ATLANTA - To gain a majority in the U.S. Senate this fall, Republicans will need to defeat a handful of Democratic candidates in several close races. One such race is in the U.S. state of Georgia, where Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, and David Purdue, the son of former Governor Sonny Purdue, are battling for each vote. Georgia’s growing minority voters could play a key role in the election, or a subsequent run-off if no clear winner is decided in November.
Even though it is the home state of the 39th President of the United States, Democrat Jimmy Carter, Georgia has favored conservative Republican candidates in the years since Carter was President in the 1970s.
But this year, things might be different.
Jobs and the economy are voters' main concerns. The state continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. It is a constant theme in the campaign for Governor, local congressional races and a U.S. Senate seat being contested this year.
That race, between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Purdue, is very close, and, as the November mid-term elections draw near, every vote counts.
Which is why Emory University Professor Joe Crespino said turnout, particularly for Democrats, was key.
“And the issue will be whether they can mobilize those voters and whether there will be enough of those voters in 2014 to make inroads in this reliably red [Republican] state,” he said.
Because of Georgia’s growing immigrant population, Crespino said Democrats may have an edge.
“The demographics are changing. The African-American vote and the Latino vote is growing disproportionately Democratic,” he said.
That’s thanks in part to recent anti immigrant legislation passed in Georgia in 2012, and comments made by conservative congressional candidates like Jody Hice. In his 2012 book called It’s Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America, Hice referred to the Islamic faith as a “geo-political structure” that did not deserve constitutional protection.
“We need to defend ourselves against radical jihadists. That is what it is, and certainly we’re watching that playing out in the world right now,” she said.
“I think the Islamophobia atmosphere is really increasing, unfortunately,” said Yusof Burke, with the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR. Burke said because of comments from candidates like Jody Hice, many of Georgia’s 200,000 Muslim-American voters were turning away from Republicans.
“I think the Muslim community right now is under a lot of pressure. People don’t want to reach out to them, and so they are looking for those who are. I just think the Republican Party doesn’t feel they need to at this point,” said Burke.
Michael McNeely said the Georgia Republican Party did respect Muslim American voters, and the real issues in the state of Georgia, such as high unemployment, were areas all voters, regardless of religious affiliation, can come together on.
“Republicans as a whole, including Jody Hice, respect the differences amongst people. The fact that we are all Americans, I think, is the most important aspect of that, and there are going to be differences,” he said.
Whether or not those differences will attract enough voters in Georgia’s mid-term elections could be the key in deciding which party comes out ahead at the ballot box in November.