One doesn’t have to wait until the polls close on election night to begin counting votes. In fact, the vote counting in these midterm elections has been going on for months. Political strategists start by taking stock of the electorate—who’s eligible to vote, who’s likely to do so, and who can be nudged into that category—and which groups of voters might be most susceptible to their messages. The resulting assessments help parties decide which races are viable, or what level of investment it might take to make them so. All subsequent campaign plans and budgets and calendars are typically built from there. None of this is conceptually new, but the depth and range of data available about voters allows campaigns to slice and dice the electorate in altogether new ways—calculations that are driving the campaigns that we see on TV and read about in the newspapers and online.
With one week to go before election day, Bloomberg Politics revisited the basic electoral math that Democratic and Republican candidates confront in the seven most competitive Senate races: Colorado, Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alaska, and Georgia. Starting with interviews with top strategists and officials on both sides, we set out to shed light on the demographic battlefield both sides aim to control, and thereby understand the strategies they’ve deployed in the past few months.
To see the electorate through these strategists' eyes, we mined the underlying data set of democracy: voter files, which are the databases created from registration records and augmented by other intelligence on voters. (Read more about our partners in this project, Clarity Campaign Labs and TargetSmart Communications. We'd also like to thank Chris Brill of TargetSmart for his data analysis.)
Each candidate is moving toward the same goal: just more than half of the total number of votes that will be cast. Campaign tacticians often call it the “win number.” It's the safest goal for candidates; in states like North Carolina or Alaska where a third-party candidate could peel off voters from one of the major party’s bases, a winner could emerge with significantly fewer. And it starts with the party base. Essentially, this amounts to the number of votes that are certain to turn out for each candidate, and which he or she can take for granted in a federal election run along standard two-party lines. The entirety of a political campaign can be understood as the project of getting from one’s base to one’s win number, through one of three methods.
Persuasion is the task of trying to pull likely voters with fluid or uncertain loyalties—those who show up as “undecided” in polls, or are soft supporters of a candidate, and thus susceptible to defection—over to one’s side, through argument or messaging. Ads, debates, the jostle for endorsements and news coverage: These are the dominant subjects of political journalism, although not always the principal activities of the campaigns. In some Senate battlegrounds, like Alaska and Arkansas, persuadable voters constitute over one third of the electorate. In other states, like Georgia and North Carolina, they are around one tenth. The unanticipated emergence of independent candidates in South Dakota and Kansas—and the attendant fluidity of voter choices across party lines—makes analyzing those states much more difficult, and we didn't try.
The majority of voters, often well more than 80 percent in the states we examined, had highly predictable partisan loyalties. In these cases, the question is never how an individual will vote, but if he or she will. The work of converting non-voters into voters is known as mobilization or GOTV, for “get out the vote,” in which the challenge is not changing minds of active citizens, but modifying the behavior of unreliable ones. Canvassers with door-hangers identifying the polling place, volunteer phone banks reminding people to return their absentee ballots—this is the world of campaigning from which the candidate and his or her surrogates are often entirely absent. Instead, this resource-intensive work relies on sophisticated statistical techniques. Along with the registration of new voters, or the re-registration of those who moved, this is what is generally called "the ground game."
Just about every campaign engages in persuasion and mobilization, albeit of different audiences. (Only the most desperate campaigns, forced to stretch to reach their win number, find themselves simultaneously persuading and mobilizing the same voters.) However, the split between persuasion and mobilization activities (and, in some cases, large-scale registration efforts) in a campaign plan varies wildly from candidate to candidate—it is primarily determined by the composition of a state, matched with strategic challenges and available resources.
We can determine how states will be won long before we know who will win them. In Arkansas and Alaska, the election will almost certainly be determined by which candidate is more successful at winning over persuadables, as there are simply not enough GOTV targets to make up for a loss among those already likely to vote. In contrast, in Colorado, Iowa, and North Carolina, a Democrat could win without winning a majority of persuadables. In these states, a Republican victory will require GOTV success, but need not be dependent on it. In Georgia, Democrats will probably have to register a significant number of new voters just to have enough GOTV targets to be competitive.
