Warnock v. Isakson: Do Democrats Have a Realistic Chance for Victory in 2016?

Johnny Isakson announcing his bid for re-election at the State Capitol on November 17, 2014. Photo: Jon Richards
Johnny Isakson announcing his bid for re-election
at the State Capitol on November 17, 2014.
Photo: Jon Richards
Last week, Charlie briefly mentioned the potential entry of Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock as a Democratic candidate running against Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson in 2016. The AJC’s Greg Bluestein explained the Moral Mondays leader’s thoughts about the race as told to his congregation on Sunday, and Jim Galloway describes Senator Isakson’s reaction to a potential Warnock challenge in today’s column.

Does Dr. Warnock have a realistic shot at unseating Isakson, who has $4 million in his campaign account, and who has been actively campaigning since announcing his re-election bid less than two weeks after ballots were counted for the 2014 election? Charlie doesn’t think so, but according to this story in the Huffington Post, Justin Barasky of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wants to believe there’s a chance:

“As Georgia’s demographics continue to change in our favor, Democrats are excited about running a strong campaign against Sen. Isakson in a presidential election year, and we’re confident that this will be one of the most competitive states in the country in 2016,” he said.

Georgia’s House minority leader, Stacey Abrams, who has attracted similar amounts of buzz, said Warnock “will be a formidable candidate” should he jump into the race. Abrams founded a voter registration group called the New Georgia Project two years ago to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of unregistered voters in a state where African-Americans make up about 30 percent of registered voters. (As Newsweek pointed out, 80 percent of those who moved to Georgia between 2000 and 2010 were nonwhite.)

Elsewhere in the HuffPo story, after recapping the David Perdue Michelle Nunn Senate race from last year, there’s this:

One question is whether a Warnock bid could sufficiently energize Democrats in the Peach State, which has remained red despite recent demographic changes. The higher turnout that generally comes with a presidential election could also make for a friendlier electorate: President Barack Obama came within five points of John McCain in 2008.

So is this really a bunch of Democrats blowing smoke about their chances in 2016, or is there a real possibility that the demographic changes that are supposed to turn Georgia blue could come to pass next year?


  1. Three Jack says:

    Good column by Galloway about Isakson’s annual visit to EBC for the MLK celebration.

    The real issue for this race is who will step up to mount a legitimate primary challenge to Isakson. If as expected nobody does so, that would be a shame. All candidates need to face opposition from within their own party to keep them on their game. Unfortunately the GA GOP has a history of discouraging such activity.

      • Three Jack says:

        Agreed benevolus. Thus the reason I have always supported self imposed term limits. Isakson will have served 12 years in the senate plus a few in the house. Now would be a good time to act responsibly and retire. But career politicians seldom follow this path because of the many perks available plus the ego stroke of being a senator.

          • gcp says:

            Not sure campaign contributions have a big effect on outcome. Incumbent Roy Barnes outspent Sonny Perdue by about four times but he still lost.

            • benevolus says:

              The big spenders think it has an effect.
              But anyway the point is controlling costs. A challenger might step up if they weren’t starting from a $4M hole.

              • gcp says:

                Agree lack of money deters challengers from running against an incumbant. The best ways to eliminate career politicians are by term limit laws, end pensions for politicians and by electing individuals that don’t want or need to be careerists. None of these three are likely to ever occur.

                • benevolus says:

                  Term limit laws restrict our choices as voters. Why would that be an acceptable solution? What if I like my rep?
                  Pensions are a perk that we offer in hopes of getting the best and brightest. Who do we expect to get if we cut the perks?
                  Why would being a career politician be a problem in principle? Many great people have been career politicians. Again, this is like treating a headache with Pepto Bismol. It’s the wrong remedy.

                  Campaign finance limits, education, ethics rules/laws, ranked choice voting, and easier ballot access.

                  • gcp says:

                    We term limit for governor, president and many other offices. Want to eliminate those term limits?

                    If you have to offer a pension and other benefits to attract people to run for public office, I would have to wonder about those individuals. Ideally the best would come to office after successful careers elsewhere.

                    I don’t want a ruling class of professional politicians that have nothing but political office to make money. Dekalb County is a prime example.

                    Political office should be but one portion of someones working life, not a life in itself.

                    • benevolus says:

                      Amateur politicians are fine at the local level, but our state and federal governments are big and complex, and so is the world.
                      Do you think it makes sense to have some amateur running IBM, or Ford, or Lockheed?
                      It’s a nice sentiment, but Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was a fantasy, and it’s unlikely to serve our best interests to send amateurs to Washington to be dominated by the career bureaucrats and lobbyists who are expert at the system.
                      Yes we term limit the executive branch, which provides a nice balance.

                    • gcp says:

                      Good gosh. You don’t need to spend 20 years in congress to understand issues. You come in to congress with knowledge and specific recommendations on issues, otherwise you should not be elected and that’s why we have elections.

                    • benevolus says:

                      It’s not really the issues that are the problem, it’s the process. You’ve seen all the maneuvering and machinations they go through.

                    • gcp says:

                      And it does not take 20 years to learn the “process”. It does take a few minutes to learn the location of the restroom.

          • Three Jack says:


            Campaign finance limits have been tried many times, many different ways to no avail. Ideally we would have voters who give a crap or candidates willing to hold office for a few years then get back to the private sector. Isakson is no different than all the others who get a taste then can’t let go. It’s a shame he will face no opposition.

            • benevolus says:

              I know, but you guys think term limits is punishing or restricting the politicians but it’s really only restricting us. The politicians will just run for a different office. It will be like musical chairs. Executive branch is term limited but those guys don’t just serve once and then go home. Terms limits will not fix what you think it will fix.

