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Did Georgia Democrats save Trump-targeted Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger?

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A few months ago, you would have been forgiven for assuming that Wednesday, May 25 would be a day to pick up the pieces of a brutal Republican primary in Georgia. Governor Brian Kemp was seeking re-election but had clashed with former President Donald Trump over the latter’s failed efforts to overturn the results of the state’s 2020 presidential election. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the guy tasked with confirming Trump’s loss in Georgia, was also on the ballot Tuesday. And Trump had endorsed former professional soccer player Herschel Walker for the U.S. Senate, a move many Republicans have questioned.

Thus, the Tuesday, May 24 primaries seemed to be the culmination of several fights, fights that would only be resolved after equally difficult second-round contests. But the opposite happened: Kemp and Raffensperger locked up majorities from the start, and Walker never faced significant competition.

This was not the result Trump hoped to see. Yes, he got Walker, but his endorsed nominee against Kemp, former Sen. David Perdue, was wiped out. Perhaps more frustratingly for Trump, Georgia primary voters gave their vote to Raffensperger, a lower-cost race that might have seemed riper for Trump. And while Raffensperger’s margin was narrower than Kemp’s — in the sense that a roadside ditch is narrower than the Grand Canyon — he still got the win.

Here’s an interesting question that popped up: Does he have any Democrats to thank?

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Consider how the results of these three races overlapped. The Washington Post’s newsroom engineering team compiled voter registration data (including modeled party registration from data firm L2) and compared it to actual results by precinct in the ‘State. If we compare Walker’s results to Kemp’s, you can see a pattern: Walker did better in more rural, Trump-friendly parts of the state, while Kemp did better in more urban, less Trumpy.

This overlaps with other factors, like the fairly large measure of education, but let’s just focus on population density for now.

Next, let’s see how Raffensperger’s results compare to Kemp’s. Kemp outperformed Raffensperger in virtually every quarter, but note the difference with Walker: Raffensperger’s results are generally in line with Kemp’s. Better in urban areas, worse in rural areas.

If we compare Walker to Raffensperger, the contrast is striking. Raffensperger outperformed Walker in most city quarters. Walker has outplayed him in more than 9 out of 10 rural runs.

It has a lot to do with Trump. More rural areas have always been more favorable to Trump (again, partly because this correlates with education and other factors). But more urban places are also more Democratic places, and there are indications that this was important to Raffensperger’s victory.

Analysis by Lenny Bronner of the Post suggests that perhaps 77,000 Republican primary voters had voted in the Democratic primary in 2020. They are certainly not all Democrats; voters could request the primary ballot of the party of their choice. There was no real presidential primary for Republicans to vote in that year, so they may have voted in the Democratic primary (as is allowed in the state) simply for lack of another option.

It doesn’t matter because 77,000 votes gave Raffensperger a win; it is up nearly 220,000 at the time of writing. Instead, it matters because Raffensperger has about 54,000 votes over the 50% margin he needed to avoid a runoff. In other words, take away 54,000 votes and suddenly there’s a showdown between Raffensperger and Rep. Jody Hice, with Hice getting Trump’s endorsement and the two having to do battle entirely in the spotlight over their race.

Again, we don’t know that Raffensperger received 77,000 votes from Democratic primary voters. We don’t know that there were precisely 77,000 people who jumped from voting in the Democratic contest in 2020 to the Republican ballot this week. We don’t know if all these people would have voted for Raffensperger.

We To dohowever, see signs that places with more former Democratic primary voters were more supportive of Raffensperger, especially compared to Kemp and Walker.

Below, we’ve broken down the results of the three candidates in two ways. On the left, the percentage of support in a precinct (vertical axis) versus the modeled density of Democrats in the precinct (horizontal axis). On the right, we place each precinct into one of five buckets — quintiles — based on the density of Democratic and Republican primary voters.

There are many here. Looked.

So notice this graph on the right for Raffensperger. Precincts in the lowest quintile of Republican voters gave the incumbent secretary of state 58% of their vote. In the top quintile of Democratic voters, he obtained 54% of the vote. (Bipartisan density does not reach 100% in every precinct, so the quintile clusters are not perfect mirror images.) In the fifth of the precincts with the lowest Democratic density and the fifth with the higher, Raffensperger obtained less than half of the votes.

Georgia does not require registration by party, which makes this issue difficult to pin down. But there are important clues: better performance in urban (i.e. more Democratic) precincts, better performance in precincts with more Democratic primary voters, and tens of thousands of former Democratic primary voters voting in the Republican primary this year. There was a contested Democratic primary for secretary of state this year, but the primary vote is party-specific. The fact that Democrats did not have competitive primaries for Governor or Senate may also have spurred greater turnout in the Republican primaries.

Of course, it is also true that a margin of 54,000 votes out of 1.1 million votes can have many causes. Even in rural constituencies, Raffensperger won the majority of votes. No doubt a consolation for a candidate who will not be in a hurry to be perceived as having earned the nomination of his party thanks to the help of the other party.


Washington

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