Looking at these seven states, it becomes clear how much of the burden of campaigning is on Democrats, a function of both the time and the space in which the 2014 midterms take place. With a higher base in every state covered here other than Louisiana, Republicans simply have less work to do to get to their win number. And historically, the Democrats have had a much more difficult time turning out their base in midterm elections than have Republicans. Republicans generally start their efforts to woo persuadable voters—who are, overwhelmingly, and as is now nearly always the case, slightly older whites—from a stronger position, too. Barack Obama’s broad unpopularity has become a drag on Democrats’ efforts to persuade. The few candidates whom polls suggest have been relatively successful seem to be so because they have succeeded in changing the subject, like North Carolina’s Kay Hagan villainizing opponent Thom Tillis for his cuts to state education budgets.
Unlikely to carry enough persuadables in any of these states to make up for their structural deficit, Democrats are left to turn to mobilization to close the gap. The Democratic coalition contains a larger number of infrequent voters, often living in dense, canvassable areas, so party strategists can outline paths to victory that rely overwhelmingly on mobilization. With greater access to volunteers, including from labor unions, campaigns on the left can bring this work to scale more quickly, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has made unprecedented early investments—through its $60 million Bannock Street Project—to seed the field infrastructure to support it. The nature of the states in which they have to mobilize makes it demanding work. In Arkansas and Alaska, where great feats of Democratic mobilization will be necessary but not sufficient for victory, rural settlement patterns leave them with far-flung GOTV targets, from African-Americans scattered across the Mississippi Delta to native Alaskans in small, isolated villages in the Arctic Circle.
Below is a sketch of the demographic battlefield on which the 2014 election is being contested. The battle itself—gaffes, attack ads, debates, and ad-spending decisions—is taking place upon it.
Democrats withstood a national Republican wave here four years ago, with a slate of centrist candidates who nimbly persuaded a socially moderate electorate and a party apparatus that targeted and mobilized a growing Democratic base.
Thanks in part to those victories, Colorado is one of the rare states that has liberalized its voting laws since 2010. Every registered voter has already been automatically sent a mail-in ballot, and those not yet on the books can register in person on election day. These reforms are likely to push turnout from 2010’s 1.8 million to more than two million this year.
But this expansion probably gets Senator Mark Udall only part of the way to his win number, because the Republicans start with a significantly larger base. Udall’s challenger, Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, could get to his win number without mobilizing a single new voter. But for Gardner, persuading existing ones won’t be easy, because the persuadable universe in Colorado is of a bluer tint than that of many other battlegrounds. 5.3 percent is Latino, which is more than five times larger than that of any other competitive Senate electorate. Only 56.5 percent of Colorado’s persuadables are married, as opposed to more than 70 percent in the southern and midwestern Senate battlegrounds. Colorado persuadables are three times more likely to be under the age of 40 than North Carolina’s. These numbers may help explain why Gardner has made a dramatic lurch to the center on social issues, particularly contraception, potentially at the expense of enthusiasm among evangelical conservatives within his own base. But Udall’s math is even more difficult. For instance, even if he claims as many as half of those persuadables, Democrats would still need to mobilize a quarter million new voters from among the 600,000 friendly turnout targets.
Red and Blue Hispanics
While Democrats routinely hunt for Spanish-speaking turnout targets in the Denver area—home to three quarters of the state’s votes—Gardner will probably focus his Latino outreach on conservative Colorado Springs, where Latino persuadables are disproportionately clustered. They cut a different profile than the Democrats’ Latino turnout targets: more conservative in their attitudes towards immigration and less likely to communicate in Spanish. Gardner could make inroads with them through targeted messaging on one social issue with particular resonance in the mountain west: Nearly half of persuadable Latinos are likely to own a gun and so are very questionable supporters of the gun-control policies of the sort that went to the top of Governor John Hickenlooper’s agenda after the 2012 Aurora shooting.
