AJC: GOP Gwinnett Vote Outstrips 2002

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
GOP’s Gwinnett vote outstrips 2002

DATE: November 12, 2006
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: Gwinnett News

If the number of Democratic voters is growing in Gwinnett, they failed to prove it at polls in large numbers Tuesday.

Democrats running statewide received fewer votes in the election Tuesday than the party’s candidates for the same offices got in 2002. GOP candidates, however, collected more votes on Election Day 2006 than they did in 2002.

Election officials and party leaders long have theorized that Gwinnett will become more Democratic because of the increasing number of ethnic minority members moving into the county. But if that theory is true, Tuesday’s election results suggest that many members of this new constituency aren’t voting.

According to unofficial returns, in 20 Gwinnett precincts where the majority of registered voters are members of ethnic minorities, the turnout did not exceed 42 percent. By contrast, most of the majority white precincts had turnouts between 42 percent and 59 percent.

“We’re not seeing a tide yet,” said Adam Stone, a Georgia Perimeter College political science professor. “Many of the people who move into Gwinnett who would be Democrats aren’t registering to vote. And who knows if the ones who are registered are voting? And just because they’re not white doesn’t mean that they’re Democrats.”

Stone believes the maturing of an emerging rival Democratic force in Gwinnett may be many years away.
“What you are seeing now are small changes,” Stone said.

The election results suggest a few, subtle changes are taking place in the electorate. Although Democrats lost the open seats of lieutenant governor, secretary of state and several state House posts, the GOP couldn’t pick off any Democratic incumbents holding state offices.

Meanwhile, Democrat George Wilson, who lives in the Stone Mountain area of Gwinnett, came surprisingly close to defeating incumbent state Rep. Robert Mumford (R-Con-yers) on Tuesday.

In an election that drew roughly 15,000 voters to the polls, only about 500 votes separated Wilson and Mumford as of Friday. Returns published online by the Georgia secretary of state show that 11 percent of the district’s votes have yet to be counted.
Wilson blamed the poor Democratic showing on the top of the party’s ticket. He said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who opposed Gov. Sonny Perdue, spent too much time attacking Perdue and not enough attracting new voters. Wilson said Taylor’s campaign turned off some black voters in his district and did not attract new white voters.

“Mark Taylor did not make his message clear to voters,” Wilson said. “Raising the minimum wage, making sure people have jobs — those are bread-and-butter issues that got lost.”

Yet GOP political consultant Mark Rountree sees a dark lining to the silver Republican cloud now hanging over Georgia.

“There was a day in the 1980s to mid-’90s when the state Republican Party could depend on Cobb and Gwinnett to be the heavy lifters in elections,” Rountree said. “Now Republicans are focusing beyond Cobb and Gwinnett, and that’s a mistake.”

Rountree said Tuesday’s election exposed weaknesses in Gwinnett County’s GOP voting strength that will only get worse if the state party continues to take the county for granted.

Rountree cited the races of attorney general, labor commissioner and agriculture commissioner as examples. Republicans failed to pick off those seats Tuesday, in part because the Republican challengers had weak support in Gwinnett and Cobb, Rountree said.

Rountree said a Republican running statewide must garner at least 60 percent of the vote in Gwinnett to win. Republican Brent Brown, who lost to incumbent Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, scored 53 percent of the vote in Gwinnett.
“[The Gwinnett electorate] is growing less partisan,” Rountree said. “They still vote Republican, but they don’t go lock-step Republican down the ballot.”

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