- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - For Democrats in Georgia, the goal was simple: increase the share of minority voters on Election Day while pulling in more white support than years past.

The results of Tuesday’s election, however, proved a sobering reality. Neither Michelle Nunn nor Jason Carter was able to exceed President Barack Obama’s 45 percent of the vote in 2012 - despite their family connections to rural Democrats who once dominated Georgia politics and an expensive effort to build up the party’s base.

“It was a bad night to be a Democrat,” said GOP strategist Chip Lake, noting Republicans again claimed every statewide office. “Republicans were unified against this president and the direction he’s taken the country.”

Exit polls show Republican David Perdue defeated Nunn for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal beat back Carter’s challenge with the help of an electorate that was largely unhappy with the direction of the country and worried about the economy. Perdue also won a whopping 74 percent of the white vote, according to the exit polling conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.

While Democrats sought to expand the electorate and benefit from a large minority registration effort that signed up nearly 120,000 new voters, the number of ballots cast was essentially the same as 2010.

Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, and Carter, the grandson of former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, were able to win an overwhelming majority of black voters, but those voters only represented an estimated 29 percent of total ballots cast on Tuesday, according to exit poll data. Estimating the size of a geographically clustered group using an exit poll, however, is more difficult than estimating those that aren’t clustered, and the risk of a sampling error is higher.

Lake said his analysis showed Perdue outperformed 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in nine of 10 media markets. What troubled Lake was that where Perdue lost ground was in the Atlanta media market, suggesting demographic changes in the state’s population center could spell trouble for Republicans.

“While we should feel good about last night, we shouldn’t get complacent because these demographic changes are real,” Lake said.

During the campaign, Perdue repeatedly attacked Nunn as someone who would be nothing more than a “rubber stamp” for Obama, arguing she would be unlikely to buck her party’s leadership on key issues. Nunn fought back by saying she supports the Keystone pipeline despite objections of fellow Democrats and pointed to problems with the federal health care law that need fixing.

It was a fine line to walk, but perhaps necessary in a state where 57 percent of voters on Tuesday said they disapproved of the way Obama was handling his job, according to exit polls.

Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson argued his party has a “structural deficit” when it comes to winning midterm elections in Georgia and must register at least 400,000 new voters and get at least half of them to the polls. In Tuesday’s election, Nunn trailed Perdue by roughly 200,000 votes.

Johnson, who led Obama’s 2012 re-election effort in the South, also said Democrats “can’t be afraid” of talking about core Democratic issues and noted Nunn and Carter proved Democrats have a base that comprises 45 percent of the electorate.

“It was a competitive race with an unfortunate outcome, but it left Democrats with a lot of hope for the future,” Johnson said. “This is no longer a state they can say is solid red.”

DuBose Porter, chair of the state Democrats, told supporters the defeats “stung like hell” but saw hope in Nunn’s ability to cut into heavily GOP counties.

“We have two years to continue building our infrastructure for 2016 and beyond,” Porter said in an email. “I understand taking a bit of time to lick these wounds. But not too much time. We have work to do.”


Associated Press Writer Ray Henry contributed to this report.

Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP_Christina.

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