Georgia’s rising minority populations improve Democrats’ chances to break the Republican grip on statewide offices this year, but independent-minded white voters remain the key target for the next 100 days until the November election.
The campaigns of Jason Carter for governor and Michelle Nunn for the Senate aim to push black voters to 30 percent of the electorate, while winning close to 30 percent of white voters — well more than Democrats have managed statewide of late. Republicans are putting more money into organizing while contending that Georgia still is fundamentally a red state.
Democrats’ attempts to capture swing voters are on display in Nunn’s cautious approach on the new health care law and Carter’s “yes” vote on a contentious gun rights expansion.
At the same time, they are spending big on sophisticated tactics to target and turn out base voters in the hopes of imitating President Barack Obama’s vaunted campaign machine — since Obama never bothered to spend money in Georgia in his re-election bid.
Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist who is helping lead the party’s coordinated strategy, said Democrats’ challenge is to “focus on the issues that generate excitement with the Democratic base while being strong on issues that will help obtain moderate to conservative votes from white women and men.”
The first leap for Democrats is to make midterm turnout — which tends to be older and whiter — look more like a presidential year: blacks formed 30 percent of the state’s electorate in 2008 and 2012, compared with 28 percent in 2010 when Deal and U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson romped to victory. The second goal is tougher, as the surge in white support for Republicans has enabled the GOP to establish one-party control.
From the 2008 to 2012 election the raw number of white voters actually declined, as blacks and other minorities now make up a larger share of the electorate. But Obama still lost to Republican Mitt Romney by 7.8 percentage points in Georgia, as white voters shifted further to the right.
Republicans have long acknowledged that the changing demographics put their grip on the state’s top offices in jeopardy, and they have sought new ways to reach out to minorities, particularly Hispanics. Many say the demographics are still in their favor, though. As of November, Hispanics made up only 1.7 percent of active voters and Asian-Americans constituted 1.3 percent.