Chuck Williams

Polls say Democratic nominee could win Georgia for first time since Bill Clinton

There have been eight presidential elections since 1984, and seven times the state of Georgia has lined up solidly behind the Republican candidate.

Over the last three decades, the state has turned as red as a Georgia football helmet. The only time the state did not side with the Republican presidential candidate in that post-Jimmy Carter era was in 1992 when Georgia voters backed Bill Clinton in his first run for the White House. By 1996 when Clinton won a second term, a five-cycle Republican run had begun. That year, Georgia voters went with Republican candidate Bob Dole by the narrowest of margins.

Since then, it hasn’t been close. In 2012, Republic Mitt Romney took more than 53 percent of the Georgia vote and a nearly 8-point victory over incumbent President Barrack Obama.

Consider two recent polls that show Georgia and its 16 Electoral College votes may be in play on Nov. 8. An AJC poll taken on Aug. 1 showed the Democratic nominee with a 44 percent of the potential vote and Republican nominee Donald Trump with 40 percent. On Aug. 6, JMC Analytics conducted a poll that shows Clinton with a 7-point advantage, 44-37. The wild cards: 10 percent say they are undecided, and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson polls at 7 percent.

Georgia appears in play.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Georgia Democrat and the dean of the General Assembly, knows what it looks like when Georgia is in play. He was state co-chair of the Bill Clinton campaign the last time a Democrat won Georgia. This year he is a surrogate working in the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“I am not totally surprised,” Smyre said on Tuesday. “When Secretary Clinton was at the General Assembly in February, I told her she should keep an eye on Georgia if Donald Trump was the Republican nominee.”

Now that the Clinton-Trump race has taken shape, Smyre has renewed hope.

“I honestly feel she can win if the campaign appropriates the resources in Georgia,” Smyre said.

That translates, by Smyre’s count, to more than $10 million to run a statewide television campaign and a get-out-the-vote ground game.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus Republican who was the state co-chairman for Sen. Ted Cruz’s unsuccessful presidential run, also thinks it’s possible for a Democrat to win Georgia in the fall, but he’s not willing to concede.

“While it is certainly possible for a Democrat to win Georgia if enough Republicans stay at home or opt for Gary Johnson, I think ultimately Republicans will support Trump in sufficient numbers that he will win the state,” McKoon said. “Given the events of the last two weeks, which obviously haven’t been good for Trump, I don’t find the margin for Clinton surprising. Of course, both are under 50 percent, which also indicates the race is fluid.”

McKoon is right about a fluid race, but Smyre looks at it another way.

“I think it’s amazing we’re even talking about it,” Smyre said. “We haven’t had this conversation since the ’90s.”