Republican streak in Georgia at stake in presidential race

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Republicans feel confident they can keep the state in Donald Trump's column when voters head to the polls on Tuesday. Hillary Clinton supporters, though, hope to hand the deep Southern state's 16 electoral votes to a Democrat for the first time in more than 20 years.

Georgia isn't among the traditionally red states that Clinton is targeting in the race's final days, and public polling averages suggest Trump is clinging to a small lead. Georgia has voted for only two Democratic presidential candidates since 1960: native son Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1992.

But even a narrow loss for Clinton could boost Democrats, who are working to use Georgia's steadily changing demographics to the party's advantage. White voters make up less than 57 percent of the electorate this year, down from 59 percent four years ago.

Trump's campaign also hasn't focused spending on the state but three of his children visited in late October. Daughters Ivanka and Tiffany visited a campaign office before attending a round table with female business owners; Donald Trump Jr. followed days later to meet with black supporters of his father in Atlanta and hold a rally aimed at evangelicals in middle Georgia.

"There's no other choice but Trump right now," said Shirley Hinton, 67, who joined about 200 others packed into a county Republican headquarters on an October afternoon to see the Trump daughters. "I think he's our last hope for America. Look at his accomplishments, look at the way he's raised his family, look at the men he's surrounded himself with."

Trump easily won Georgia's Republican primary back in March, with nearly 40 percent of the vote among primary voters. Hugh Macauley, 59, from Cobb County, wasn't among them. But after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz exited the race, Macaulay said he got behind the nominee, and he's not pleased with Republicans who do otherwise. He voted early for Trump.

"If they don't back Trump, they're not helping get a Republican president elected," Macauley said. "If you're not behind Trump, you're behind Hillary."

President Barack Obama lost Georgia to John McCain by six points and to Mitt Romney by eight. Even a few points gained will prove that Georgia requires more attention from national candidates, said Rep. Stacey Abrams, who leads House Democrats.

"Being in play means that people are paying attention to you," Abrams said. "We're not Idaho, and we're not Mississippi."

State officials said nearly 2.2 million Georgians had cast ballots as of Friday morning, passing a record set in 2008. Final totals haven't been released. Friday marked the final day of early voting. Democrats particularly pushed early voting, with specific days targeting women, students and the LGBT community featuring celebrities and other Clinton surrogates.

As early voting began on October 17, 22-year-old Kyra Reed joined a few dozen Democrats following civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis to a polling place in downtown Atlanta. Reed, a Georgia State University student, said she backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. But she plans to vote for Clinton and spent the fall encouraging other Sanders supporters on the Atlanta campus to do the same.

"A lot of people are realizing that it's not a game anymore," Reed said. "You kind of have to pick a side. I know that's not the easiest decision but would you rather someone like Trump who doesn't need to be up there or someone who is qualified?"

Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University, said more minorities moving into the state undoubtedly increases competitiveness long term. But if the state goes for Clinton this year, the GOP nominee is the likely cause, she said.

"This wouldn't have been the year Democrats had a shot," Gillespie said. "If Georgia votes Clinton, that's largely because of Trump."

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