2014 Election Preview: Georgia

The Peach State has quite a few interesting statewide offices up for grabs this year, including both a Senate race and a gubernatorial contest. Though Georgia is primarily a red state, in both races Democrats are fielding competitive candidates and the Republicans will have to keep on their toes if they are to be victorious in November. Meanwhile, the Senate race has attracted a slew of Republican congressman and as a result there are multiple vacancies in the House of Representatives in deeply conservative districts. The GOP primaries that will decide the nominees (and the eventual winners) have their own interesting cast of characters and it should be fun to see what happens on Primary Night in May.

Governor: Incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal has middling approval numbers in a Republican leaning state, so he starts with a somewhat strong advantage. He has a few GOP primary opponents, but they should not present too much of a problem and it is highly likely that he will be renominated. The real challenge will come in November because the Democrats have a strong challenger in State Sen. Jason Carter (D), the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Polls show that the race is neck and neck, with Deal slightly edging Carter in every poll with the exception of the most recent PPP survey, which showed Carter with a 1 point lead. That being said, Deal has a significant fundraising advantage and while the polls show both candidates in the low forties, it remains to be seen whether a Democrat can get above that in a state as red as Georgia. Given these factors, this race is Likely Republican.

Senator: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) is retiring and there is a whole slew of Republicans looking to replace him. There are THREE House members looking to move up to the upper chamber: Rep. Paul Broun, Rep. Phil Gingrey, and Rep. Jack Kingston. In addition, former GA Secretary of State Karen Handel and businessman (and cousin of former Governor Sunny Perdue (R)) David Perdue have thrown their hats into the ring. Right now it looks likely that the race will go on to a runoff  in July and judging from the polls, Perdue will be one of the candidates to advance. Who is going to join him is anyone’s guess right now and each of the other candidates has decent shot at doing so. The Democrats look to nominate non-profit CEO Michelle Nunn, who happens to be the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn (D). She has a household name and a decent fundraising operation, so she could make it close. Polling shows that the race is tight and all GOP candidates are currently in the low-forties against Nunn. Things could end up where the Republicans nominate someone like Broun, who is quoted as saying “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” and the Democrats could sneak away with this one like they did in Indiana in 2012. But Broun isn’t the front runner and winning as a Democrat in a red year and a red state would be a tall order indeed. This race is currently Likely Republican.

House:

GA-1: With Rep. Jack Kingston (R) trying to move on up to the Senate, this open seat has attracted a multitude of Republicans. The four candidates to keep an eye on are: former Newt Gingrich aide John McCallum, surgeon and ex-Army Ranger Bob Johnson, former State Sen. Jeff Chapman, and current State Sen. Earl “Buddy” Carter. In terms of fundraising McCallum, Johnson, and Carter are in the top tier, but Chapman has the endorsement of Georgia Right to Life (although this group has some baggage to deal with).  Regardless of who wins, this is a heavily GOP district and therefore this race is Safe Republican.  

GA-10: There are lots of Republicans fighting over the seat vacated Rep. Paul Broun (R) as he makes his bid for Senate. We have State Rep. Donna Sheldon, businessman Mike Collins, radio host Jody Hice, and former Army officer Stephen Simpson. No one has really raised a lot of money this cycle and its hard to see who has the advantage for the nomination. But whoever the GOP nominates, this seat is Safe Republican.

GA-11: The last of the seats left vacant by the trio of GOP representatives running for Senate is the one currently held by Rep. Phil Gingrey. The most likely man to replace him is 2008 Libertarian Party presidential nominee and former Rep. Bob Barr. This is one of the few House races with polling and while surveys show most voters a still undecided, Bob Barr is at the top the pack and that combined with his fundraising lead makes him the man to beat in the May 20th primary. He is joined in the race by State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, Georgia House Republican Whip Ed Lindsey, and Allan Levene (who is also running in Hawaii’s 1st, Minnesota’s 6th and Michigan’s 14th Congressional Districts). As with the other open seats, this race is Safe Republican.

GA-12: Rep. John Barrow (D) occupies one of the most conservative districts currently held a Democrat, meaning that he’s a prime target for the GOP this election cycle.  The two main Republicans looking to challenge him are businessmen Eugene Yu and Rick Allen, with both raising hundreds of thousands of dollars so far. That being said, neither of them have much political experience and it will take some skill to unseat a 10-year veteran like Barrow. Until there’s more of an indication of the caliber of the GOP nominee, this race Leans Democrat.

 

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Death Penalty In Focus: A Tale of Two Cases

The first is from the Atlantic:

“At the center of the week’s storm is a convicted murderer named Warren Lee Hill. Despite a 2002 ruling by the United States Supreme Court that prohibits the execution of mentally retarded* prisoners, Georgia officials plan to execute Hill next Monday even though all of the government doctors who have examined him now agree that he is mentally retarded beyond a reasonable doubt. Georgia seeks to accomplish the execution by arguing that Hill has not met his burden of proving retardation under an onerous state standard; that the doctors’ new diagnoses are flawed; and that, as a matter of law, they come too late anyway to spare Hill.”

And another via the AP:

“If the Obama administration tries for the death penalty against Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it could face a long, difficult legal battle in a state that hasn’t seen an execution in nearly 70 years.

Attorney General Eric Holder will have to decide several months before the start of a trial — if there is one — whether to seek death for Tsarnaev. It is the highest-profile such decision yet to come before Holder, who personally opposes the death penalty.”

For the past few decades, the death penalty has polled pretty well among the American public and the latest Gallup poll shows that 63% of Americans approve of it.

Currently 38 states and the federal government permit the execution of prisoners convicted of capital murder, treason, and espionage. Maryland made news earlier this year by becoming the 18th state to repeal the death penalty and as a whole the United Sates is one of the only four industrialized democracies that still has it.

In the first case, the law seems pretty simple: you cannot execute mentally handicapped individuals. Despite this fact, Georgia seems pretty intent on killing this guy. But rather than being a fight over the death penalty itself, the impeding execution is merely setting the stage for a state versus federal government dispute. When the Supreme Court ruled to protect the mentally handicapped from the death penalty, it left it up to the states to determine who qualifies as handicapped. The result is that someone who may be protected in one state may be killed in another, which is not a workable system for a bastion of human rights. When it comes to absolutes such as life and death, it is imperative for the Court to set clear definitions on who is mentally handicapped, so that whether you live or die is determined by your mental capacity and not by chance of geography.

The Boston Bombing case is a different (but not entirely different) animal. Here you have a 19 year-old kid who helped his brother plant explosives at the Boston Marathon, the result of which was that three people died and hundreds were injured. Given the nature of the crime and the fact that we pretty much know for sure that he did it, the death penalty could be considered in this situation.

However, you would have to look at the role he played in the planning and execution of the attack. From what we know, it was his brother who took the lead and organized the plot from its inception. The defense could argue that given his role and his age, the younger Tsarnaev is far less culpable than his brother and thus he should be spared the death penalty.

I’m personally against the death penalty because it is a black and white solution to a grey problem. It is not cost effective, there’s no evidence that it acts as a deterrent, and the margin for error is too large. Over the past twenty years nearly 100 condemned men and women have been exonerated, some of them mere days away from death. This prompts the question: How many were not so lucky? A lot of death row inmates are poor, many suffer from mental illness, and as a result they often don’t have the best legal representation. How many wrongful executions should we as a society tolerate? I don’t want to answer that question.