It was a sleepy morning in late March, and the participants had begun their line-up in a school parking lot. Aided by a small army of pickup trucks and assorted motorized farm equipment, the clutter of local organizations and politicians were almost ready for the day’s big event: the Peanut Proud parade.
Residents of Blakely, a small Southwest Georgia town of about 5,500 people known as the “Peanut Capital of the World,” had gathered in the square for the festivities. The streets were lined with vendors selling everything from woodwork to fried alligator out of pop-up tents. A stately gentleman with a deep drawl announced the happenings of the day. For these people, the celebration marked the beginning of spring, but for many of the parade’s participants, it represented the start of another season: primary season.
Hustling around the parking lot that morning, shaking hands and ensuring their vehicles were prepared for the parade, were three of the candidates in the hotly contested race for the 2nd congressional district.a
One was the long-time incumbent, Sanford Bishop, a Democrat whose strategic connections in the district and strong backing in Washington made him a political force to be reckoned with. He had only one primary opponent, Joseph O’Hara, who he handily defeated the next month, garnering 93.9% of the vote. But also at the event were two (of six) Republican challengers, emboldened by Bishop’s growing vulnerability.
One was Jeremy Hunt, a West Point graduate and former Army captain who, at 28, was the youngest candidate in the field. His national support and sizable campaign war chest led to him being named an early frontrunner in the primary. The other was Wayne Johnson, a former Department of Education official under the Trump Administration who touted his experience in business and government. Notably absent was the future Republican nominee, Chris West, an attorney and real estate developer from Thomasville. Besides these, there were three other candidates vying for the nomination: Vivian Childs, a minister and former educator who had previously ran for the seat; Rich Robertson, an Air Force veteran and attorney; and Paul Whitehead.
Georgia’s 2nd congressional district had not been on the political radar for many years. The district has been represented by Congressman Bishop since 1993 — nearly three decades. The Democratic Party has held uninterrupted control of this seat since 1875. However, redistricting has rocked this landscape. According to the Cook Partisan Voter Index, which measures partisan leanings in Congressional districts across the nation, Georgia’s 2nd district has a rating of Democrat +3, down from +4 in 2021 and +6 in 2018. This makes the district the last competitive seat in the state.
Through redistricting, the addition of Thomas County and changes in the northern boundary of the district in Muscogee County led to some of the more significant shifts.
Thomas County, which includes Thomasville, is a Republican stronghold and regional population center in southern Georgia. In the 2020 election, the county provided 12,969 votes (59%) to the Republican ticket. This makes it quite strategic during the primary and impactful in the general election.
Muscogee County, home of Columbus, is an urban hub of about 200,000 people — nearly one-third of the district’s population. The new map of the district included more of the conservative, suburban northern half of the county. Though a relatively small geographic change, the population density of Columbus makes this addition quite important. Most significantly, it dilutes the influence of the more liberal, southern half of the city that has historically been an anchor for Bishop’s elections.
Coming out of a rather brutal primary that saw Chris West nominated in an upset win, Republicans rallied for this pick-up opportunity. Particularly, the party worked to peel away the support of farmers from Bishop, whose power in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture has lent him some backing in the region. These efforts, coupled with the newly drawn Congressional map and a predicted favorable political environment, had Republicans feeling quite hopeful for this contest. Muscogee County Republican Party Chairman Alton Russell said that the party is “very optimistic” about the race and that “the momentum is in our favor.”
Meanwhile, Democrats hunkered down behind their long-time incumbent. Sensing strong political headwinds, Politico reports that the party’s Congressional campaign arm “spent more than $2 million on radio and TV” in support of Bishop. Much of his campaign messaging emphasized his tenure in Congress and promoted him as a “moderating voice.”
By 11:35 p.m. on election night, the Associated Press had called the race for Bishop. With over 95% of the vote tabulated, Bishop was leading West 55% to 45%. Though not the result Republicans hoped for, Bishop performed about 4% under how he had in the previous election. In a technical sense, it was Bishop’s worst showing since his near-loss in 2010. Despite the relatively comfortable margins, both parties will likely keep an eye on this race for the near future.