President Trump’s campaign is spending money to defend Georgia and polls there show a tight contest, fueling Democratic optimism that the Peach State could go blue at the presidential level for the first time since 1992.
There are reasons to be skeptical. Republicans in Georgia say every four years they hear from Democrats and the media that the state is at a tipping point. As with Texas, another traditionally red state in the South that has become more competitive in recent years, Democrats have not been able to close the deal.
But a source close to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign told the press that the campaign intends to spend in Georgia, even though he has other paths to win 270 electoral votes and the White House.
Democrats believe a younger and more diverse Georgia electorate could turn out in November, driven by activist anger over the police killing of George Floyd and Trump’s apparent weakness in the suburbs.
Voter interest should be off the charts in Georgia, which has two competitive Senate races and may be the deciding factor in whether the GOP maintains its majority in the upper chamber. The state will also host two competitive House races in the Atlanta suburbs, where women and independents have moved away from Republicans since 2016.
“Georgia is very much in play,” said DuBose Porter, the former chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party.
Republicans acknowledge that the state is becoming more purple and say it is of paramount importance that each GOP candidate takes their race seriously.
But Republicans believe Democrats are getting ahead of themselves. They remain confident that Trump will triumph in Georgia in 2020, even if it’s by a slimmer margin than the party’s past victories.
Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Georgia in 2016 by about 5 points, or just over 200,000 votes.
In 2018, Democrat Stacey Abrams fell only 50,000 votes short in a governor’s race that had record turnout. Democrats flipped one House seat in the Atlanta suburbs that year and fell just short in another.
Republicans believe 2018 may have been a high-water mark for Democrats, who they say benefited from national attention during an off-cycle year when Trump was not on the ballot.
“I’ve worked here for a decade and a half and every two years we hear about how Georgia is turning blue. It hasn’t happened,” said Seth Weathers, who was Trump’s Georgia campaign director in 2016. “Sure, there have been changes in some parts of the state and it might one day flip over, but we’re not on the cusp of it as some fear or wish we would be.”
Georgia is one of several states, including Iowa and Ohio, that Trump is spending money to defend even though he is expected to win. The campaign has so far put $457,000 behind ads running between June 27 and July 3, according to data provided by Ad Analytics.
Biden is considering two black women from Georgia as potential running mates — Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Georgia Democrats turned out in record numbers at last month’s primary, with 1.2 million casting ballots. Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail, early in-person voting and day-of voting, according to data from Abrams’s group Fair Fight.
Fair Fight also said that more than 750,000 Georgians who were not eligible to vote in 2018 are registered in 2020, with 49 percent of those being people of color and 45 percent under the age of 30, two groups that overwhelmingly support Democrats.
“The Trump campaign wouldn’t be dumping $457,000 into an initial ad buy in June in Georgia just to light the money on fire,” said Seth Bringman, the spokesman for Fair Fight. “They’re seeing the same registration, turnout and polling numbers that we are, and they’re scared for good reason. The math and demographics are on Democrats’ side, and we have two pick-up opportunities for U.S. Senate seats as well.”
Republicans said they expected the Democratic primary voting spike after Georgia’s Republican secretary of State mailed absentee ballot request forms to every eligible voter to make voting easier during the coronavirus pandemic. The secretary of State has not committed to mailing out absentee ballot request forms to every voter in the fall.
And Republicans believe that Democrats and the news media have a blind spot when it comes to the civil unrest that has been particularly heated in Atlanta, where CNN’s headquarters were briefly under siege and a Wendy’s was set on fire following the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks.
GOP operatives in the state believe the public will grow tired and worried by the protests and that Democrats are increasingly embracing the most extreme elements on the left.
“The elections here will probably be closer than we want but I just don’t see Democrats winning because by the time this all unfolds, you’ll continue to see their leftward lurch,” said Jay Williams, a GOP strategist in the state. “Georgia is in play and you can’t take it for granted, but we’ll keep seeing the left-wing of their party emboldened and Georgians are just not comfortable with that.”
A recent Fox News survey underscored Trump’s polling weakness amid the coronavirus-fueled economic slowdown and his divisive response to the civil unrest.
The survey found Biden leading by 2 points overall. Trump leads by 8 points on the economy, but Biden leads by 10 points on the question of race relations and 4 points on who is better equipped to handle the coronavirus.
Trump’s job approval rating in Georgia is at 47 percent positive and 51 percent negative, better than he is doing nationally. The president leads by 50 points among those without a college degree and by 35 points among white people.
Biden leads by 70 points among nonwhites, 26 points among moderates, 20 points among suburban voters and 17 points among independents.
“Those who claim Georgia is not in play are looking at old models of a previous year’s electorate,” said one Democratic strategist in the state. “The electorate today is a Democratic one. With high turnout among Black voters in Georgia, Biden wins.”
The coronavirus is a major wild card heading into the fall.
Governor Brian Kemp was aggressive in reopening the state, which has seen a surge of new cases, although deaths are at the lowest point in months.
“The spike in COVID[-19] cases in Georgia in the aftermath of Kemp’s aggressive reopening of the state is not helping Republicans here,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Atlanta’s Emory University. “Kemp is just lucky he’s not on the ballot this year.”
“I think it is more likely than ever that Georgia will vote for a Democrat for president for the first time since 1992,” he added. “Not certain, but more likely. And of course, Biden doesn’t need to win Georgia.”