Two news stories this week illustrate how changes in voter demographics are rapidly changing Georgia’s political landscape.
The first story is from the UK’s Guardian, and talks about white and minority voting habits, and how they affect the Senate race:
Half a century after the civil rights movement began nudging much of the south into the grasp of the Republican party, politics in Georgia remain a black and white issue.
Republicans candidates get as much as 80% of the white vote. Democrats receive upwards of 90% of African American support. That colour divide has, since the early 1990s, enabled Republicans to dominate elections in the predominantly white state.
Yet come November, when either [Jack] Kingston, a congressman, or another Republican contender, businessman David Perdue, stands for election, they will find themselves going up against a demographic shift that is upending old political certainties.
Although the article begins in Buckhead’s mostly white Tommy’s Barbershop, it quickly moves to Michelle Nunn’s midtown campagn headquarters, and eventually to Clayton County, where, “In the 10 years leading up to 2010, the number of white people living in the county dropped by 41,000. During the same period, the African American population grew by 50,000, and today African Americans are more than 66% of the county’s residents. The Hispanic population doubled.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press takes a look at how Georgia Republicans are trying to reach out to minorities, recruiting voters and candidates:
As the minority engagement director for the Georgia Republican Party, [Leo] Smith is helping to lead an effort to recruit African-American voters in pivotal states, a priority for a heavily white party staring with uncertainty at a country that is fast becoming more black, Hispanic and Asian.
Black Republicans cringe when they hear vitriol from conservatives directed at President Barack Obama, or negative comments about black people coming from extremists. The challenge is to assure blacks who may lean conservative that they can publicly identify with the GOP without hurting their standing in the black community.
The GOP is caught in somewhat of a chicken-and-egg situation here. As one African-American Republican told me, minorities are not going to vote Republican until they see people who look like them holding elected office. Yet, as the recent primaries showed, when candidates like Ashley Bell and Fitz Johnson run on the GOP ticket, they can’t get past the primaries.
African Americans are not the only ones the GOP needs to reach out to. Nowhere else is this clearer than in Gwinnett County. According to census estimates, in 2012, the county was 42% white, 25% black, 20% Hispanic and 11% Asian. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney took 54% of the vote. Ten years ago, the Bush-Cheney presidential ticket received 66% of the Gwinnett vote.
Speaking to the Gwinnett GOP last Saturday, Congressman Rob Woodall offered a succinct challenge to attendees.
“I have never seen a time in my lifetime when all the folks who run all the campaigns and do all the party policy statements have been watching Gwinnett County they way they’re watching it right now. Because we look in Gwinnett County today the way America’s going to look in 15 years…
We are the testbed. We look today the way every other district in the country is going to look. We have to win elections today that the entire Presidential staff is going to have to win in 15 years. We are planting the seeds today that 300 million Americans are going to benefit from. It matters.”
Is the GOP destined to become a rump party of mostly white Southerners, or does it figure out an answer to Woodall’s challenge to maintain Republican control in an ever more diverse county, state and country?
The results of the 2014 elections will go a long way towards answering that question.