As Georgia’s population grows — it’s now the eighth most populous state — it might be the Peach State’s time to shine as the 2020 election approaches.
According to U.S. Census population estimates for 2018, which were released in June, Georgia’s population is now about 10.5 million, an 8.6% increase from 2010. And Hall County, which is now estimated to have about 202,000 people, grew by 12.5% in that time.
That puts Georgia right behind Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania in population — three states that are often seen as ones to watch in presidential elections.
Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said Georgia’s changing electorate and growing population could put the state in the spotlight next year.
“For the past 20 years, we’ve been perceived as being a solidly Republican state, so while candidates would come and campaign in our presidential primary in the spring, after that we never really saw them on the campaign trail,” Bullock said. “They might fly in to Atlanta, take a motorcade down to a hotel, have a fundraiser and then leave. I think come 2020, we might actually see them going to places like Gainesville.”
Bullock noted the narrowness of President Donald Trump’s and Gov. Brian Kemp’s victories in Georgia — Trump got 51.3% of the vote in Georgia in 2016, while Kemp got 50.2% of the vote in 2018.
Theresa Webb, chair of the Hall County Republican Party, said that while Republicans cannot get complacent, she thinks Georgia will stay red in 2020.
“We have a lot of strong Republicans, and we have a lot that in the last election did not vote,” she said. “I think our key is to get those people out to vote, and we just have to continue to work on them, educate them and push them to get out and vote.”
Webb said there are a lot of reasons people may never make it to the polls, but local Republicans are working to make sure that people get there.
“One is personality: ‘I didn’t like that person, so I’m not going to vote for them.’ Others are, ‘I was too busy, I forgot that I had eight weeks to vote, and it’s Election Day and I’m going to be out of town,’” she said. “You just hear a lot of different reasons why they didn’t vote, and a lot of it is just apathy. ‘My vote won’t make a difference.’”
Bullock also said Republicans will have to put some work in next year.
“There’s the potential on the Democratic side to get a few more Democratic voters to turn out and they might win the state for their nominee,” Bullock said. “On the other hand, Republicans, I think now are aware that the comfortable margin they enjoyed in the state for many years has largely evaporated. They’re going to have to work harder to keep the state in their column.”
And in their preparations for 2020, Republicans and Democrats in Hall County are actually finding some common ground. Arturo Adame, president of the Young Democrats of Hall County, said local Democrats are also working on voter registration and education. And while the field of Democrats in the election may be crowded, Adame said voters see some promising candidates.
“I think they’re coming with the right stuff to engage young voters and to keep people who’ve been voting Democrat to stay voting Democrat,” he said.
While Gainesville’s growing and diverse population could mean that the city may eventually turn blue, Adame said flipping the Ninth District overall, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, is less likely.
“(Gainesville) is extremely diverse. I think Gainesville itself has the potential to do that,” he said. “… It has the potential to turn blue, but as far as the rest of the Ninth District, I think that’s going to be a hard fight. That’s going to be really difficult.”
Bullock said that while Democrats may be enjoying increased popularity in some areas of metro Atlanta, that change hasn’t quite made its way to Hall yet. Collins got about 80% of the vote for his seat in 2018.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of change in Hall County. It remains a jurisdiction in which Republicans get about three-fourths of the vote. The Ninth District, of which Gainesville is the biggest city, is one of the most Republican congressional districts,” he said. “The change that’s occurring is occurring in suburban areas. While that’s reaching out toward Hall County and up into Forsyth County, it hasn’t gotten to Hall County yet. In time, it may very well.”