As the last of the two conventions finished its business of nominating a presidential candidate last week, the Clinton and Trump campaigns were quickly shifting into high gear.
Before all of the balloons in Philadelphia had been picked up, Donald Trump supporters were already chanting “Lock her up, lock her up” at a campaign event. Meanwhile, the Hillary Clinton campaign was embarking on a bus tour of the key states Pennsylvania and Ohio.
As the nominees fight their way through a grinding, nasty campaign, the question we’ve heard so much in recent years is again being raised: Is this the year when Georgia makes the transition from red to purple and becomes a battleground state?
The answer to that question since 1992 has been no. That was when Bill Clinton became the last Democratic presidential candidate to take Georgia’s electoral votes. Clinton lost the state in 1996, finishing 27,000 votes behind Bob Dole, and Republicans have had a tight lock on Georgia ever since.
Georgia Democrats have been like Chicago Cubs fans, responding to their long title drought with, “Wait ’til next year.”
Democrats are expecting things to be a little more competitive this year and kept making that point throughout their convention. Jason Carter opened his introduction of his grandfather, Jimmy Carter, with these words: “Greetings from the battleground state of Georgia!”
Several recent polls also suggest that the race between Trump and Clinton is close enough that the state could be considered a tossup.
Republican pollster Mark Rountree made the same observation as other political analysts when he noted: “Georgia has a larger minority vote than almost anywhere else.”
As with California, Texas and Florida, Georgia’s population is steadily becoming more diverse because of a growing black population and a steady influx of Asian and Latino residents.
It was not so long ago that Georgia’s pool of registered voters was more than 80 percent white; today, it’s barely above 58 percent and keeps dropping. Basically, the state’s percentage of white voters declines by about a percentage point each year while the portion of non-white voters increases by a point.
“Georgia demographics continue to change,” Rountree said. “But so many GOP activists are blind to this and simply assume that since the GOP has run things here for a decade that they are a lock to continue to do so. No.”
Voter registration statistics and poll numbers are obviously indications that a state could be more competitive, but they are not a guarantee that it will be.
The real marker of a state that has attained “battleground” status is that both of the presidential nominees are battling for it. That isn’t happening here just yet.
When Trump and his aides met with GOP congressmen in Washington prior to the national convention, they disclosed that the Trump campaign would be targeting a total of 17 states this fall.
The remaining 33 states were considered to be either so Republican in their political leanings, like Utah and Oklahoma, or so Democratic, like California and New York, that there was no point in devoting campaign resources to them.
One of the states on Trump’s list was Georgia. After going Republican in five consecutive presidential elections, you would think that Georgia was one state a GOP candidate could safely assume would be in the red column again.
The fact that Georgia is on Trump’s list tells us that his campaign is concerned about the state’s growing diversity, or has seen polling numbers that show it really could be up for grabs. Otherwise, why spend a penny of scarce campaign money here when there are so many other competitive states?
Clinton’s campaign, on the other hand, has not yet committed to the possibility that Georgia could be in play. If that were the case, they would be dispatching campaign operatives here and opening up field offices to work on get-out-the-vote efforts. So far, that hasn’t happened.
The Trump campaign is planning to go to war over Georgia, but the Clinton campaign is holding back. Since you can’t have a battle unless there are two sides to fight it out, Georgia is still not quite a battleground state. Perhaps that will change in a few weeks.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.