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Presidential hopefuls open county offices; Obama makes move in Forsyth County

POSTED: August 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Kris Yardley, the county coordinator for U.S. Sen. John McCain, talks about the upcoming election at a new campaign office Monday afternoon in the Sawyer House at 439 Green St. The location is staffed by volunteers and primarily is a pickup point for yard signs, bumper stickers and other campaign material.

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Not since native son Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980 has Hall County voted for a Democrat for president. However, party loyalists on both sides are taking the 2008 campaign seriously and have opened campaign headquarters in Gainesville.

Kris Yardley, county coordinator for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the GOP nominee, opened the office in the Sawyer House at 439 Green St.

The site has been the local headquarters for GOP candidates, including Gov. Sonny Perdue and the campaigns of President Bush. The location is staffed sporadically by volunteers and primarily is a pickup point for yard signs, bumper stickers and other campaign material.

Yardley said that the campaign has a limited supply of signs with only McCain’s name, but will have more when a vice presidential running mate is announced.

The office will serve as the general election headquarters for other Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss and U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal.Yardley, who is in the investment and insurance business, is a volunteer with the McCain campaign.

He said he decided on McCain at about the time of the Super Tuesday primary in Georgia.

"I liked him based on his values from a family perspective," said Yardley.

While Yardley is aware of Hall County’s 28-year history of Republican presidential votes, he is not taking anything for granted.

"We’re taking this campaign seriously," he said. "We want to make sure we have the electoral vote and a strong popular vote."

The campaign of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has secured an office at 1097 Athens St. The office has been used in previous Democratic campaigns for national, state and local offices.

It, too, is only staffed sporadically.

But the most eye-opening move by the Obama campaign may be in Forsyth County, where he has opened a local office.

With nearly 90 percent of registered Forsyth County voters choosing a Republican ballot in the July primary election, setting up camp in a traditionally conservative stronghold may seem like a long shot.

"Not this campaign. Not this candidate," said Carolyn Adelmann, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign. "We have a field operation that stretches to every corner in this state, and we’re not going to ignore areas that have traditionally not been with Democrats before."

Adelmann said having an office in Forsyth, as well as other areas of the state, provides residents with a local venue, a place where they can learn more about Obama and find out how they can get involved in his campaign against McCain.

Obama, who has built his campaign around a message of change, may not win Forsyth’s vote in November, but volunteer Jeff Jackness thinks the margin will be closer.

"When they get to their (precinct), I think a lot more people are going to pull his lever than people realize," he said. "I would not be surprised to see it maybe even doubling the percentage from the past."

Jackness and his wife, Arlene, spent a few hours Wednesday night at the Cumming office, where they have volunteered for the last month.

While he said it was supposed to be just a few hours a week, Jackness has spent nearly every day making calls, ringing doorbells and registering new voters.

"The phone calls, the door knocking, it’s not nearly as negative as people would perceive," he said. "There are a lot of people out there that I think are closet Obama supporters."

Living in a primarily Republican county, Jackness has taken flak for his political views.

"It doesn’t bother me any more because it’s too important," he said. "It is really an important election."

Jennifer Sami of The Times regional staff contributed to this report.


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