Updated Thursday at 11:26 a.m.
Joe Biden campaigned in Warm Springs, Georgia, and Atlanta on Tuesday for the first time since the primary, a major coup for Georgia Democrats.
While it’s been a Republican stronghold for two decades, polling this year shows the state as a tossup. Biden’s visit “cements this idea that Georgia is truly a battleground state,” said Tharon Johnson, Democratic strategist and senior advisor to the Biden campaign.
“If we’d told you all a year ago…how competitive Georgia was going to be, you would have all looked at one another like we were crazy,” Biden told a crowd of people sitting in and on several hundred parked cars at Lakewood Amphitheater.
“With Joe Biden’s presence here today, he has confirmed to the nation that Georgia is in play. And Atlanta, I know we won’t let him down,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, an early Biden supporter, at the rally.
Charles Bullock, political scientist at the University of Georgia, said this is the first time a Democratic candidate has campaigned in Georgia this close to November in more than two decades.
“We essentially have been a place that’s been written off as solidly red for well over a generation,” he said.
Johnson served as national southern regional director for the Obama-Biden campaign in 2012. This year, he said, is “totally different.”
He said eight years ago, “there was no way we would have had the candidate for president be in the state with seven days or less out.”
“At that time, we were just begging for resources.” This year, he said, all the organizing work Democrats have put in over the years is paying off.
Besides the campaign resources and media buys, Johnson said the voter registration numbers and early vote turnout are making a difference this year.
More than 3 million people had voted in Georgia by the end of the day on Tuesday, nearly double the number of early votes cast in the state in 2016.
“[Biden] can see the same trendline data that we can see, which is that young people, first-time voters, people of color are motivated to bring change and flip the state,” said Justin Holsombeck, secretary of the Democratic Party of Georgia and candidate for the Fulton County Commission.
“The youth vote, under the age of 30, as well as first-time voters are driving the increased turnout overall,” he said. “As of four days ago, the youth vote is 500% higher than the same point in 2016. And about 26% of the turnout as of four days ago, had been from first-time voters.”
State Rep. Calvin Smyre, the longest-serving member of the Georgia House, has worked on presidential campaigns in Georgia since Jimmy Carter’s.
“To have Jill Biden twice in two weeks. Kamala Harris a week out. Joe Biden a week out. That tells the story right there,” he said. “You don’t see that if you’re not really in play because they follow the numbers.”
“Georgia is on the political horizon. It has risen to the occasion,” he said. “There’s a lot of sweat equity involved in presidential campaigns.”
President Trump’s attention on Georgia is telling enough that Georgia is in play, Bullock said. The president has visited three times since the summer, and is expected to come again on Sunday. His campaign has spent at least $24 million on Georgia advertising.
“He realizes that Georgia could slip away, and if it does, so could his presidency,” Bullock said.
‘No State More Consequential’
But there are not just electoral college votes at stake. Georgia also has two U.S. Senate seats up in November.
“Folks, I think we’re going to surprise the living devil out of everyone this year. I can’t tell you how important it is that we flip the U.S. Senate,” Biden said in Atlanta.
“There’s no state more consequential than Georgia in that fight. You have two competitive races here at stake.”
Mary Mosley, a physician from Cobb County, is “cautiously optimistic” about Democrats’ chances in Georgia right now and is motivated by the presidential and Senate races. She attended a rally for Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff earlier on Tuesday.
“I have gotten my hopes up on several other election cycles, and the state always seems to go red,” she said.
Mosley identifies as more of an independent but is voting Democratic this year because the party’s policies, she said, will better “speak to the needs” of communities of color.
“I’m more hopeful this year. I feel like for me to see some of the change I’d like to see in Georgia this year, I need to show up,” she said. “So that’s why I’m here.”
“It’s been hard” to be a Georgia Democrat the past few decades, said Tricia Gephardt of Sandy Springs, who has worked in Democratic politics and attended the Atlanta rally. This election, she started the Georgia Postcard Project to reach out to Democratic voters and has sent postcards to more than 500,000 people. “To see Joe Biden coming here the week of the election kind of chokes me up. I feel like we can do it,” she said.
“I’ve been a true believer all along. And I’m just glad the rest of the country is catching up to what we’ve been saying all along,” said state Sen. Nikema Williams, chair of the state party and nominee for the 5th Congressional District.