narrowly lost to Reed a little more than 700 votes eight years ago. Norwood, according to a Channel 2 Action News/AJC poll, was leading the weekend before the vote. So what happened? Atlanta City Hall reporter Stephen Deere pored throuh the election results to show that Norwood’s loss rested on South Atlantans going to the polls in larger than expected numbers in a low-turnout race and north Atlantans showing softer than needed support for Norwood. Why? Deere concludes that party affiliation made a difference. Lance-Bottoms appealed to the most reliable Democratic voting base, African-Americans, and she won a large share of their votes. White voters in North Atlanta, who are largely Democrats and were Norwood’s base, did not support her in large enough numbers to make a difference. This despite Atlanta being a whiter city than it was when Norwood lost to Reed in 2009.
An additional discovery: 2017 has been a big political year for women.
Bluestein took a look at the results and concluded that this has been an extraordinary year for women seeking elective office, . Handel breaks through in an all-male Georgia congressional delegation. Lance Bottoms has become Atlanta’s next mayor. Four state legislative seats in special elections went to women.
For journalists, there is little that is more exciting than election season. Included in that excitement is figuring out the how and why on behalf of our subscribers.
Deputy Managing Editor Leroy Chapman Jr. is in charge of the reporting teams that cover federal, state and local government. Email him at Leroy.Chapman@ajc.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AJCLeroyChapman