Key campaign events
Feb. 1: Iowa caucuses
Feb. 9: New Hampshire primary
Feb. 20: Nevada Democratic caucuses; South Carolina Republican primary
Feb. 23: Nevada Republican caucuses
Feb. 27: South Carolina Democratic primary
March 1: Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia primaries; Alaska, Minnesota caucuses; Colorado Democratic caucuses; North Dakota, Wyoming Republican caucuses
July 18-21: Republican convention, Cleveland
July 25-28: Democratic convention, Philadelphia
Nov. 8: Election Day
A time for action.
A historic election that could “change the landscape” of this country.
The Feb. 1 deadline to register to vote in the March 1 presidential primary is approaching, and local groups are mobilizing their efforts to encourage people to participate.
“I believe there will be at least a 50 percent turnout,” said Sheila Nicholas, chair of Hall County Democrats. “I really hope so. There’s so much interest in it, both on the Democratic and Republican sides. I think more people will come out this year, because they’re so dissatisfied with what’s going on with our government.”
Debra Pilgrim, chair of the Hall County Republican party, said the election this year carries greater weight in the South, as more presidential candidates have visited than in prior election years.
“This could be historical for us,” she said. “It will change the landscape of what we see in future elections.”
Both parties are working locally to encourage voter participation and enthusiasm.
The Hall County GOP has to educate, inform and “really stress the importance of each individual vote,” Pilgrim said. “We work very hard to do that.”
Pilgrim said she encourages people to attend watch parties, to watch the debates at home and to do their research.
Nicholas said her party has been holding voter registration drives for months and going door-to-door, particularly where there has been low voter turnout.
She said she tells people, “You can’t complain after, if you didn’t go vote.”
Voter turnout for Democrats in Hall County is crucial, she said, because it reflects back to the Democratic National Committee that there’s a strong presence in Hall County. That could mean more field organizers and money sent here.
Nicholas said she sees support for Democrats growing in the South.
“I see a variety of reasons for that,” she said. “I know a lot of people are coming out of the shadows, knowing there is support for the party here. We particularly built that up over the last year.”
Nicholas and Pilgrim agree high participation in the primary could draw national attention — even presidential candidates — to Southern states.
“There’s really no time to sit back and talk,” Pilgrim said. “This is a time for action.”
There are also local campaigns working to increase interest in particular candidates.
Adam Reynolds is co-chairman with Hall County for Cruz, supporting GOP candidate Sen. Ted Cruz.
Reynolds said his group has played host to debate parties and has planned ways to engage the community, including putting out yard signs, making phone calls and knocking on doors.
He said there’s been a “tremendous response” locally to Cruz, who comes second to Donald Trump in national polls.
“One of the things we’re seeing in Hall County is people playing things close to the vest — ‘Cruz is my guy, but I’m going to wait until he’s the official nominee,’” Reynolds said. “But we are seeing a lot of people coalesce behind the Cruz campaign, because he is such a staunch, constitutional, Christian conservative. He really echoes a lot of the values people profess to have here in Hall County.”
Gainesville resident Wilson Golden is meanwhile volunteering for the campaign supporting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
In Hall County, Golden said he sees some support for Sen. Bernie Sanders, but he hasn’t heard of much support for Martin O’Malley. He said he sees a lot of interest in Clinton.
“I think it’s because they appreciate her credentials as secretary of state, as a U.S. senator, and all the other things she’s done,” he said. “The other thing, obviously, is (former president) Bill Clinton has a lot of friends in Georgia, and both of them have been here. They’ve both been to the Atlanta area in the last two months.”
Golden said Clinton has volunteers making phone calls statewide, which will increase after the voter registration deadline passes.
“We’re reaching out to people that are democratic voters, who voted in past primaries, or people who supported Hillary eight years ago and so on,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing so far, and I would say the primary effort right now is identifying volunteers, getting people phone capable and obviously finding those voters.
“When we’re talking about voter registration, it’s mostly encouraging people to sign up. It’s not necessarily candidate-specific, and we feel it’s going to be to Clinton’s advantage, to have more people participating.”
The presidential primary is March 1, and polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For information on voter registration and where to vote, contact the Hall County Board of Elections Office at 770-531-6945.
“I hope new people do get out and vote, knock on some doors, get their friends to vote and get their families involved,” Pilgrim said. “Historically, I think this is one of our most important presidential elections that we face.”