City DopeNews

Republicans Win Five Athens Legislative Seats After Drawing Their Own Districts

Athens was split among one Democrat and three Republican state House districts starting in 2022.

The new state House and Senate districts Republicans drew for Athens post-2020 Census worked exactly as intended last week, handing big victories to GOP incumbents despite scrappy Democratic challengers to all five.

Alarmed that Democrats briefly flipped two Republican-leaning House seats in 2017, and concerned about the blue trend in the metro Atlanta suburbs creeping toward Athens, Republican legislators sliced Athens like a pie into four House districts earlier this year, packing the most Democratic parts of the city into Rep. Spencer Frye’s district and distributing the slightly less blue parts among three other districts dominated by the deep-red surrounding counties. Similarly, Clarke County remains split into two Senate districts, as it has been since 2006, when Republicans divided it in a rare mid-decade redistricting to give now-Gov. Brian Kemp’s brother-in-law, Bill Cowsert, a leg up.

“The truth is, as a Black woman running in a majority red district, my opponent already had an advantage due to unfair redistricting and privilege,” House candidate Mokah Jasmine Johnson said.

Johnson lost to Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) 57%-43% in 2020. In this year’s rematch—after Republicans added more of Jackson and Barrow counties to Gaines’ district—he won by 22 points.

It was the same in every other Athens-area race. Cowsert beat Andrew Ferguson 64%-36%. Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) beat Conolus Scott Jr. 62%-38%. Rep. Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville) beat Jeff Auerbach 60%-40%. Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro) beat Kat Howkins 66%-34%. Yet all five Democratic challengers led the Republican incumbents by double digits in Athens. 

Republicans didn’t need to change much about the 10th Congressional District, which leaned far to the right before and remains conservative now. Democrat Tabitha Johnson-Green lost to Republican Mike Collins by 30 points—a similar result to 2020, when she ran against U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who left the seat in an unsuccessful primary challenge to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Collins, like Hice, is hardcore MAGA, embracing Donald Trump even after Trump endorsed Vernon Jones for the seat. 

As they did around the state, Democrats did backslide slightly in Clarke County compared to 2018 or 2020, when they received 70% of the vote locally. This year, Democrats’ share of the vote in ACC ranged from 64%–68%, with attorney general candidate Jen Jordan and Charlie Bailey in the lieutenant governor’s race actually outpacing Stacey Abrams at the top of the ticket. The exception, both locally and statewide, was Sen. Raphael Warnock, who won 71% of the vote in Athens to Herschel Walker’s 27%. Turnout in Athens was also down a bit, from 62% in the midterm four years ago to 59%.

Why the discrepancy between Warnock and Abrams? “The difference isn’t about them, but about who they ran against,” said ACC Commissioner Tim Denson, chair of the ACC Democratic Committee. Kemp ran an effective campaign, he said, while Walker “jumped from mistake to mistake.”

Those mistakes have already cost Walker. Now that Democrats will retain control of the Senate regardless of what happens in the Dec. 6 runoff, conservative voters wary of Walker’s past have less reason to turn back out.