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Major GOP PAC Targets State House Race In Georgia

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Democrats and Republicans are spending unprecedented levels of money in down ballot races, including on fights to retain or flip control of state legislatures. A major Republican PAC coordinating a lot of this work nationally has its sights set on one state House race in Georgia. From member station WABE, Emma Hurt has this story from southwest of Atlanta.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Georgia House District 132 has about 55,000 people. It stretches about 30 miles along I-85 almost to the Alabama border. And it's always been held by a Democrat. David Jenkins wants to change that.

DAVID JENKINS: Well, I want to start by just thanking each and every one of you for making me your Republican nominee for the Georgia State House District 132. This is the year we're going to flip this district.

HURT: Jenkins is an Army combat veteran, air ambulance pilot and a goat farmer campaigning in a craft brewery in LaGrange, Ga., flanked by the area's top Republicans.

JENKINS: You know, I told everyone that I talked to that they were going to see a race like they've never seen before in this district. And it has surprised me, to be honest with you. I didn't expect the level of support that I've gotten.

HURT: Another source of support has been the Republican State Leadership Committee in D.C. to the tune of about a million dollars. The PAC has named Jenkins' opponent, Georgia House Democratic leader Bob Trammell, as its No. 1 target in the country. Why? Austin Chambers is the committee's president.

AUSTIN CHAMBERS: You've got the leader of the Democrat Party in the state House who's in a district that Donald Trump won in 2016. He's in a district that Brian Kemp won. That should be a Republican seat.

HURT: And so it's become the most expensive state House election in Georgia history. Representative Trammell has held the seat for five years, but his family goes back generations in the district. And he talks about his grandfather when asked about all the money spent in the race.

BOB TRAMMELL: My granddaddy was a farmer. And my granddaddy had a saying about money.

HURT: Money, he said, is like manure.

TRAMMELL: It worked best when you spread it around to make things grow. And when you piled it up in one place, it started to stink.

HURT: Trammell says the GOP is misunderstanding his district by thinking they can defeat him. But he's glad to have the money spent against him here because that means the dollars aren't being used to defend Republicans in districts that Democrats are trying to flip. Chambers, with the national Republican PAC, dismisses that. He says they're investing elsewhere in Georgia and argues Trammell's race makes sense strategically.

CHAMBERS: Because he's distracted, trying to fight for his own political survival, he's not able to be out there campaigning for everybody else.

HURT: It's part of a statewide and national Republican strategy. The goal is to avoid more of what happened in 2018. That's when Republicans lost control of eight state legislatures. And Georgia Republicans lost 13 state House and Senate seats. David Ralston is speaker of the Georgia House. He campaigned for David Jenkins in LaGrange.

DAVID RALSTON: In November in 2018 was the worst night we had had in - since we had the majority in the House. And you try to learn from that, take things away from it that will make you better.

HURT: So they've recruited new Republican candidates and given them resources. And vulnerable Republican incumbents have a record to run on, he says, like balancing the budget and passing a law to address the state's maternal mortality crisis, a longtime Democratic priority. But Democrats aren't sitting idly by. They're challenging 66 Republican seats. Falak Sabbak runs the Georgia House Democratic Caucus.

FALAK SABBAK: The energy is even more, you know, noticeable this year in 2020. I think folks are excited. They see an opportunity. I think people are ready to make a change.

HURT: And what's at stake for both parties is redistricting, which the party in power next year will get to control.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Georgia House District 132.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ROOTS SONG, "THE NEXT MOVEMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.