Ever since, Hickenlooper has disowned his past crusade on the issue, even apologizing for an aggressive gun-control bill signed into law just a year earlier. His political calculations? Hickenlooper is now in his own tough reelection race, and will confront many of the same anxieties around gun politics as Udall.
Though there are significant gender gaps in other states, the race in Colorado has been waged to a surprising degree around issues concerning reproduction, which Democrats have said was crucial to their 2010 wins here. One of Gardner’s first moves as a Senate candidate was a retreat from his previous support for a contraception ban; he has instead suggested that birth control be made available over the counter.
Udall has nonetheless remained so monomaniacally focussed on abortion that one debate moderator called him “Mark Uterus.” But Udall’s preoccupation makes sense: Persuadable women of childbearing age represent about five percent of the up-for-grabs votes in Colorado. They are less likely to be married than other persuadable voters, with higher levels of educational attainment and income, including a median household income of $86,000 per year. The ad war for their opinions is likely to play out most heavily in the Denver media market: That’s where nearly 85 percent of the persuadable women under 45 live.
In 2012, Colorado’s 50-47 split between Obama and Romney perfectly mirrored the national popular vote. But on the same ballot, the question of legalizing marijuana wasn’t nearly as close: Prop 64 ran nearly four points ahead of the president. Since then, the state has begun to allow recreational use and retail sales with little incident, and the issue has effectively disappeared from the political agenda.
Marijuana may not be on the ballot this year, or even up for debate, but unexpected Prop 64 strongholds could deliver for Udall, too—they are home to culturally liberal Republicans that a Democrat could peel off on social issues and the environment.
More than any other Senate contestants this year, Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton in Arkansas are facing an open-minded electorate. Nearly 40 percent of likely Arkansas voters appear to be persuadable, more than twice the share in neighboring Louisiana.
Pryor’s campaign can have a little more impact on the shape of the electorate, with about 100,000 more potential turnout targets than Cotton. But this situation is not as rosy as it seems. While about a quarter of Pryor’s targets are in Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock and North Little Rock, where standard Democratic get-out-the-vote tactics can be highly effective, the remainder—including two-thirds of Democrats’ 55,106 African-American turnout targets—are in more rural areas, particularly in the Mississippi River Delta, where canvassing is more time-consuming and less efficient.
Arkansas has not seen the large-scale demographic change that has moved other southern battlegrounds leftward by drawing foreign immigrants and transplants from more culturally liberal regions of the country. Republican officials have been sanguine about the churn in northwest Arkansas, where Benton and Washington counties have grown by nearly half since 2000. Benton is home to Wal-Mart’s headquarters, and Republicans are seeing that population growth—relatively wealthy, possibly conservative-minded fresh arrivals with little local political memory—as a source of potential GOTV targets for their ticket this year.
It’s probably premature for Republicans to hope to redraw the electorate in 2014: The region’s share of new registrations is only two percent higher than the state as a whole, growth that appears to come at the expense of the state’s smaller, more rural markets. But the 54,735 voters who have registered in the Fort Smith media market since the 2012 election cut a distinctive profile—one that Republican strategists are hoping will feel a particular connection to Cotton, a Harvard-educated lawyer and one-time management consultant until recently unknown outside his congressional district.
Pryor, on the other hand, is counting on the old guard of Arkansas Democratic politics to vouch for him.
One-third of Arkansas voters weren’t of legal voting age when Bill Clinton first ran for president—but nearly all of the state’s persuadables had the chance to cast a ballot for his wife in the 2008 Democratic primary. Hillary not only swamped Obama on Super Tuesday, but also drew a lot of that support from Arkansans who typically vote Republican when it comes to national politics, but who crossed over to participate in the Democratic primary. Those Clinton Republicans who chose to cross over to back Hillary will be prime persuasion targets for Pryor, which is why Bill has been spending many a weekend in Little Rock.
