Trump Courts Georgia, a Longtime GOP Bastion, and Democrats Sense Opportunity

President Donald Trump is pushing to keep Georgia in his column with a trip Wednesday to the reliably Republican state, where Democrat Joe Biden has yet to push hard for votes that some Democrats believe are ripe for the taking.

As Trump and Republicans invest heavily in the state, Democrats say they hope the Biden campaign and the national party will seize the opportunity to not only capture the state’s 16 electoral votes but also win two U.S. Senate seats, which could prove critical to winning the majority.

On the eve of his visit, Trump held a Rose Garden news conference where he spent a little more than an hour criticizing Biden for a wide variety of positions, including on China and for his clean-energy plan released Tuesday.

But while Trump is staffed up in Georgia and is spending more on advertising in the Peach State this week than in several other battleground states, Biden is focused on the industrial Midwest, where Hillary Clinton narrowly lost in 2016.

“Georgia is the map,” said Nikema Williams, chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party and a state senator. “Georgia is a part of the map to victory.”

Trump is scheduled to visit the UPS Hapeville Airport Hub in Atlanta to highlight an executive order that aims to speed infrastructure projects in the region. But the trip -- the latest presidential visit to a key election state -- also signals increasing Republican anxiety about Georgia.

In Georgia, Trump leads Biden by an average of 3 percentage points, according to an analysis of polling data by RealClearPolitics. He won the state by 5.1 percentage points in the 2016 election, but the nonpartisan Cook Political Report last week placed the state in its toss-up category, along with Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

A Changing Georgia

An influx of younger and more racially diverse voters and a series of close races has transformed the Georgia political landscape, giving Democrats the best shot to win a state they last captured in 1992. In 2018, Democrat Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the gubernatorial race by 1.4 percentage points in an election Democrats say was marred by voter suppression. Since then, Abrams launched Fair Fight, a organization focused on fighting voter suppression, particularly in Georgia and Texas.

In last month’s presidential primary, Democrats in Georgia set a record for turnout, surpassing 1 million voters and outpacing Republicans. Democrats boast it’s a sign of increased Democratic enthusiasm in the state, although the lack of a statewide competitive Republican primary may have dampened Republican turnout.

The Biden campaign has classified Georgia as an “expansion state,” a newly competitive entrant to a possible Democratic path to winning the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the White House. But it is putting most of its focus on more traditional battleground states.

Although the campaign has not yet hired senior staff in the state, the Democratic National Committee began hiring in Georgia in 2019 as part of its second wave of battleground state programs. Those staffers are now part of the Biden-DNC victory operation, but neither the DNC nor the Biden campaign would say how many staff they had on the ground.

“Georgia is clearly a defensive liability for the Trump campaign,” DNC spokesman David Bergstein said.

Yet Georgia Democrats say calling Georgia an “expansion state” is misguided.

“Expanding the map is like ‘this is a fluke’ and that this is like a special circumstance that Georgia can be won this year and I don’t buy into that narrative or that notion,” Williams said.

For this week, Trump’s campaign has spent at least $584,010 on television ads in seven states, including Georgia, according to Advertising Analytics. But the roughly $16,000 it’s spending in Georgia this week is more than it’s spending in Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, the data show.

“It was always the plan to retain the states President Trump won in 2016 and go on offense in states where he was close,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “We are advertising everywhere: nationally and in key states.”

Murtaugh said that Trump will also be “playing on Joe Biden’s side of the field in New Hampshire, Minnesota, New Mexico and Nevada – states Hillary Clinton won, but which we believe we can move into the president’s column this November.”

Trump brushed off claims this week that he’s struggling in states like Texas and Georgia and said he heard the same warnings in 2016.

“We’re doing well in Georgia, we’re doing well in Texas,” Trump told reporters on Monday, recalling how he won those states in 2016. “On Election Night, two seconds after the polls closed, they called Georgia.”

“So, you know, it’s the same thing. We have the same thing. They’re phony polls,” Trump said.

But some Republicans concede Georgia will be competitive in November.

“Is Georgia in play? Yes. Republicans are not taking this election lightly in Georgia,” said Ed Lindsey, a Republican strategist and former GOP leader in the Georgia assembly.

Democrats are also eager to pick up two Senate seats as they look to regain control of the upper chamber. Those races, Democrats argue, make it even more important for Biden and the national party to focus on Georgia.

David Perdue, the Republican incumbent, is running for re-election against Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker who gained national attention when he nearly flipped a House district in a 2017 special election. There is also a special election for the seat held by Kelly Loeffler.

Ossoff said he’s seen a sea change in Democratic activity since his 2017 race and that the groundwork has been laid for Democrats to flip the seats in November.

He said that between his 2017 campaign and Stacey Abrams’ run in 2018, “we’ve built massive infrastructure, trained thousands of volunteers and activated hundreds of thousands of voters who had never heard from political campaigns before.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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