The top questions in Georgia politics in 2019

The wild November elections could just be a preview of the tumultuous year ahead in Georgia politics.

A new governor, a new lieutenant governor and a sweep of new lawmakers must feel their way through a new legislative session filled with fresh challenges.

Emboldened Democrats, buoyed by a string of suburban victories, will surely try to flex their muscles under the Gold Dome. And as the race for president heats up, all signs point to more focus and attention than ever being cast upon Georgia.

Here are some of the biggest questions in Georgia politics that your Insiders will be watching this year. (And check out our answers to last year’s questions here).

How will Brian Kemp govern?

11/19/2018 — Atlanta, Georgia — Republican Governor-Elect Brian Kemp sits for an interview with WSB-TV and the Atlanta Journal Constitution at his transition office in the State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Monday, November 19, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) (Alyssa Pointer)

Call it the duality of Brian Kemp: He won the Republican nomination with a pledge to move Georgia firmly to the right on a range of cultural issues, including expanding gun rights, cracking down on illegal immigration and signing the nation’s strictest abortion controls. He won the general election with the help of broader appeals to buckle down on school safety, hike teacher pay, boost rural Georgia and enact a contentious “religious liberty” bill only under the strictest circumstances. So which Kemp will show up in January? He’s pledged he won’t abandon the conservative principles that electrified his supporters and helped him eke out a narrow November victory. But he’s also told a Legislature that hasn’t been this closely divided in more than a decade that he’ll focus less on the polarizing issues and more on the pocketbook ones. And he’ll face new pressure – from the courts, from Democrats and from his own party – to solve pressing voting rights issues that surfaced over the last year. He’ll also have a largely untested team dealing with a host of powerful players that include House Speaker David Ralston – who has solidified control of his chamber over the last decade – and incoming Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and a fractious Senate caucus. How he will navigate this high-wire act will set the stage for his first term in office.

Will Georgia emerge as a legit battleground state?

Donald Trump visits Georgia in November to stump for Brian Kemp. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC)

Let’s put it this way: It would be shocking if Georgia isn’t squarely on the political map over the next two years as President Donald Trump prepares for re-election and the field of Democrats challenging him takes shape. Let the numbers tell the tale: Eight. Five. One and a half. That’s the margin of Republican victories in Georgia by percentage point since 2014. That doesn’t mean that Georgia is fated to flip, but it does mean that Republicans will have to play defense in a state that was all but a lock for Republicans over the last quarter-century. In 2016, the “SEC primary” triggered visits from nearly every leading presidential contender before Georgia’s vote – but neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton visited after primary. Already, a slate of high-profile potential Democratic contenders has visited Georgia to stump for candidates and shore up their own networks of support here. Expect that to be just a taste of what’s to come.

Who will challenge David Perdue?

U.S. Sen. David Perdue. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

One of the juiciest targets on the Senate map in 2020 is Republican David Perdue, who is running for his second – and he says final – term in the U.S. Senate. The businessman has become one of President Donald Trump’s most prominent D.C. allies – even in his most isolating moments – and he plans to stick to the outsider, anti-establishment message that won him his seat in 2014. No well-known Republicans are expected to oppose Perdue in a primary, but several Democrats have hinted they’re interested in challenging the multi-millionaire in 2020. Most are waiting for Stacey Abrams to decide her next step after her near-miss in the race for governor. If she sidesteps a 2020 race, Democrats could be in for a tempestuous primary fight from potential candidates that include outgoing Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Pastor Raphael Warnock, former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff and ex-Senate candidate Michelle Nunn.

What will Stacey Abrams do?

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