In Georgia governor race, new voters helped Republican candidate more

In the first midterm election of Donald Trump’s presidency, Republicans took a page from the Democratic playbook to slow anti-Trump momentum in a number of key states.

Normally, Democrats are successful in non-presidential elections when they get lots of voters to the polls who are either new to the process or who usually vote only in presidential years.

On Tuesday, however, Republicans stayed ahead of Democrats — in conservative states at least — by mobilizing their own groups of usually unreliable voters.

Early voting data from Georgia shows that while Democrats mobilized many “low propensity” or new voters to the polls in this midterm election, there were even more Republican voters who did not vote in the 2014 midterm elections who cast ballots early this year.

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FILE PHOTO: Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp speaks with visitors to the state capitol about the "SEC primary" involving a group of southern states voting next month in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Letitia Stein/File Photo
Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp greet the crowd during a "Get Out The Vote" rally at the Dalton Convention Center on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 in Dalton, Ga. Republican Brian Kemp is facing off against Democrat Stacey Abrams for governor in Georgia.(C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp waves to the crowd during a "Get Out The Vote" rally at the Dalton Convention Center on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 in Dalton, Ga. Republican Brian Kemp is facing off against Democrat Stacey Abrams for governor in Georgia.(C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp waves to his supporters during a Get Out The Vote rally at Dalton Convention Center in Dalton on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. Kemp is trying to extend the Republican domination in Georgia, which hasn't elected a Democrat as governor since 1998. He's banking on running up wide margins outside metro Atlanta and holding most of the GOP votes closer to the city. (Hyosub Shin /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Vice President Mike Pence and GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp wave to supporters at Dalton Convention Center in Dalton, Ga., on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. Kemp is trying to extend the Republican domination in Georgia, which hasn't elected a Democrat as governor since 1998. He's banking on running up wide margins outside metro Atlanta and holding most of the GOP votes closer to the city. (Hyosub Shin /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
People hold up signs for Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp during a rally at the Dalton Convention Center on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Dalton, Ga. Kemp is facing off against Democrat Stacey Abrams for governor in Georgia. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
Republican gubernatorial candidate for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, center, speaks as Democrat Stacey Abrams, left, and Libertarian Ted Metz look on during a debate Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, Pool)
Georgia Pubic Service Commission Chairman Lauren "Bubba'" McDonald, left, sings as he stands on stage with Donald Trump Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle and Republican nominee for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, right, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee for Georgia governor, answers questions Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, during an appearance at a conference of the Georgia Economic Developers Association in Savannah, Ga. Kemp faces Democrat Stacey Abrams in the general election Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Russ Bynum)
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Election day data will complete the picture, but what is certain is that Trump brought many new off-year voters to the polls. It’s an indication that his fear-mongering about undocumented immigrants and the GOP’s demonization of Democrat Stacey Abrams had a major impact.

Abrams had not conceded as of Wednesday afternoon, and as votes continued to trickle in, Republican Brian Kemp’s percentage slipped closer to 50 percent, moving to 50.35 percent by midday. If it were to slip below 50 percent, then the race would proceed to a one-month runoff. Kemp led Abrams by 65,000 votes out of 3.9 million cast, with about 77,000 ballots outstanding.

“We believe there are around 14,000 outstanding ballots, the majority of them from Abrams’ voters,” the Abrams campaign said in a press release.

Two factors will loom large if Kemp prevails. One is Kemp’s longstanding reputation for creating barriers to voting for African-Americans in Georgia, through a series of procedural and bureaucratic policies that disproportionately reduce the number of minority voters. Abrams, who has clashed with Kemp for the last several years over equal access to voting, called him an “architect of voter suppression” during the final days of the campaign.  

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A rainbow forms over the U.S. Capitol as evening sets on midterm Election Day in Washington, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Democratic Texas U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Beto O'Rourke is accompanied by his wife Amy as he concedes to Senator Ted Cruz at his midterm election night party in El Paso, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Supporters for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis celebrate during his midterm election night party in Orlando, Florida, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams speaks to supporters during a midterm election night party in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom hugs his wife Jennifer as he celebrates being elected governor of the state during an election night party in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar is greeted by her husband’s mother after appearing at her midterm election night party in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Miller TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez reacts after appearing at his midterm election night party in Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott holds the hand of grandson Auguste Guimard as he waves to supporters at his midterm election night party in Naples, Florida, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer reacts with her daughters, Sydney (L) and Sherry after declaring victory at her midterm election night party in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A supporter of Trump and Republican senate candidate Mike Braun attends the election night party in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Bergin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Deidre Brown Collins holds her daughter, Vitalia Collins, as they watch returns during a midterm election night party for Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Supporters of Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz hold signs at his midterm election night party in Houston, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal Mcnaughton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Supporters of Democratic Florida gubernatorial nominee and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum react as they listen to him concede the race to U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis at Gillum's midterm election night rally in Tallahassee, Florida, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Lawrence Malloy, a supporter of Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, shows off socks adorned with an image of Abrams outside the site of a midterm election night party in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Supporters await the arrival of U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a Democratic U.S. midterm election night party in Washington, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reads results of the U.S. midterm elections as she talks to an aide backstage at a Democratic election night rally and party in Washington, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Bobby Mines waves an American flag outside a polling place in Chapmanville, West Virginia, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Lexi Browning TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Voters cast their midterm election ballots at the Santa Ana Methodist Church in Santa Ana, California, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Democratic Congressional candidate Deb Haaland, who is trying to become the first Native American woman in the U.S. House of Representatives, hugs Dottie Tiger at a Native Vote Celebration on midterm elections night in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Kemp, the Abrams campaign said Wednesday in a release, “has breached the public trust by running a problematic election with thousands of rejected, delayed, and provisional ballots.”

