Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics
newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
This campaign year has witnessed many unexpected shifts in the electorate -- not to mention the candidates. But one of the most surprising changes may be the voters in Georgia. After supporting Republican presidential contenders for the past 24 years, the Peach State may be up for grabs due to its diversifying demographic. Judy Woodruff visited Georgia to report on the political climate there.
Well, you've heard a lot in this election year about changing demographics in some states, rising numbers of minority voters who are scrambling the calculus for the candidates and the parties.
But one of the places with the most dramatic change underway is Georgia. It hasn't voted Democratic in 24 years, but is giving Hillary Clinton reason to hope this year.
I flew there this past weekend.
At the Sweet Auburn Festival on Saturday, neighbors and tourists showed up to eat, drink and enjoy local musicians. In this Atlanta neighborhood, known as the historic heart of the civil rights movement here, some are clear who they're voting for.
I'm looking forward to there being a female president. And also I like the way she — her campaign is run. I like the way she speaks. And I think she will do well to getting this world back into the order.
Voters like this are exactly what Hillary Clinton must have to turn Georgia blue for the first time since 1992, says Emory University's Andra Gillespie.
ANDRA GILLESPIE, Emory University:
You need African-Americans to turn out in record numbers, just as they did in 2008 and 2012. I suspect that Hillary Clinton is going to do extremely well in the state amongst blacks who do turn out to vote. We should expect that they're going to make up about 30 percent of the electorate here in Georgia.
In fact, due to dramatic demographic changes, growing numbers of blacks and other minorities, Clinton is relying on voters like 33-year-old Charisse Price.
I'm voting for her because I feel that she's the candidate that most aligns with my values and the issues that are important to me. And I'm excited about what she offers as the most qualified candidate in history.
Democrats also hope to capitalize on negative feelings toward Donald Trump among the Latino community that has more than doubled since 2000.
Latinos make up just under 10 percent of the population in Georgia, but they are now less than 3 percent of registered voters.
Omar Rodriguez Esparza is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico, who says he cannot support Trump.
OMAR RODRIGUEZ ESPARZA:
It really did bother me when he started to offend my community, calling us different things that were obscene and derogatory. And for me to stand behind a person that speaks that way about our community, I just can't do it. That's like turning my back against my own community.
But Georgia Republicans say they are not ready to simply cede minority voters to the Democrats.
LEO SMITH, Minority Engagement Director, Georgia GOP:
I think what they're underestimating is the number of African-Americans who are now saying, I am independent in my thinking about politics.
Leo Smith is the Georgia GOP's minority engagement director.
The Georgia Republican Party decided in 2013 that we would embrace a strategy to target, micro-target demographics that we have not been successful with. And so we developed a strategy to make sure that we connected with blacks, that we connected with Latin Americans, Latino Americans, that we connected with Asian Americans.
In 2008, 98 percent of blacks who voted went Obama. But, this year, Democrats say the key is not the percentage, but the number of African-Americans who vote.
STACEY ABRAMS (D), Georgia State Representative: So, you're just now starting the real push.
Democrat Stacey Abrams is the minority leader in the Georgia State House of Representatives.
Most of the pre-work that happens in elections is persuading people to believe that your candidate has the right belief set, that they are the right person. Where we are now is convincing people that they need to turn out and do something about it. We have six weeks. And it's going to be — it's a heavy lift, but it's a very doable lift.
Doable, but with a special challenge among younger voters.
She has a problem particularly amongst young African-Americans who appear to be soft on her. So, it doesn't mean that they're going to defect and vote for Donald Trump. I think the questions is, do they stay home or do they vote for somebody like Gary Johnson?
For me, voting for her would be like settling. And I don't want to settle. I would rather, like, stay single, right?
Shaidah Ehehosi, a sophomore at Georgia State University, says she feels pressure to back Clinton, but, as of now, doesn't think she can do that.
She's so sneaky, and she's just not honest. And Donald Trump is openly racist, you know, openly ridiculous, basically. But Hillary is so covert with her actions, that that scares me as well. And it's just so — it's tough.
In this state, with a population in transition, Clinton's challenge is not only to turn out the Democratic base, especially African-Americans, but also to turn out more white voters than Democrats have won in the past five presidential elections.
Thanks to the controversial candidacy of Donald Trump, the key could be white women like Jessica Mayer, who voted for Mitt Romney last time, but says Trump is out of the question. She's considering Clinton.
I don't know if I want to vote for her or not. I like her. I don't dislike her, but I like Gary Johnson a lot, too. I don't want to vote for it just because she's a woman, even though I'm — I feel like I'm leaning that way, because it'd be nice to have a woman in the White House.
The support of voters like Jessica is essential to a long-shot Democratic victory here, says strategist Gordon Giffin.
GORDON GIFFIN, Democratic Strategist:
To win a state like Georgia, you have got to appeal to a broad cross-section of genders. You can't just go after one gender. Broad cross-section of all parts of our citizenry. So, to win here, Hillary Clinton would have to get a substantial part of the white vote, not just the minority vote.
Again, Andra Gillespie:
In the context of the first debate performance, and Donald Trump's lashing out at Alicia Machado for her weight and other kinds of things, these are the kinds of messages that could play well to suburban white voters who are on the fence about Trump, and maybe she can convince them to come to her side.
Young Georgia Republicans like Jake Evans acknowledge Trump's weakness among women who would normally lean right.
Millennials overall are a generation of equality on the gender side, on the race side, and he undoubtedly leads some people to believe that he doesn't fully further gender equality motives.
Even so, Evans himself backs Trump, albeit without enthusiasm.
I will vote for Donald Trump because I think he aligns more with my personal ideologies, less government, lower taxes, less regulation. I believe, personally, that's what's best for the country, but I will do it reluctantly. And so I think it's an election of the lesser of two evils, to be honest with you, for a lot of millennials.
Clinton supporters say she can win that argument, if her campaign targets all the voters who are turned off by Trump.
If 30 percent of the white vote in Georgia votes for Hillary Clinton, she will carry the state of Georgia.
We also found that, even among Clinton backers here, there is concern that the deep divisions in the country will undermine her if she's elected.
I think that she is going to have as difficult a time as President Obama had as far as congressional support. I hope that they do not meet secretly the night that she is elected and decide that they are going to vote no for everything that she may present to Congress.
And that's a snapshot right now of Georgia, where new voter registration ends next Tuesday, October 11.
Watch the Full Episode
Judy Woodruff is a senior correspondent and the former anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for five decades at NBC, CNN and PBS.
Rachel Wellford is a general assignment producer for PBS NewsHour.
Support Provided By: