Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp spoke at the UGA College Republicans meeting in the Zell B. Miller Learning Center in Athens, Georgia on Wednesday, October 16, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently obtained a leaked GOP internal poll, and the results point to a tight election in November. President Donald Trump, Gov. Brian Kemp and Sen. Kelly Loeffler all face “underwater” net favorability ratings. According to the poll, Trump holds only a 45-44 lead over Biden in Georgia, a statistical tie. One bright spot was Rep. Doug Collins who has a +11 net favorability and enjoys a lead over his rivals in his Senate race. Still, the poll underscores the difficult position in which Georgia Republicans find themselves as they try to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Georgia is not a state Republicans should be worried about losing. Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 2006. Former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams lost the 2018 gubernatorial race by only a narrow margin, but that occurred during a cycle where the Democratic party enjoyed a very favorable national environment and won dozens of U.S. House seats.

It’s important not to get too carried away by one poll. The results could be an outlier. In addition, the AJC reports that it was conducted at the request of a group led by state House Speaker David Ralston, an ally of Collins who has clashed with Kemp, so the results may be skewed.

Even so, the results come at a difficult time for Georgia Republicans. Despite a GOP trifecta in the state government and GOP-control of the White House and Senate, there’s been plenty of discord in the party. The coronavirus is wreaking havoc in Georgia. Collins is in a bitter campaign with Loeffler, who faces insider trading accusations. There’s also been a highly-publicized disagreement between Kemp and Trump. According to the Associated Press, Trump privately approved of Kemp’s plan to reopen Georgia before bashing him.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, Republicans have to choose between maintaining economic restrictions or trying to protect the economy by reopening the state. No governing party wants to be blamed for a recession. However, a bad economy is probably inevitable. With consumers afraid of catching the virus, the economy won’t go back to normal. After Kemp relaxed restrictions, some Georgia businesses chose to reopen, but only a few customers chose to patronize them. Thus, Republicans could face fallout from a recession regardless of what they do.

Opening up could also cause a backlash. A University of Georgia poll conducted between April 21 and April 25 found that most Georgians at least somewhat supported the shelter-in-place that was mandated from April 3 to April 30. Only around 10% opposed the shelter-in-place order. Further, 62% of Georgians disapproved of Kemp’s plan to reopen certain aspects of the economy such as restaurants, theaters and nail salons.

There’s a lot that can happen between now and November. That’s especially true during a pandemic. But early signs show that Georgia Republicans could be in for a much tougher battle than expected.

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