              • Three Jack says:

                I am 100% against a law that imposes term limits, always have been. It is up to us the voters if the politician will not self impose a limit. Unfortunately there are very few who pay enough attention to make sure pols don’t make elected office their primary career.

                Isakson has held some form of elected office for the majority of his adult life. He is the epitome of a career politician who should step aside to open the door for fresh ideas from the next generation of GOPers.

  2. John Konop says:

    One, Isakson is very strong in a general. Two, Georgia is still a few cycles away from the trending numbers. Finally, does not seem like the Geogia Dems, have it together, they should be pushing a Jim Webb blue dog type verse a traditional liberal. Just my 10 cents,

    • TheEiger says:

      The problem is that there isn’t a Jim Webb blue dog type in Georgia. Jim Marshall and John Barrow are the closest thing and neither of them are on par with Jim Webb. And both know that Johnny would beat them.

      • ATLguy says:

        1) Jim Webb isn’t as conservative as you are making him out to be.

        2) Jim Marshall? Seriously?

        3) John Barrow wouldn’t beat Johnny Isakson, but he would force the state and national GOP to commit real resources on the race that they would prefer to spend elsewhere.

        4) John Barrow would have beaten Nathan Deal (he actually would have been able to run to Deal’s RIGHT by exploiting his good relationship with Kasim Reed and Atlanta, and plus there was the ethics stuff and the economy). He would have lost to Perdue, but barely and only because Perdue would have been able to federalize the race.

        • TheEiger says:

          Maybe I wasn’t clear in my post. I don’t think anyone can beat Johnny. I was simply responding to John’s comment the the democrats need a blue dog to run and not a liberal. That person doesn’t exists in Georgia.

          I also was not calling Webb a conservative. I was talking about an elected official or former elected official with a high enough profile to make a legitimate run against Johnny. Marshall and Barrow are the only two people in my mind. Like I said. They both still lose.

          As Northside says below, David Scott may be a good option, but he’s smart enough to know he can’t win.

          • ATLguy says:

            David Scott’s political evolution is a huge disappointment to me. When he first ran for office (against a GOP incumbent in a district whose demographics were hugely different) he basically ran as a moderate Republican. To the right of Rudy Giuliani even. He was one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress. Now Scott isn’t even the most conservative member of Georgia’s Democratic delegation. Granted, Scott DID get a primary challenge from the left a few years back, but he won easily so that – plus his district being redrawn to add more black voters – shouldn’t explain his leftward tilt.

            Hank Johnson has moved to the left in recent years too, though his has been much less drastic as he was never a blue dog like Scott originally was to begin with.

  3. northside101 says:

    Warnock’s possible entry reminds me of a statement from decades ago by UGA le3endary political scientist Charles Bullock, when he was commenting on the political novice Comer Yates running against Republican Congressman John Linder in the then-existing 4th CD (at that time, parts of DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and all of Rockdale). Noting that no Democratic officeholders (or previous ones) were running against Linder, he remarked “when you find situations where a political novice is running, it usually means more experienced hands saw it” as an unwinnable race.

    In present-day lexicon, if Isakson were seen to be on the ropes, you would see a Sanford Bishop, Hank Johnson, David Scott or someone of that political experience running against Isakson. No takers so far I see…

    We would have an outcome like 2014. Warnock would carry the 4 majority-black congressional districts and Isakson would easily win the 10 other districts. Isakson wins and Warnock joins the ranks of Denise Majette (2004) and Michael Thurmond (2010) who ran hopeless races against Isakson, except that he would probably run a higher percentage than both Democrats given the state’s changing demographics…

  4. chartercandidate says:

    I think the democrats have several obstacles to winning this race. First, the party organization statewide is really weak. The GOP has a statewide structure with staffers in all the major areas. The democratic party is more of a rumor than a reality south of Macon. Second of all, their entire campaign is to wait for the Obama electorate to get bigger. This will definitely happen, but in the meantime, they aren’t trying to reach out and expand to voters who disagree. Rather than talk to people in Perry about some of the good parts of what Obamacare has done, they want to stay ITP and raise the spectre of Ferguson and confederate flags. Right now the Obama is electorate is a minority in GA in more ways than one.

    I do believe that GA is big enough and diverse enough that the Democrats should contest it with a serious candidate. Building a strong statewide network will take several years and lots of money. However, as Michelle Nunn will tell you, if you don’t ask for votes in rural areas or white areas of GA, you aren’t going to win a statewide race right now.

  5. FranInAtlanta says:

    A number of the non-white population among the “move ins” are refugees and are not yet citizens. I hate to bring that up because Soros keeps sending money to get them registered and money he sends here can’t go elsewhere.
    My take is that the non-white population is tired of being told to line up behind white Democrats when they are the majority of the party.
    Sanford Bishop is getting old. David Scott was impressive when he ran the first time and is impressive now. If I were going to vote for a Dem (and I do, but only very occasionally – against Swindell and for State Ed person), he would be my first choice – I am white but color does not matter when I vote.

    • ATLguy says:

      David Scott was very impressive when he was running against a Republican incumbent and pretty much ran as a Republican lite candidate. But ever since the demographics of his district changed and he got primaried from the left a few years back, he has taken a sharp turn left. In the early years of his career, you could have said that his views were in line with the views of the vast majority of Georgians. Now that he is firmly in the left-liberal progressive camp (granted, no Nancy Pelosi or Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, but Georgia isn’t San Francisco or Miami) you can’t say that anymore.

      • FranInAtlanta says:

        Actually, I think he did move left but has been moving back toward where he started in the last year. I follow the Georgia House delegation votes and he is second behind Bishop in voting with some of the Republicans.

Comments are closed.