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No one sure how Georgias vote will fall
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Many of the state's political observers say that Tuesday's presidential primary is still up for grabs in Georgia for both sides.

And, perhaps because of that uncertainty, interest is high. Early voting in the state is running well above the last presidential primary contest in 2004.

Secretary of State Karen Handel said county officials have told her they expect between 30 and 35 percent of the state's registered voters to cast a ballot. That would be double the 17 percent of registered voters who turned out for the 2004 primary.

The last time primary turnout topped 30 percent in Georgia was in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the Democratic race and George H.W. Bush held off a challenge from Patrick Buchanan.

But political experts have been scratching their heads this year. A poll in December by Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion, an Atlanta-based firm, showed Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama running neck-and-neck in Georgia. But that was with 15 percent support for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who pulled the plug on his candidacy last week.

An Insider Advantage poll taken Wednesday, the day after Edwards dropped out, showed Obama taking a big lead over Clinton, 52 percent to 36 percent.

Edwards' departure has changed the landscape on the Democratic side beyond the poll numbers. Edwards, the only Southerner in the Democratic field, performed well with white male voters in his party; where they will go is unclear. Clinton has done better with white voters than Obama has, but she has struggled with male voters.

Merle Black of Emory University, who wrote the book "Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics," predicted that some would just stay home. Edwards had the support of a number of prominent Georgia Democrats including former Gov. Roy Barnes and former Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.

Most observers say the recent results in South Carolina could give a glimpse of what might happen in Georgia. Both states have a strong evangelical base within the Republican Party and large number of blacks who vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

"The states are very similar, in demographics and in voting patterns," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

Obama rode a tidal wave of black support in South Carolina and hopes to do the same in Georgia to defeat Clinton.

Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras isn't saying who she is supporting in the presidential sweepstakes, but admits that the Democratic contest is exciting. "It is exciting that I live in a country where a black man can run for president and have a chance," Figueras said, adding that as a female mayor she is also excited about Clinton's accomplishments. "A woman can be everything that a man can be, and more. We have a great country."

But like many, Figueras hasn't made up her mind. "I have looked at both of them and I'm undecided. But it sure is exciting watching them run," she said.

Another black public official, Councilman Sam Evans of Oakwood, isn't tipping his hand on his election choice, but says that Obama has energized voters.

"It's not so much a matter of whether (Obama) is black or white, but he's reaching a cross section of the country," Evans said. "It reminds me of the days of John F. Kennedy. He reached across a broad spectrum of the population and that's exciting."

The GOP race is more chaotic. John McCain prevailed in South Carolina on the strength of moderate, independent and nonevangelical support. He might be able to pull off a repeat performance in Georgia, in part because the state's Christian voters are split.

Conservative religious voters like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who has a strong anti-abortion credentials. But he hasn't sealed the deal.

Huckabee had been leading in Georgia, prior to last week's Florida primary. But Wednesday's Insider Advantage poll showed McCain at 35 percent with Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tied at 24 percent.

And while Georgia has a strong conservative base within the GOP, it also has a history of backing establishment Republican candidates rather than veering hard right. Such was the case in 2006 when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of Chestnut Mountain dealt a stinging defeat to former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed.

Black said the GOP race is a tossup in Georgia.

Romney has pulled support from the business wing of the Republican party, as well as some social conservatives, but his Mormon faith and shifting stance on issues like abortion are suspect in some circles. McCain's moderate stance on immigration makes him an outcast for some in the state who view that issue as critical. And Huckabee has been portrayed as too liberal on immigration and crime.

"There's no one now that really appeals to all the groups who make up the traditional Republican base," Black said. "Where will these evangelical voters go? That's going to be a good question."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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