Though a well-funded Democratic challenger and a vote-splitting third-party candidate loom large in his own re-election bid in November, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson is more concerned with the presidential race.
A Hillary Clinton victory, Georgia’s senior senator says, is essentially another four years of the Obama administration.
“That’s going to be hard to recover from,” Isakson said Friday during a visit with The Augusta Chronicle’s editorial board.
The Marietta Republican is in a three-way contest with Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian Allen Buckley. He must get more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. The Real Clear Politics’ average of polls Friday had Isakson at 45 percent – 8 percentage points ahead of Barksdale.
Isakson said the “untold story” of this year’s election is “the fact that if the Republicans lose the Senate majority, there’s no firewall” to a Clinton administration.
Close senate races in Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could erode the GOP’s number from 54 to 49, he said.
“So we’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said.
Isakson said every instance where the White House and Congress were simultaneously controlled by Democrats resulted in sweeping government expansions: the New Deal in the 1930s, Great Society programs in the 1960s and Obamacare under the first term of the current administration.
“Those are the three reasons you want a check and balance,” he
Conversely, he said, the “biggest accomplishments in the last 50 years” were made under the “Republican Revolution” of the 1990s, when welfare reform, balanced budgets and surpluses were effected under Democrat President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
When asked directly if he supported Republican nominee Donald Trump, Isakson said: “I’m supporting the ticket.”
“I’m focusing everything I can on my re-election,” he added. “That’s the one thing I can control. So I can help him the most by being a senator in the Republican Party when he’s elected to uphold the majority.”
Isakson, who has been criticized for not being “conservative” enough, said he won’t shy away from an opportunity to work across the aisle, operating under what he called his “80-20 rule.”
“If I can find 80 percent common ground (with a Democrat), I’m not going to lose our friendship over the 20 percent we disagree on. I’m going to take the 80 percent we agree on and move forward,” he said.
As an example, he pointed to the work he did with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and the Senate Chicken Caucus to get U.S. poultry into South Africa for the first time in 15 years. Isakson said the nation had been illegally using provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act to block U.S. chicken exports through punitive tariffs.
Georgia and Delaware are the country’s No. 1 and No. 11, respectively, producer of broilers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“This year there’s going to be 65,000 metric tons of chicken from Georgia and Delaware going into South Africa,” he said.
Isakson said he is concerned that “palpable anger” and “constant warfare” on both sides of the political spectrum – which he says is fueled by the 24-hour news cycle and social media – is harming political discourse to the point where it could undo the republic itself.
“You’re not going to find 56 men again in the history of mankind to do what the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence did,” he said. “We’re not going to get a second chance at America. We’ve got one chance – and that’s to preserve what we’ve got.”