Jim Barksdale’s plan to oust Johnny Isakson from Georgia’s Senate seat

May 6, 2016: U.S Senate democratic candidate Jim Barksdale reviews his notes before the taking part in the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk Young Debate Series at the GPB studio in Atlanta May 6, 2016. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

May 6, 2016: U.S Senate democratic candidate Jim Barksdale reviews his notes before the taking part in the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk Young Debate Series at the GPB studio in Atlanta May 6, 2016. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Shifting demographics. An “authentic” message. A united Democratic Party.

If Democrat Jim Barksdale’s plan to defeat Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Democrats have counted on the same factors in just about every statewide contest since Republicans won control of Georgia in the 2000s, and each time they’ve fallen flat.

With the primaries over, Barksdale is counting on a few additional elements in his battle against Isakson, who is favored to win in November. As a millionaire self-styled “outsider,” he can pump his own fortune into his campaign. And he and other Democrats hope that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump drags down the GOP ticket by alienating women and independents.

“As the perfect storm gathers strength through the summer, Jim Barksdale and the Georgia Democratic Party turnout apparatus will have the strength and resources to capitalize and put the Georgia Senate race firmly in play,” read a memo distributed Wednesday by Barksdale campaign manager Dave Hoffman.

Meanwhile, Libertarian Allen Buckley is pinning his hopes on an appeal to conservatives who are disillusioned with the Georgia GOP. He picked up the endorsement Wednesday from conservative activist Joe McCutchen.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson speaks Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in January. Jonathan Phillips/Special

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson speaks Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in January. Jonathan Phillips/Special

Read more about why Barksdale presents a different sort of challenge for Isakson here.

And here’s Hoffman’s entire memo, which he titled a “Peachy Democratic Outlook #GASEN.”

State of the Race: Turning Georgia Blue in 2016

Measurable demographic shifts in Georgia have left Democrats bullish on the prospects of turning the state blue in 2016.

Building on efforts from high profile mid-term gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races in 2014, Democrats are investing in ambitious field program, “helmed by a pair of veterans from battleground states” that are already at work to “identify voters, recruit volunteers, [and] rally them around base-pleasing issues and corral them into votes in November.”

Georgia will inevitably turn blue on demographic changes alone, but it is the impact of the top of the ticket on both non-white and white voters that makes the ground in 2016 fertile.

Donald Trump won Georgia in the Republican primary as a populist outsider taking on the Washington establishment on economic grounds. Many white voters, driven into a frenzy by Trump, will be anti-establishment and looking to change Washington from top-to-bottom. Or white Independent and Republican voters who don’t like Trump may not vote at all. In a recent Atlanta Constitution Journal poll, 27% of Republicans and 61% of Independents viewed Trump negatively.

Incumbent U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, once seen as a sure bet for an easy reelection, now faces an opponent that will unite the Democratic base, can spend his own resources, and is well positioned to take on Isakson’s “Gone Washington” record of bad trade deals, raising the age for Social Security eligibility, and a $12.7 trillion increase in the national debt has left him with just 42% believing he deserves reelection and 42% approval, both well under the 50% threshold long seen as a bellwether mark for incumbents.

Investment manager Jim Barksdale, winner of yesterday’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, is an anti-establishment outsider with a simple message: Our national debt is too high, wages are stagnant and government needs to start working for the people instead of special interests and their lobbyists. Jim’s message is both authentic and extremely appealing to voters across the ideological spectrum. The contrast between an outsider with a fresh voice and the longtime incumbent frames Johnny Isakson in a very bad light.

The seismic shift in attitudes among traditionally reliable Republican-inclined white voters along with the fact that year after year African-Americans and Latinos make up a bigger share of the population and the electorate will make the 2016 election unlike any Johnny Isakson has seen before.

Johnny Isakson: Seeking Re-election in an Uncertain Political Climate

The year before Isakson went to Washington, our national debt stood at $5.5 trillion. By 2015, it had more than tripled to $18.2 trillion. During that period, Isakson has been a consistent vote to raise the national debt limit, voting to do so at least eight times.

Bad trade deals have cost Georgia heavily. The state has lost 135,200 manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was implemented, while free trade with China has cost Georgia 93,700 jobs through 2013. Isakson voted for CAFTA and more recently, repeatedly voted for both Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Johnny Isakson has sent millions of American jobs overseas by voting for every single bad foreign trade deal since he got to Washington. Jim Barksdale will fight to end those deals and bring jobs back to Georgia, as trade deals that reduce jobs and wages are not good for both workers or business.

Isakson’s record on women put him squarely in line with his ticket-mate, voting against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that would make it easier for women to challenge unfair and illegal pay, and voting to block legislation to protect a woman’s right to contraceptive coverage and prevent employers from interfering in their employees’ private health decisions.

Perfect Storm Gathering

The general election cycle is developing into nothing short of a perfect storm that will work against Isakson, who said himself that “it’s going to be a close horse race.”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in a statistical dead-heat in a state that has not been won by a Democrat since 1992. As Politico’s Katie Glueck notes, “Republicans haven’t had to worry much about Arizona and Georgia in presidential elections. Until now.”

Georgia Republican Charlie Harper, quoted in the same article, saying the Peach State, “definitely has the potential to be competitive.” Harper continues: “We still really don’t know enough about what kind of candidate we’re going to get out of Donald Trump. Does the party consolidate around him? There is a lot of resistance to that.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution goes further framing the problem: “A lack of enthusiasm from devoted party activists…could hamper voter turnout, soften fundraising and drag down the campaigns of other candidates on the ballot, from U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s re-election bid to the 236 legislative contests up for grabs.”

As the perfect storm gathers strength through the summer, Jim Barksdale and the Georgia Democratic Party turnout apparatus will have the strength and resources to capitalize and put the Georgia Senate race firmly in play.


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