This will be a year of major change in Georgia politics.
Voters will be electing a new chief executive because a termed-out Gov. Nathan Deal cannot run again.
They will also be choosing a new lieutenant governor and secretary of state because those incumbents, Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp, are running for governor.
Two other statewide offices will have new faces because the incumbents are stepping down: Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens and Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise.
As you can see, there will be many opportunities for ambitious politicians, whether they are Republicans or Democrats. (If any Libertarians want to take a shot at any of those offices, they will surely get their usual 2 or 3 percent share of the vote.)
The feeling among many political analysts is that, on the national level, we could be headed towards a Democratic wave in the upcoming elections. The thinking is that President Donald Trump has been such a polarizing figure that he’s energized Democratic activists and voters.
There is some evidence to back up that belief in polls showing Trump with an approval level ranging from 32 to 38 percent, lower than any president in history after his first year in office. Polls also show that voters, by a wide margin, would prefer to see Democrats controlling Congress.
As we have noted before, women have been particularly motivated by the events of the past year to take part in the political process. We saw this in the Virginia elections, where a slate of Democratic women candidates helped reduce the Republican advantage in the state legislature from 66-34 to just 51-49 Republican.
It was also a factor in Alabama where women — particularly African-American women — played a pivotal role in helping Democrat Doug Jones pull off a huge upset of Republican Roy Moore to win a U.S Senate race.
It is interesting to note that in Georgia’s upcoming races for statewide offices, nearly every Republican candidate is a white male. The Democratic candidates, on the other hand, include several women. That should provide a field test of the influence of women voters and candidates.
Here’s how some of the major races in Georgia are shaping up.
Governor: Cagle is still considered the frontrunner among the Republican candidates, who include Kemp, state Sen. Mike Williams, R-Cumming, former legislator Hunter Hill and political unknown Clay Tippins.
The Democratic side of this race is a battle between former legislators Stacey Evans and Stacey Abrams. Given the fact that Evans and Abrams are both lawyers, it would seem to make more sense for one of them to withdraw from this race and run for attorney general instead, thus avoiding a bloodbath in the primary.
Lieutenant governor: The Republicans are putting up their usual bunch of white males in state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, and former lawmakers Rick Jeffares and Geoff Duncan. For the Democrats, the only declared candidate is another woman, transportation executive Sarah Riggs Amico of Cobb County.
Public Service Commission: At least two Democrats — former legislator John Noel and Lindy Miller — are running for the right to oppose Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton in the general election. They have an issue that can be used by whoever wins: Eaton’s support of Georgia Power’s wasteful spending on the Plant Vogtle nuclear boondoggle.
Secretary of State: A whole host of Republicans are trying to succeed Kemp, including state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, state Reps. Buzz Brockway and Brad Raffensperger, and Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. Former congressman John Barrow is trying to make a political comeback as the Democrat in this race.
Insurance commissioner: Cindy Zeldin, a health care advocate who formerly headed the group Georgians for a Healthy Future, and Tameka Marie Richardson are two Democrats running for the position that Hudgens is giving up. Republican candidates include health care provider Shane Mobley, Deputy Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence and Jim Beck, a former aide to Hudgens.
It’s too soon to tell if there is really a “blue wave” on the way to Georgia, although there are signs of a Democratic revival such as the flipping of three Republican legislative seats in the recent special elections.
As I’ve argued before, Georgia would be better served by having a truly competitive two-party system. Will 2018 be the year that it actually happens?
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.