Democratic tacticians prioritize face-to-face contact from volunteers, the most effective known technique for mobilizing non-voters. But it is harder in Arkansas’s sparsely populated Delta counties than nearly anywhere else in the country that African-American voters are clustered. With doors farther apart, canvassing becomes more resource-intensive, and at some point strategists may decide that money is better spent on urban get-out-the-vote and persuasion elsewhere.
The Walmart Vote
The state’s northwest corner is home to some of its largest employers—including Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt, and the University of Arkansas—and the 54,735 new registrants have likely been drawn there for upscale jobs. One-fifth of the state’s persuadable voters live in the Ft. Smith media market, which encompasses Fayetteville, Springdale, and Rogers, and southern populism from either candidate is unlikely to resonate as much there as elsewhere—though Cotton’s management background may.
The Clinton Republicans
When they went to the polls for the 2008 primary, all Arkansas voters could choose to participate in either the Democratic or Republican contest. Despite the state’s red complexion, nearly as many votes were cast for Hillary Clinton in the open primary (she won more than 70 percent of the vote against Obama) as for all the Republicans combined, including favorite son Mike Huckabee. Here’s where Republicans were most likely to rush into the Democratic primary—a guide to where Arkansans are willing to switch parties for a Clinton.
While Iowa has twice cast its votes for Barack Obama, in a midterm election—when 400,000 fewer voters will go to the polls—Republicans have a considerable built-in advantage.
Surmounting it will require great feats of Democratic mobilization. If Bruce Braley can manage to run with Joni Ernst among persuadable voters, Democrats would have to mobilize another 200,000 votes—about half of his party’s infrequent voters. The party doesn’t have much contemporary experience with midterm Senate campaigns—this is the first competitive one in Iowa this century—but will benefit from having exhaustively raked over the electorate twice on Obama’s behalf. The resulting field intelligence will help get-out-the-vote operations, for both the party and allies like labor unions, identifying who among the state’s 415,000 infrequent Democratic voters deserves the most attention.
Ernst can get by with mobilizing only one-quarter of infrequent Republicans if she can manage to carry two-thirds of persuadables. And in Iowa, the persuadables seem like a group that could be responsive to an anti-Obama message: overwhelmingly white and married, with four fifths of them above the age of 50.
In one crucial respect, too, Ernst looks a lot more like them than Braley: Iowa’s persuadable universe is five points more female than male, the greatest gender imbalance among all this year’s Senate battlegrounds.
But Ernst has thus far appeared unable to do any better among women than her male peers in other states. (Some polls have shown her trailing Braley by double digits, similar to her lead among men.) And she is in danger of being hurt by the gender gap over an issue Ernst has made a key part of her political iconography. An officer in the National Guard, she was pictured in one primary-season ad raising a gun to take aim at the Democratic agenda. “Once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni's gonna unload," the narrator announced. "Joni doesn't miss much." She may have been slow, though, to recalibrate for the general election: While 75 percent of persuadable men are likely to own a gun, only 60 percent of women are. (And nearly half of them are likely to support gun-control measures.)
Indeed, Ernst’s grip may now be more securely fixed on a ticket-mate’s coattails. Terry Branstad, the nation’s longest-serving governor, has not been shy about letting allies know that he sees sending Iowa’s first elected woman to Washington as a major part of his legacy. He has a proven electoral asset beyond his popularity: two generations of Branstad Democrats, accustomed to crossing over to vote Republican for a major office. They represent prime persuasion targets for Ernst
All the Governor’s Men and Women
Branstad first appeared on a statewide ballot in 1979, and appears to have expanded his appeal with time. In 2010, against Democratic incumbent Chet Culver, Branstad received 6.8 percent more of the vote across the state’s precincts than a generic Republican would be expected to. In Winnebago County, which borders Minnesota in the center of the state, the gap was 16.9 percent. If Ernst is looking to peel off soft Braley supporters, she’ll start with those Branstad Democrats—and in the state’s most populous counties she’ll find tens of thousands of them.
