• GA State House: Georgia’s 80th State House District ought to be safely Republican. Mitt Romney carried it by a 56-43 margin, and in a special election, when Democratic turnout almost always suffers, the GOP shouldn’t have had to flex a muscle to keep this seat in their hands.
But on Tuesday night, Democrat Taylor Bennett not only won, he crushed his Republican opponent, former Brookhaven Mayor Max Davis, by a 55-45 spread—despite getting outspent 2-to-1. And not only that, Bennett rode to victory by explicitly running on his opposition to a proposed “religious freedom restoration act,” citing his mother and sister, both of whom are gay.
A big part of Bennett’s victory was due to the district: Though it’s heavily Republican, it’s located in Atlanta’s wealthy northern suburbs, the kind of place where anti-gay attitudes are very much out of fashion. In fact, the lawmaker that Bennett will succeed, Mike Jacobs, actually torpedoed the last version of RFRA that went before the legislature by amending the bill to include an anti-discrimination clause—and Jacobs is a Republican. (He was later appointed to a judgeship, prompting this special election.)
RFRA wasn’t the whole story: Bennett, an employment lawyer, also enjoyed some minor celebrity status as a former star quarterback at Georgia Tech. And then there was the matter of sexual harassment allegations against Davis, who was accused of “spraying a women’s buttocks with an aerosol can filled with air freshener,” then allegedly threatening to fire that same woman (a city employee).
Bennett’s win isn’t only a victory for gay rights. Georgia Democrats are still deep in the minority in the state legislature, but now they have 61 seats in the 180-member state House, which means that Republicans can no longer achieve super-majorities on their own. As a result, the GOP should have a much harder time advancing any amendments to the state constitution.
Bennett will immediately have a huge target on his back, as he just became the only Democrat to represent a Romney seat in the entire state of Georgia, but for now, he and his supporters get to celebrate a big—and important—accomplishment.
• MO-Sen: One of the greatest acts of political ratfucking came in 2012, when Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill ran a series of ads that successfully boosted Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri’s GOP primary, powering him to an unexpected victory. Akin, of course, then went on to claim that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” in the event of a “legitimate rape”—remarks that led to his crushing 16-point defeat that fall.
At the time, McCaskill’s motives were transparent, though some of her supporters still react angrily whenever her efforts to help Akin get brought up, claiming she’d never have done anything so underhanded, and in any event, even if she did, Democrats still shouldn’t talk about it. McCaskill, however, disagrees, because she just gleefully confirmed the entire saga in an excerpt from her new memoir published by Politico. It’s worth reading the entire thing in full, because it fills in the complete backstory not just on what McCaskill and her team were trying to accomplish but how exactly they went about it.
It also adds some heretofore unknown details about McCaskill sharing her own polling of the Republican primary “in broad generalities” with Akin himself, in order to encourage him to keep running an ad featuring Mike Huckabee that was a big positive for Akin. (Akin had taken the spot off the air because he couldn’t afford his own polls.) Akin listened, and he went on to beat his nearest opponent by 6 points. The rest is, of course, history. McCaskill not only saved her own political neck, but she provided a great lesson for fellow Democrats in how fight bare-knuckled—and win.
• NC-Sen: In a newly released 16-word statement, former Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler, who’s reportedly considering a run for Senate, did not rule out the idea. Said Shuler: “I am enjoying my work at Duke Energy, a great company, and that is my focus.”
• NH-Sen: Republican groups have dropped a lot of money on ads trying to discourage Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan from running for Senate, and now the Senate Majority PAC is firing back. The pro-Democratic group is spending $250,000 to air an ad that hits on pretty much exactly this point: Says the narrator, “It’s 15 months before the election and the out-of-state oil billionaire Koch Brothers have already spent $1.2 million dollars here in New Hampshire to keep Kelly Ayotte in the Senate.” The spot goes on to accuse Ayotte of supporting tax breaks for oil companies to benefit the likes of the Kochs….