On Nov. 20, 10 Democratic presidential candidates debated at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. Former Vice President Joe Biden tried to celebrate his birthday in style by solidifying his national lead, while the others hoped to gain ground only a few months before voting begins in February 2020. The event offered a tantalizing feeling of change. Georgia politicians such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms talked about its significance. State media, too, could hardly contain its eagerness, belied by the AJC’s online pop-up countdown, inviting readers to stay for coverage.
The hype was justified. The Democratic Party’s decision to hold the debate in Georgia is part of a growing list of evidence that the party plans to target the state in the future. The results of these plans could soon transform Georgia politics.
Democrats have reason to be optimistic about the state. Republicans have long had a stranglehold on state politics, winning the governor’s mansion since 2002 and winning every presidential election since 1996. But that may be changing. In 2012, Sen. Mitt Romney won Georgia by 7.8%, but President Donald Trump topped former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by only 5.1% in 2016. Similarly, in the 2014 Gubernatorial Race, former Gov. Nathan Deal won reelection with ease, beating Democratic challenger Jason Carter by 8%. Governor Brian Kemp, however, only won the 2018 Gubernatorial Race by 1.4% and barely avoided a runoff.
Atlanta joins a list of other cities carefully selected by the party to host a debate, including Miami, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and Westerville, Ohio. Outside of Los Angeles, the cities are all in potential battleground states in next year’s election. And, although it is a safe state, California will play an important role in the coming election because of its large fundraising base. By including Atlanta, the Democratic Party reveals that, like the other host states, Georgia is vital to Democrats’ plans.
The candidates also clearly value the state. Biden, for example, has made the most of his endorsement from Bottoms. She’s attended debates and traveled around the country to stump for him. And Biden isn’t alone in trying to court Georgia voters. According to Atlanta Magazine, many of the other Democratic candidates are holding events in the state this week, including South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer. Prominent Democratic Party figures have also come to Georgia to rally voters, including Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and former President Barack Obama. The AJC reports that Sen. Cory Booker, Buttigieg and Yang are even helping former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams contact voters who may be purged.
The state’s battleground potential will continue drawing the attention of the National Republican and Democratic Parties. This is a major asset to Georgia. If the state becomes purple, it will have more influence on national politics as the parties grapple with each other to gain an advantage.
For now, however, just appreciate how special this event is. It was a good preview of what’s to come.