The parties may be fighting in the press over which side has had more success wrangling its supporters to vote early. (Iowans have been able to request ballots since September 22.) But as election day approaches, campaigns will be caring only about the stragglers. There are 484,000 Iowans who did not cast early ballots in the last two election cycles, and are—by a margin of 25 percentage points—more likely to lean Republican than Democratic. Regardless, all those last-minute campaign ads will be talking to very few voters whose minds can be changed: only 12% of the 2010 and 2012 stragglers appear to be persuadable this year.
Democrats entered the cycle with 415,000 priority turnout targets, and will need to mobilize at least two-thirds of them to keep Braley competitive. The voters Democrats are working to turn out are younger, more female and less likely to be married than those they are struggling to persuade. Yet they are also more upscale, with a median household income of $48,000. (That’s $7,000 above the median for persuasion targets.) Even in lily-white Iowa, minorities will be crucial to Braley’s GOTV efforts: 7 percent of his turnout targets are African-American, Latino, or Asian.
Democratic field offices will be busiest in the central and eastern parts of the state: About 68 percent of targets are in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids media markets. (Only 60 percent of Republican turnout targets are in that zone, with a full 10 percent on the Iowa side of the Omaha media market.)
When Kay Hagan first ran for the Senate six years ago she got 106,000 more votes than Barack Obama did at the top of the ticket. That means a lot of North Carolinians split their tickets—there were probably around 120,000 McCain-Hagan voters. (That figure is larger than the gap between the two Democrats because Obama ran ahead of Hagan in urbanized Mecklenburg and Wake counties.)
North Carolina is the only state to have gone for Obama in 2008 but not in 2012, and Republican challenger Thom Tillis’s persuasion strategy this year will focus on peeling off some of those McCain-Hagan voters to expand his party’s usual base advantage.
Polls show Hagan with a small but persistent lead over Tillis, but neither candidate will find many minds to change in North Carolina. Barely eight percent of likely voters here are persuadable, about one-fifth as many as Arkansas. Despite Obama’s success turning North Carolina purple, the voters that are in play in this election do not look like a constituency friendly to the president: They are older, whiter, and more likely to be married than in any other battleground state. Only four percent of persuadable voters are under 40, and more than 96 percent are white. Nearly four fifths are married.
While both sides have naturally seen this as an invitation to make the race about Social Security and Medicare, Hagan is also focussing on a younger slice of the persuadable universe. Many of her attacks on Tillis have concerned state cuts to education spending while he has been House speaker: One ad, sponsored by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, featured a mother with grade-school children declaring “our schools are not some luxury.” Given the elderly electorate, it amounts to a small slice: Only 38 percent of persuadables have a child in the household.
Even if Hagan carried 80 percent of all persuadable voters, she’d still need to find another 600,000 votes through registration and turnout. It’s a target-rich environment, with 1.7 million sporadic Democratic voters to potentially mobilize—a half million more than are available to a Republican—many in canvasser-friendly areas like the cities of Charlotte and Greensboro and college towns of the Research Triangle. Democratic field operations will face a distinctive wrinkle this year: educating their supporters, who were far more reliant on early voting in 2012, about the consequences of a Tillis-backed law to curtail the practice.
Democrats have been gradually conditioning their coalition to take advantage of North Carolina’s early-voting window—more than half of Hagan’s turnout targets this year voted before election day in 2012. But even reliable voters will need to be retrained to accommodate the new rules, a task that will have a different impact on the two parties, especially when their tactical objectives are viewed in racial terms: Three-fifths of Hagan’s African-American turnout targets voted early, while less than two-fifths of Tillis’s white turnout targets did.
