The Bubba factor

As I’m writing this, books are being written about the magical political calculus that “turned the Red State of Georgia Blue.” And while I congratulate President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Senators Ossoff and Warnock—before you all call the painters—let me share with you a story that almost no one is writing about, but that is also worth hearing. I’ll call it the “Bubba Factor.”

 I first met Lauren “Bubba” McDonald in the mid-1980s. I was a young staffer in the secretary of state’s office; McDonald was the powerful and highly regarded chairman of the house appropriations committee, and a favorite of legendary House Speaker and Democrat Thomas B. Murphy of Bremen, Georgia. Speaker Murphy had been instrumental in the election and two terms of outgoing Gov. Joe Frank Harris and during the election season of 1990, Murphy placed his chips and his influence behind Bubba McDonald running for governor.  

 Bubba had followers and support in that governor’s race and Democratic Primary, but Ambassador Andrew Young and Lt. Gov. Zell Miller had more. Young and Miller would go on to the runoff, and Miller would later become governor.

 For a time, McDonald left politics and returned to Commerce and his family funeral home business. He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Georgia Public Service Commission as a Democrat in 1998 by then-Gov. Roy Barnes, serving an unexpired term through 2002. Bubba then ran for re-election, but for the first time his name appeared on the ballot as just Lauren McDonald—no “Bubba.” He lost. Now, there were some other issues at play; Republicans took the governor’s office and a U.S. Senate seat as well as Bubba’s seat on the Public Service Commission. Each was a surprise upset.

 In 2008, Bubba McDonald returned, now a newly minted Republican, and he ran for his PSC seat again. And Lauren “Bubba” McDonald was re-seated on the PSC during that 2008 election for another six years, and then re-elected handily in 2014, in a race against Democratic Party challenger Daniel Blackman.

 Blackman would seek a rematch in 2020 under conditions much more favorable to statewide Democratic candidates. On the Democratic side during the General Election runoff, (the Libertarian candidate again prevented the GOP candidate from winning the General Election contest outright) billboards, yard signs, and even bumper stickers, featured a ticket of Ossoff, Warnock, and Blackman. State and national party mailers also plugged the potential win by a two Black men triple play. 

But Bubba, who had limited campaign funding and even less attention, ran on two very simple, direct and centrist messages: “I will keep your utility bills low” (20 percent below the national average during his tenures on the PSC), and “We need more solar.”

 That’s pretty much it. No social media demagoguery, no real attacks on his opponent. And I should mention, McDonald was among the first and most ardent supporters of Donald Trump, as a candidate, as president, and throughout his re-election campaign. It may come as no surprise, but other than a brief mention on runoff election eve at the Dalton, Georgia, Trump Rally, President Trump never really returned the favor. I personally think him not doing more, actually helped Bubba.

 When all ballots were in and finally certified, a GOP candidate for the Public Service Commission, which typically down tickets will see 100,000-200,000 ballot count drop-offs, received 2,234,689 votes and bested Blackman by nearly 125,000 votes in their rematch. The GOP Senate incumbents, each running with practically unlimited resources, would only receive 2,214,979 (Perdue had 20,000 votes fewer than Bubba) and 2,195,841 votes (Loeffler close to 40,000 votes FEWER than Bubba). Both Senate contests had vote totals of 4,484,900+, but the PSC contest also drew 4,435,651. 

 While many will continue to write the Georgia GOP’s political obituary, the real story may be the benefits of reaching out and beyond the party’s core and base, giving undecided, Libertarian, and independent voters a place to go; they may just wander back into that GOP’s bigger tent. Senators Perdue and Loeffler won only two of the top 10 counties in metro Atlanta. Bubba outdrew both in each metro Atlanta county by several thousand votes making several of those core counties almost competitive again for the GOP.
 Hardly an outsider, Bubba McDonald has been in public life and public office for nearly four decades. His son with the same name, who goes by Lauren McDonald, now serves in the State House (District 26) as well, serving in his father’s old State House seat. I’m telling ya, it’s that magic Bubba factor.

Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, DeKalb Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *