Politicos are still parsing the results of Georgia’s primary elections. What does it say about Donald Trump’s influence among Republicans? Are Georgians tired of hearing about the 2020 elections? What does the large turnout tell us about Georgia’s voting laws – or its newfound status as a swing state?
Some answers remain elusive. But here’s one clear lesson: Good policy makes good politics.
Although the U.S. Senate race technically was atop the ticket, Herschel Walker’s fame rendered it one-sided from the get-go. For most, the real main event was Gov. Brian Kemp’s re-election bid against David Perdue, the former senator backed by Trump. Yet, that race wound up being even more lopsided than the Senate results, with Kemp taking 74% of the vote.
How did he do it?
There were no exit polls, but voters interviewed by various news outlets told a story that sounded similar to what I’ve been hearing: Georgia Republicans still like Trump, and they still have their doubts about the 2020 election. But they weren’t going to hold that against Kemp because they think he’s done a good job.
First and foremost is how Kemp handled the pandemic. Georgia was one of the last states to shut down and one of the first to reopen. Kemp was roundly criticized when he made those decisions, accused of being reckless and endangering lives. But time has largely vindicated him.
Our economy has roared back to life. Georgia is one of only 14 states with more jobs today than it had before the pandemic, and only Texas, Florida and North Carolina have seen more net job creation since February 2020. On a percentage basis, our job growth ranks seventh. Thousands more Georgians still have their livelihoods, compared to residents of other states.
At the same time, Georgia has the 10th-lowest rate of COVID-19 infections (cases per 100,000 people) during the pandemic, according to the New York Times’ real-time tracker. We do have the 19th-highest rate of deaths from the virus, which partly reflects a less healthy population overall. But given that our rate remains lower than that of some states that famously locked down longer, such as Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, it’s unclear that a different policy would have been effective.
Staying with the economy, Georgians are keeping more of their money after a series of tax cuts. There has been a broad-based tax cut in each of Kemp’s years in office except for the pandemic-stricken legislative session of 2020. (The major cut to take effect in 2019 was, to be fair, signed into law by his predecessor, Nathan Deal.)
This year’s cut was the biggest so far. The move to a lower, flat income tax will save Georgia workers more than $1 billion to start and, by some estimates, $2 billion per year once it’s fully implemented. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation said the full schedule of changes would boost Georgia from 32nd to 16th in its annual State Business Tax Climate Index.
Finally, anyone paying attention in recent months has heard two of the biggest economic development announcements in state history: plans for electric-vehicle factories by Rivian in Morgan County east of Atlanta, and by Hyundai near Savannah. The two are expected to employ more than 15,000 Georgians combined.
Those deals aren’t without criticism: Some Morgan County residents in particular worry about the impact on their community, and taxpayers are ponying up billions of dollars in subsidies. But voters generally like splashy job announcements, and they don’t appear to have hurt Kemp in the primary.
This has been an economy-heavy review, and certainly there are other relevant issues. But the economy is almost always voters’ top concern, and that’s especially true with surging inflation and mounting shortages of household staples.
Disagree as they might with one policy or another, people will have a hard time arguing with Kemp’s economic record as a whole. That record is the stuff from which primary landslides are made.