McCain-Hagan ticket-splitters represent key persuasion targets for both sides: likely centrists who will vote Democratic but have proven anxieties about Obama. They are scattered across the state’s rural areas, but five counties account for one-sixth of them. In Columbus county, part of the Wilmington media market along the South Carolina border, Hagan ran nearly 15 points more than Obama.
Louisiana is the only Senate battleground this year where Democrats start with a base advantage.
It is easy to see how Mary Landrieu can get a plurality of the vote, especially against two more conservative candidates. There are two caveats here: Winning the outright majority necessary to avoid a December run-off will be exceedingly difficult, and the base advantage is something of a mirage. Landrieu’s first task among the state’s 131,000 persuadable voters will be to shore up support within Democratic coalition. Then she’ll have to start winning back some of the white voters who have fled her party over the last fifteen years: Registered Democrats were 61 percent of the Louisiana electorate in 2000, and make up only 47 percent today. Part of the sell is her strong support of the oil industry in the Senate, and her centrism. If she can split the persuadables with Republicans Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness, Landrieu would still need to mobilize three-quarters of the state’s sporadic-voting Democrats to clear the 50 percent threshold.
There is a lot of room for both sides to grow in Louisiana, given that only 44.2 percent of Louisiana voters turned out in 2010. More than one-third of Democratic turnout targets are in the media market surrounding New Orleans, where the Landrieu machine (Mary’s brother Mitch is the mayor, a job once held by her father) is seasoned at turning out voters. Outside of New Orleans, however, Landrieu’s gender could be a GOTV asset; 60 percent of Democratic turnout targets are female, and a cadre of women volunteers could be particularly effective at turning them out. Beyond the New Orleans city limits, mobilizing Landrieu’s 447,225 black turnout targets will take some help from other Democrats with local reach. In Monroe, a largely African-American city whose media market includes 66,926 turnout targets, Landrieu will be counting on a congressional campaign by mayor Jamie Mayo to help mobilize votes for the Democratic ticket.
Such reverse coattails could be even more helpful to Republican turnout operations. Even if Cassidy were to win three-quarters of persuadables, he would still need to mobilize more than 200,000 others—just under half of his party’s sporadic voters—to secure victory in a two-way race against Landrieu. More than two-thirds of the party’s top turnout targets reside in the 5th and 6th congressional districts, conservative areas featuring lively, sprawling Republican-on-Republican contests. In each case, the candidates represent a range of party factions running their own get-out-the-vote operations apart from Cassidy’s—and Cassidy stands to reap a sizeable share of the votes they generate.
Louisiana politics over the course of Landrieu’s career has been shaped by one phenomenon above all others: Not only are many fewer of the state’s nearly 1.3 million whites now Democrats than when she was first elected to the Senate in 1996, the two parties also have sorted into distinct white coalitions. White Republicans are much more likely to be in the Shreveport, Monroe, and Baton Rouge media markets, while white Democrats tend to be in Alexandria and Lake Charles. While (perhaps predictably) white Republicans are more likely to be male and married, white Democrats are more than twice as likely to have a college degree. And white Democrats are much older, suggesting that the problem isn’t just ideological but actuarial: They’re dying off and not being replaced.
Both Landrieu and Cassidy may find themselves looking down at their coattails to shape the electorate for them. Thanks to the peculiar nature of Louisiana’s “jungle primary”—in which candidates run in November regardless of party and the top two advance to a run-off—even congressional districts that appear “safe” by national standards are still experiencing lively campaigns that will mobilize voters who also cast a vote for senator. The uneven effect such congressional politics could be most visible in Baton Rouge. The south and east side of the capitol city, including Louisiana State University and much of the upscale Lakeshore neighborhood, are in the 6th District, home to a particularly lively ballot. Residents there have a chance not only to send their current congressman, Cassidy, to the Senate, but also to choose from among ten Republicans seeking to replace him in the House, all of whom are running against Edwin Edwards, the legendary 87-year-old Democratic ex-Governor. But the other half of Baton Rouge sits in the majority-minority 2nd District, where Democrat Cedric Richmond has a safe reelection and has no need to mobilize his base. In some parts of Baton Rouge, the line dividing the districts runs down the middle of a street.
