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.
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