GEORGETOWN — This is a strange place for the Republican Party to stake its future. Quitman County is one of Georgia’s least populous spots. It’s also one of the poorest and, dubiously for the GOP, solidly Democratic.
It’s here, in this county of hardly 2,000 people about 150 miles southwest of Atlanta, where the state GOP is trying to revive a long dormant Republican organization.
“It’s not something that’s going to change overnight,” said Joseph Brannan, a Columbus radio executive and regional Republican leader who is an architect of this strategy. “And I don’t think it will for this election cycle. In 2014, the Republicans will be OK. But looking forward, there’s reason to be worried. And this is one thing we can do to prepare for the future.”
The message from Democrats is simple: Keep dreaming. They noted the strong leftward lean in Quitman and other counties where Republicans have recently reorganized, including Albany’s Dougherty County, which Obama took by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
“It sounds like most of the areas they’re ‘rebooting’ are areas where President Obama won with 70 percent,” said Michael Smith, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “It’s gonna take more than unloading a few chairs and a box full of apologies into a vacant storefront to expand their electorate. They have a lot of explaining to do.”
Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist, said the strategy seems dubious to him as well. Even if the GOP can win left-leaning counties as small as Quitman, why bother?
“Those types of counties account for a small and declining share of the electorate in Georgia,” he said. “How many votes are there to mine in such places? And my hunch is that the nonvoters in those areas are disproportionately African-Americans or Hispanics” more likely to lean to the left.
Brannan, the chairman of the GOP’s 2nd District, which stretches across southwest Georgia, said the party wants to make sure Quitman Republicans have a say in its direction. But he also acknowledges that as the demographics change, votes in metro Atlanta will be harder to find and the GOP will need to offset the losses elsewhere.
“From a broader GOP strategy, every vote outside of Atlanta counts. For a while, it was easy to organize in Atlanta and we’d get votes there,” he said. “But as Atlanta shifts more blue, each vote outside the city becomes more valuable.”