The second key if Kemp holds on will be the number of voters who backed Trump in 2016 andwere not regular voters before that. How many of them had rarely or never voted in a midterm election, but were moved by Trump’s talk of a migrant caravan and Kemp’s talk of Abrams being a dangerous radical to get to the polls in 2018?

Early voting totals indicate there were quite a few.

A total of 396,246 white voters in Georgia voted early after not voting at all in 2014, according to the website GeorgiaVotes.com, which compiled data released by Kemp’s secretary of state office.

That’s compared with 223,184 black voters who voted early this year after not voting in 2014.

The contest between Abrams and Kemp broke down along racial lines. Abrams has made it her mission to register more African-American voters in Georgia over the past several years, in response to longstanding systemic obstacles to voting created by state officials that have uniquely affected people of color, as described in books like Carol Anderson’s “One Person, No Vote.”

And Kemp’s strategy in the campaign was to say that Abrams was someone to be feared. He based these assertions on policy positions, but the subtext played into deep-seated racial anxieties among white voters.

Trump, meanwhile, employed a message over the final month that played on the fears of voters about immigrants from South and Central America. Race is not the only factor to consider in understanding strong feelings among voters about border security and illegal immigration. Other issues at play are concerns about the rule of law, economic impact and cultural impact.

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Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams campaigns in Atlanta on Election Day
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Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams campaigns in Atlanta on Election Day
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 06: Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams gives a thumbs up to supporters outside Busy Bee Cafe during a campaign stop on November 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Abrams made a number of final campaign stops on Election Day. As voters go to the polls on Election Day, Abrams is in a tight race against Republican opponent Brian Kemp to become Georgia's next governor. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 06: Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams get s hug from a young supporter at Busy Bee Cafe on November 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Abrams made a number of final campaign stops on Election Day. As voters go to the polls on Election Day, Abrams is in a tight race against Republican opponent Brian Kemp to become Georgia's next governor. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 06: Rev. Jesse Jackson stands with Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams outside the Busy Bee Cafe on November 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Abrams made a number of final campaign stops on Election Day. As voters go to the polls on Election Day, Abrams is in a tight race against Republican opponent Brian Kemp to become Georgia's next governor. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 06: Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams poses for photographs with employees of Busy Bee Cafe on November 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Abrams made a number of final campaign stops on Election Day. As voters go to the polls on Election Day, Abrams is in a tight race against Republican opponent Brian Kemp to become Georgia's next governor. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 06: Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams gets a kiss from a supporter during a campaign stop at Busy Bee Cafe on November 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. As voters go to the polls on Election Day, Abrams is in a tight race against Republican opponent Brian Kemp to become Georgia's next governor. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 06: A supporter holds a campaign poster of Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams outside Busy Bee Cafe on November 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Abrams made a number of final campaign stops on Election Day. As voters go to the polls on Election Day, Abrams is in a tight race against Republican opponent Brian Kemp to become Georgia's next governor. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images
Democratic nominee for Georgia governor Stacey Abrams thanks Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State for speaking at a Get out the Vote Rally held in Savannah at the Longshoreman Union Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)
Democratic nominee for Governor Stacey Abrams speaks Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 at a Get out the Vote Rally in Savannah at the Longshoreman Union.. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)
Buena Vista resident Charlie Matthews, 73, right, presents Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams with red roses during a campaign stop at Annie D's restaurant on Election Day in Buena Vista, Ga., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Matthews said that he dedicated the flowers to Abrams on behalf of all the deceased women in his family that did not live to see her make it this far in Georgia's governor race. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams waves at supporters following a campaign stop at Pearly's Famous Country Cooking on Election Day in Albany, Ga., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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The point is that Trump’s messaging about the migrant caravan, which was so filled with unfounded claims and wildly conspiratorial insinuations, did not appear to cost him at all in deep red states like Georgia. Huge numbers of white voters who voted early in 2014 voted early again in 2018: 406,865 in all.

If there were a sign that Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric had cost him among more traditional Republicans, that number would have been lower, and candidates in other states like Indiana, Missouri and Florida would have fared worse. But in those states with deep red constituencies, Republicans matched increased Democratic turnout with huge numbers of their own, a sign that they were able to excite and mobilize both traditional Republican voters and Trump voters who don’t regularly vote in off-year elections.

This question of getting “low-propensity” voters to the polls has traditionally been a concern of Democrats. The Republican coalition in the past has been better performing in midterm elections than Democratic voters who are reliable in presidential races.

But a key Republican operative told Yahoo News that getting “low propensity” voters — people Trump brought into the Republican Party who were not regular voters before 2016 — had become an “obsession” of GOP party officials because it is now the key for them to be competitive in a number of states.

For the moment, Trump’s ability to rouse this coalition by talking about migrant caravans may encourage him to pursue similar rhetorical and demagogic excess in the future. But it may also give him and Republicans pause that Republican Senate candidates in key Rust Belt states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — which delivered him the presidency in 2016 — were badly outmatched by their Democratic opponents. And in only one of those states, Ohio, did a Republican governor win.

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