As national Democratic attention centered on Atlanta for Wednesday’s debate, it threw Georgia’s role in the race onto the national stage, too — notably, the role of Georgia’s Democratic leaders, few of whom have publicly endorsed a candidate.
The audience at Tyler Perry Studios was filled with Georgia Democrats. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and U.S. Rep. John Lewis spoke on stage before the debate. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made a prominent appearance with the media afterward.
But Bottoms stands apart from Lewis, Abrams and other Georgia Democratic leaders. She, with some state lawmakers, has made an endorsement in the primary, for former Vice President Joe Biden.
When asked why she’s one of the few to do so, she said, “Probably because I’m pretty brave. And I think that this is not a conventional year. In a conventional year you wait, and you lick your finger, you stick it up and see which way the wind is blowing. We don’t have time for that this year.”
Bottoms said it’s been clear to her that Biden was the best choice “from day one.”
But other Georgia Democrats have seen things differently. To them, this is also about Georgia’s newfound influence in the election and not messing it up.
“And I know [to] a lot of people this is the first time that we’ve been treated as a true battleground state,” said state Sen. Nikema Williams, chair of the state Democratic Party. “And so it’s important that we make all of the candidates feel comfortable in coming here. And I want them to all have real on the ground effort in Georgia to mobilize our voters.
“I think it’s a mix because this is the first time that we’ve been a real battleground state, so this is new territory for us that we’re walking.”
A Democratic presidential debate hasn’t been to Georgia since 1992. The 2018 gubernatorial race was the most competitive in decades, and that may be why the state is getting some of the national Democratic spotlight this year. It’s something many Georgia Democrats have been waiting for for a long time.
“We want to do this right. And we want to do this fairly,” said Justin Holsomback, secretary of the state party board.
He said people remember accusations from 2016 that the national Democratic party showed early favoritism to Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primary, and party leaders don’t want to repeat it.
“I can’t say that there’s a marching order or anything like that,” Holsomback said. “But I do know that conversations are very intentional on making sure that people feel comfortable voting with their conscience and voting who they think best aligns. Because again, the importance is on Georgia flipping, not on individuals or organizations getting what they think is their way.”