Georgia no longer safe Republican state

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 30: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters during an "African Americans For Hillary" rally at Clark Atlanta University on October 30, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)©Getty

Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally in Atlanta, Georgia, last year

From his perch in downtown Atlanta, Kasim Reed is squinting into his traditionally Republican state’s future. And in a certain light it looks Democratic.

The mayor of Georgia’s capital since 2010, Mr Reed, a Democrat, has long insisted that changing demographic patterns, including an influx of younger voters and people of colour, was shifting his staunchly red state into a competitive political battleground. Now, it seems that his party’s leaders are starting to listen.

An average of recent state poll results shows the two presidential candidates still nearly tied. But after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump, her Republican rival, in the state by 4 points, Mrs Clinton’s campaign started to seriously consider spending significant sums advertising in the state and try to win its 16 electoral votes in November.

This dynamic is playing out not just in Georgia, but also in traditional Republican strongholds such as Arizona and Utah, where polls show Mrs Clinton gaining ground after a string of controversies have dogged Mr Trump’s campaign.

In the coming days, Mrs Clinton’s campaign will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising in Georgia, after which her campaign will conduct its own internal polls in the state to help it decide whether to make a serious effort at winning the state.

“It’s really a toe-in-the-pool approach,” Mr Reed said in an interview this week, “and it’s definitely a good sign.” 

To win his state, Mr Reed believes Mrs Clinton’s campaign would need to spend between $ 5m and $ 8m, although ideally it would spend up to $ 15m to influence some of the less prominent races and turn Georgia into a competitive “purple” state race by 2020 or 2022. 

The money, he insists, is a good investment. If she wins, Mrs Clinton will be only the second Democrat to win Georgia since the state’s former governor, Jimmy Carter, won the presidency in 1976, and the first since husband Bill Clinton won the state in 1992.

Since 2000, the percentage of registered voters in the state who are white has dropped from 74 per cent to 58 per cent. While there are 958,000 new voters in Georgia compared with 2001, white voter registration has barely increased, says Dan O’Connor, a data analyst at the non-partisan Georgia General Assembly.

Charles Bullock, a political-science professor at the University of Georgia, says that Georgia would not likely become competitive overall for at least six to eight years. All 15 of its state-level elected offices are still occupied by Republicans. But Mrs Clinton might have a chance in this election, he says, depending on which demographic groups her campaign decides to go after.

“Who do you target? Do you spend this money trying to win over whites, especially white college educated women, or do you spend that money more on trying to mobilise minorities who are registered but don’t necessarily vote?” he says.

In the affluent suburbs of Atlanta, an area that traditionally votes Republican, some voters say they have been turned off by Mr Trump’s recent comments but are not sure that would be enough to convince them to vote for Mrs Clinton.

Veronica Calabres, a retired insurance executive, says she has been offended by Mr Trump mocking a disabled reporter earlier this year and by the fact that he refused to release his tax returns. But she is still not sure she would actually vote for Mrs Clinton, whom she calls “the lesser of two evils”, adding: “I feel like I’m buying a big purchase, and I have to think about it.”

At the Fickle Pickle, a restaurant in the city of Roswell, Georgia, Donna Brady, a waitress, says she is gripped by a similar bout of indecision. Even as she leans away from Mr Trump, she says she is still not sold on his opponent. “I can’t say I really trust her either.”

The distaste for Mr Trump among some of the state’s Republicans has not been lost on some of its Republican leaders. 

John Bush, the Republican chairman of Georgia’s fifth congressional district and a supporter of Mr Trump, stresses that the current polls are not necessarily indicative of what would happen on election day, noting that state polls have predicted tight Senate and gubernatorial races in 2014, even though both contests ended up being comfortable Republican wins. “There isn’t a panic,” he says.

But he adds that the past few weeks have been “less than optimal” and he is concerned that Mr Trump’s favourability numbers are not higher among registered Republicans.

“I am still hopeful that momentum will shift in our favour. But I would certainly prefer more positive weeks than the few we’ve seen after the convention.”

US polling swing states

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