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Most conversations about elections in Georgia begin and end with the populous metropolitan Atlanta area, but the smaller rural counties in the south with large numbers of African American and military voters may be crucial to the state’s open Senate race.
The fact that Georgia is even in play this fall is something of a surprise. In 2012 President Barack Obama lost the state handily, by about 8 percentage points to Republican Mitt Romney. The race was close, however, in the Atlanta area, with Obama winning 49.5 percent to 49.1 percent.
Outside of that area, however, Romney won by 18 points, as you can see on this chart.
That’s why it may actually be the smaller, rural counties that carry the most weight this year. If Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn can win metro Atlanta, or get close to Obama’s numbers, the outcome will hinge on how Republican David Perdue does in the rest of the state.
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What do the numbers say? There are some reasons to believe Nunn could change the dynamic when you look at the state using the American Communities Project, a journalism/political science effort at American University’s School of Public Affairs.
When you get outside of metro Atlanta, the African American counties are the most populous with more than 2.4 million people live in those counties, making up about 25 percent of the state’s population.
You can see the wide swath of the state those 84 counties on this map in light green.
Obama won in those counties, but by a fairly narrow margin - 51 to 47 percent. It is possible, however, that Nunn could improve on his numbers.
Those counties tend to be strongly divided along racial lines and Nunn’s family history may help her break through some of those racial tensions. She is a white woman whose father, former Sen. Sam Nunn, was very popular in the state over his 24-years of service. So popular he ran unopposed in 1990.
Furthermore, Nunn’s campaign, which has tied Perdue to outsourcing jobs overseas, may resonate in the African American counties, which tend to have lower incomes. Georgia currently has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.
The other factor that may matter in Georgia are the military posts with12 military bases in Georgia that is home to half a million people. Only three states in the union have more active duty than the Peach State.
Why might that matter? Again it has to do with Nunn’s family history. Her father was considered a friend of the military. He served 12 years as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and helped bring home money that built those bases kept them in place during realignments.
Romney thrashed Obama in the military post counties in 2012 by 26 points. If Nunn can close that gap and make the vote coming from them more even, it could make the race very close.