Open in App
  • U.S.
  • Election
  • Newsletter
  • The Hill

    Biden sees worrying signs in Georgia

    By Julia Mueller,


    President Biden is facing worrying signs in Georgia — the state he flipped blue for the first time in decades back in 2020 — including low primary turnout and a lack of big down-ballot races to energize his base.

    Biden beat former President Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes in the Peach State last cycle, and polls suggest the former president now has the edge as the pair head toward a 2024 rematch.

    Democrats acknowledge that Biden has work to do to mobilize voters, with the state poised to once again play a pivotal role in November.

    “The bad news [for Democrats in Georgia is] an enthusiasm gap between Democratic voters and Republican voters,” said Atlanta-based Democratic strategist Fred Hicks. “The question for Democrats is not for whom you’re going to vote in November; it’s whether or not you’re going to vote.”

    Biden trounced his long-shot challengers in Georgia’s Democratic primary last week, scoring more than 95 percent of the vote — but total turnout for the contest was just below 290,000 voters, according to the latest counts from Decision Desk HQ .

    On the Republican side, Trump scored roughly 85 percent of the vote, and the race saw nearly double the opposing party’s turnout, with nearly 590,000 Georgians casting ballots in the GOP contest.

    Though strategists note the primary electorate isn’t exactly indicative of how Georgians will vote in the general, turnout will be key in the state that Trump won in 2016 — and where, four years later, Biden narrowly won by one-quarter of 1 percent.

    “It is a complete toss-up right now,” said Democratic strategist Abigail Collazo, who has done work in Georgia. “There’s nothing that can be taken for granted in a year like this one, particularly with the Black and minority voters that the Biden campaign will need to win.”

    President Biden heads toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, March 19, 2023. Biden is heading to Nevada, Arizona and Texas for various campaign and official events. (Greg Nash)

    Last cycle saw record turnout in the Peach State, when Biden challenged then-incumbent Trump with the benefit of other major races down-ballot that helped energize voters.

    Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Georgia Democrats turned out in big numbers to oust Trump, but also to elect Democrat Jon Ossoff as the state’s first Jewish senator and ​​the Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) as the state’s first Black senator .

    That year, Georgia notably combined its presidential preference primary and general primary into a June election, while this year, they are back to separate dates .

    “The question is: Can and how can Biden-Harris get the Democratic turnout to match 2020 without the historic nature of other races on the ballot?” Hicks said.

    Biden’s reelection bid will have to energize the state’s significant Black population , which makes up roughly a third of the battleground state, while facing polls that show the incumbent struggling nationally with the demographic.

    Amid a progressive push in several states to cast protest votes over the administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, roughly 6,000 Georgians left their ballots blank in the Democratic primary, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution .

    Biden will also have to handle persistent concerns about immigration after the recent death of University of Georgia student Laken Riley thrust the state into the center of an already raging partisan debate on the issue. A Venezuelan citizen who entered the U.S. illegally was arrested and charged with murder in connection to Riley’s death, prompting many on the right to link the tragedy to Biden’s handling of the border.

    “Laken Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal. That’s right,” Biden said during his State of the Union address earlier this month, after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) heckled him to mention the Georgia student. “But how many thousands of people being killed by legals? To her parents I say, my heart goes out to you, having lost children myself.”

    A survey from Emerson College Polling and The Hill recently found Trump up 8 points over Biden on the issue of immigration in Georgia. And in a general election rematch, polling averages from Decision Desk HQ/The Hill showed Trump leading Biden by 5 points.

    Biden would need to get “really aggressive on the border” to come closer to a win in the state, Georgia-based Republican strategist Jay Williams said.

    But there are “rays of hope” for both White House hopefuls, said Ben Taylor, a professor of political science at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

    “Today, if I were operating either of these campaigns, I would probably rather be in the Trump campaign’s position, I think. But it’s very tenuous,” Taylor said.

    Trump faces his own hurdles in Georgia, where he’s been criminally indicted over alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 results in the state. A judge last week notably dropped some charges related to Trump’s infamous call asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s win, but Trump still faces 10 counts in the case.

    “This is going to be a high-stakes election where a few votes really matter. And problematically, if Trump does the same old thing and he loses, I mean, I don’t know what’s gonna happen,” said Audrey Haynes, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia.

    “Will it be the nail in the coffin? … Or will it be: ‘It’s rigged’ again, and then ‘we’re going to throw the whole country into chaos’ again?” Haynes asked.

    And though Trump easily extended his string of early wins in the GOP primary, his former opponent Nikki Haley brought in around 13 percent support. That’s notable because some of the roughly 77,000 ballots in her column likely came in after Haley dropped out of the running March 6, making those votes a possible protest against Trump.

    In a state that Biden won by just 12,000 votes last cycle, the tens of thousands of Haley voters present an opportunity for Biden’s reelection bid to persuade disillusioned Republicans to join the Democratic camp.

    But even if those voters aren’t drawn across the aisle, they could still pose a problem for Trump by sitting out, Taylor said.

    “The closer the Biden folks can keep Georgia, the more competitive Georgia is in the long term, I think the better it is for the Biden campaign — not just for the Electoral College votes, but particularly, from a strategic perspective, of making the Trump campaign spend money that they, by the end, may not have,” Taylor said.

    Top Stories from The Hill

    Mark Rountree, a Republican pollster based in Georgia, said the Haley voters would be “very problematic” for Trump if the general election were held today, but countered that another six months of advertising and messaging could likely pull many of those back into the former president’s column.

    With wins in Georgia, Washington and Mississippi last week, Biden and Trump have both locked up the delegates they need to win their party nominations, teeing up a rematch in November that observers say could come down to the wire. The pair held dueling campaign events in the Peach State last week.

    “This is a competitive place, and Republicans cannot win without Georgia,” said Keron Blair, the chief organizing and field officer of the progressive New Georgia Project Action Fund.

    “And Democrats would be remiss if they abandoned the investment in Georgia and abandoned the work of forcing a meaningful competition for the electoral votes that are up for grabs in Georgia,” Blair said.

    For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.

    Expand All
    Comments / 0
    Add a Comment
    Local Georgia State newsLocal Georgia State
    Most Popular newsMost Popular
    The Hill2 hours ago

    Comments / 0