Georgia candidates head to party strongholds amid early voting

Georgia candidates head to party strongholds amid early voting

By JEFF AMY and RUSS BYNUM Associated Press

JESUP, Ga. (AP) — Georgia’s top candidates fanned out Thursday in parts of the state that already accept them, trying to garner as much support as possible amid a large turnout in early voting.

For Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, that meant a trip to parts of rural southeast Georgia that have become one of the most Republican-dominated areas of the state. Meanwhile, her Democratic rival, Stacey Abrams, headed to Milledgeville and Augusta, showing how she visits small cities and towns, but almost always places with significant numbers of black voters who are the backbone of Georgia’s Democratic politics. .

In a closely divided Georgia, both sides are trying to coax votes from all corners, knowing that even when more than 4 million people are likely to vote before November 8, the result could be decided with only thousands of votes. President Joe Biden won Georgia by less than 12,000 votes in 2020, while Kemp defeated Abrams by less than 55,000 in 2018.

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the focus on energizing the base of each party It comes amid a huge early turnout in Georgia, where more than 1.25 million voters had already cast ballots as of Thursday and nine days of in-person early voting still remain in some counties. Mail-in ballots, while down from the 2020 torrent, are also arriving at county election offices.

Kemp was stumped Thursday at a restaurant in rural Jesup, about 65 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Savannah, where he spoke to about 80 people eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans. Kemp walked the room before and after his speech, shaking hands and taking selfies.

Only 30,000 people live in Jesup and surrounding Wayne County. But it is a deeply conservative area that Kemp won with 80% of the vote in 2018.

“We have to do it again this year,” Kemp implored the lunchtime crowd at Altamaha Steak and Seafood. “Because we are in a fight for the soul of our state.”

Hitting the line of loudest applause in his campaign speech, Kemp asked the crowd to help him “make sure Stacey Abrams is not your governor or your next president.”

During his 20-minute speech, Kemp criticized Abrams for supporting prolonged pandemic shutdowns and not being supportive enough of the police. He also noted that Abrams had been considered a possible vice presidential running mate for Biden, whom Kemp blames for inflation.

“These are the policies that are crushing Georgian workers right now,” Kemp said. “Those are the things that politics has done to us. What we’re doing is helping them fight that.”

At the same time, Abrams was imploring a largely black crowd in a downtown Milledgeville plaza to back his political agenda.

“If you want more money in your pocket, say more!” Abrams shouted, hoarse from the campaign. “If you want more opportunities in your community, say more! If you want more freedom in your lives, say more! If you want more for our children’s future, say more!”

Milledgeville is the largest city in Baldwin County, home to a state university, a lakeside retirement community, and a significant black population. It’s one of the few politically competitive rural Georgia counties, with Abrams narrowly losing in 2018 before Biden narrowly won in 2020. And while Abrams should have a big turnout in cities, he’s also trying to mobilize black voters. rural. “I know Georgia has more than 285,” Abrams told the Milledgeville crowd, referring to the traffic-jammed loop of Interstate 285 around Atlanta.

Kemp hadn’t finished at Jesup, moving on to the Nahunta crossroads. It’s a place that might draw blank stares from Atlanta Democrats, but it’s the county seat of Brantley County, Georgia’s most Republican county in recent years. Kemp won 91% of the vote there in 2018.

The Georgia Republican Party grew to dominance combining strong showings in suburban Atlanta and rural areas. But the suburban arm of that coalition has faltered with the rise of Donald Trump, with some suburban voters rejecting Trump’s Republican politics. Those defections, along with a growing non-white population, have turned a former Republican stronghold into the top swing state in the South. It also means that Republicans in Georgia, as they do across the country, view rural areas as their most reliable strongholds. Such ultra-republican areas, including a larger swath of Republican strongholds in the mountains north of Atlantathey are often much whiter than the state as a whole.

Kemp’s host for the Wayne County stop was David Keith, an insurance salesman and former mayor of Jesup.

“Hopefully we’re not sitting on our laurels thinking, ‘Don’t worry, we loaded it last time,’” Keith said of Kemp. “He will prevail in Wayne County, but he’s going to need a big majority to get past some of the other areas that aren’t going to be as successful” in turning out Republicans.

This reality has also been reflected in Republican Senate challenger Herschel Walker’s schedule this week. After the first week of early voting brought Walker to Democratic-dominated cities like Macon and Athens, Walker headed to the mountains this week, sometimes dipping into suburban Atlanta where Republicans still thrive.

Headline Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock travel shows a less partisan slant, reflecting a campaign trying to reach half the electorate. The average county where he is campaigning in the first two weeks of early voting is only 50% Democrat. But even Warnock will return to the heavily Democratic Atlanta suburb of College Park to meet with Abrams and Former Democratic President Barack Obama on Friday.

Amy reported from Milledgeville, Georgia.

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