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Peach State Pits Minority Voters Vs. GOP Lean

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In a wave election year for Democrats, in a state with a substantial minority population and as he won the presidency in a landslide, Barack Obama lost Georgia to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 5 points.

So it would appear to be an extremely far-fetched idea that there is a path to victory for him in Georgia in 2012, after the 2010 elections where the GOP swept every statewide race for the first time since Reconstruction. But Democrats and Republicans with a knowledge of Georgia political trends tell Roll Call that they see a path — though still unlikely — for the president to win the Peach State.

“If Obama is going to win a red state, this is his most likely pickoff state,” longtime Georgia Republican political consultant Mark Rountree said. “If he’s going to be making a play for one, I would be looking for him to be making a play here first.” Rountree, skeptical it could be done, believes Georgia’s demographic shifts have made an Obama victory there possible.

A Chicago-based source with knowledge of the Obama campaign said the re-election team would not ignore Georgia.

“There have been positive trends in the state demographics since the last presidential election,” the source said. “And that makes it a state to look at.”

Specifically, the number of voting-age Hispanics in Georgia grew by 240,000 from 2000 to 2010 — an extraordinary increase of more than 80 percent. Coupled with a large population of black voters who overwhelmingly favored Obama in 2008, there might be a formula for the Democrats to capture the state.

“2008 wasn’t the high-water mark with African-American voters,” said Chris Huttman, a Democratic consultant and pollster in Georgia. “It’s the new floor.”

Thirty percent of 2008 Georgia voters were black, but that number dropped to 28 percent in 2010 without Obama on the ballot. New census data shows growing minority populations beyond just African-Americans.

In 2010, 7.5 percent of the voting-age population was Hispanic and 3.3 percent was Asian. In addition to Georgia’s growth in voting-age Latinos, there was also an 80 percent increase in Asians from 2000 to 2010. The minority population boom is one reason Georgia is gaining a seat in the House through reapportionment. Demographers expect these groups to continue growing.

So do Democrats. Obama campaign sources and others looking at the national landscape believe growth among Latino and black voters is the key to the president’s re-election.

A Democratic source familiar with get-out-the-vote efforts in the state told Roll Call that “the math is there” for an Obama win.

The source said Obama would start with 31 percent or 32 percent of the vote, based on high black-voter turnout.

“If there is a concerted effort to register Hispanic voters, there’s two, three, four points right there,” the source said.

The Democratic source also believes without a statewide race on the ballot in 2012, there won’t be much to drive GOP voters to the polls.

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