Incumbent Mark Begich starts with a very unfriendly electorate: The Democratic base gets him only halfway to his win number.
Begich eked out a narrow victory in 2008, with 151,767 votes, against a damaged incumbent. He will need to find his way back close to that number for a win this year. He’ll just have to do it largely on his own, without a presidential campaign—in which then-governor Sarah Palin was a star attraction—to drive voters to the polls. That math explains why the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has made per-capita field investments here likely unrivaled in political history. The committee has opened 16 offices in Alaska, and has posted a total of 90 staffers across the sparsely populated state. Their efforts will target approximately 40,000 Democratic voters unlikely to vote without external pressure. Many of them are in rural communities, and as such Democratic tacticians have mapped Alaska with a frontier spirit. To reach those 40,000 turnout targets with high-quality, volunteer interactions, Democrats are stationing organizers in tiny communities, many of them inaccessible by road. In thirty Alaska towns, Begich’s turnout targets number fewer than a half dozen.
But Begich still can’t win on mobilization alone. There are a lot of persuadable voters in Alaska, approximately one-sixth of those who will cast a ballot. If Republican Dan Sullivan can carry 60 percent of them, it won’t matter what heroics the Begich ground game pulls off. To win over these voters, Begich has run as hard against Obama as any Democrat in the country.
One of Sullivan's vulnerabilities is that, though a long-time Alaskan, he hails from Ohio, so he's made his Alaskan values an important theme of his campaign.
Sullivan, however, will have to connect with those voters without the help of one outside group other Republicans count on to communicate with rural voters on behalf. The National Rifle Association, which likely has the best contact list of the state’s gun owners—a group likely to encompass over half of all persuadable voters—has decided to sit out the Alaska race, characterizing its decision not to endorse Begich, whose votes on gun issues earned him a perfect rating from the group, as payback for supporting Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. As a result, both candidates will have to do without the validation of one outside group that could be particularly influential on their behalf.
There’s a reason picking up a seat in Georgia seemed perhaps the most farfetched of the Democrats’ Senate ambitions at the start of this year: Michelle Nunn starts well under halfway to her win number.
To start with, the relatively good news for the Democrats, oddly, was that there were relatively few persuadable voters, which limited the drag that Obama could impose in this state he lost twice (by five and eight points, respectively).
Polls suggest that Nunn has done better than expected among persuadables, aided foremost by the weakness of her Republican opponent, businessman David Perdue, whom Nunn has repeatedly attacked for outsourcing jobs while a corporate executive.
Nunn also has been able to credibly distance herself from Obama, due to an unusually distinctive political identity for a first-time candidate: her father, Sam, previously held the seat. One-third of Georgia’s persuadables were able to vote in 1990, the last time a Nunn was on a ballot in the state, and they are a more conservative bunch—on immigration, abortion and guns—than those who have become eligible since then. Part of the rationale of Nunn’s campaign has been that her family legacy can, with those older voters, protect her from the taint of a national party that has grown more liberal in the 24 years since.
The other rationale of her campaign is that Georgia has numerous new voters, as more than 10 percent of those on the electoral rolls, a total of 540,210, have registered since the 2012 election, and these have a decidedly Democratic tint. More than 40 percent of them are under the age of thirty; 32 percent are African-American, and four percent are Hispanic. And Nunn won’t be the only candidate picking through those names for Democratic GOTV targets; her ticket mate, gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter, will be doing a lot of that work on her behalf. The new registrants are optimally located for an intense, high-volume Democratic GOTV push: 72 percent of them are in the Atlanta media market.