As Populations Shift, Democrats Hope To Paint The Sun Belt Blue Democrats see an opportunity in the South's changing demographics — particularly in states with growing Hispanic communities, lots of unregistered black voters and migration from other states.
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As Populations Shift, Democrats Hope To Paint The Sun Belt Blue

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As Populations Shift, Democrats Hope To Paint The Sun Belt Blue

As Populations Shift, Democrats Hope To Paint The Sun Belt Blue

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/353534726/353538217" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Demographic shifts are changing the way politics are waged in the South. And Democrats see opportunity with fast-growing minority populations there. Consider this radio ad from the Democratic National Committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Spanish spoken).

BLOCK: Republicans think we're going to stay home, the ad says, it's time to rise up. That ad is getting play in North Carolina and Georgia where there are competitive U.S. Senate races. NPR's Debbie Elliott has this story from Georgia on a push to register new voters in hopes of turning a red state blue.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Becks Nix spends most weekends at festivals, like this one at Atlanta's Candler Park, working a voter registration booth for the gay rights group Georgia Equality.

BECKS NIX: Are y'all registered Georgia voters?

ANASTASIA FORT: I need to actually check because we just moved.

ELLIOTT: Nix tells Anastasia Fort how to make sure she's on the voter rolls.

NIX: Because things are tight, we feel like it's even more important that people are not only registered but are actively engaged in what's going on.

ELLIOTT: Fort admits she's not so engaged. Her friend Steve Stuglin is shocked.

STEVE STUGLIN: You're not following?

FORT: I mean...

STUGLIN: Michelle Nunn's got a chance.

FORT: I know she has a chance.

ELLIOTT: Michelle Nunn is the Democrat in a tight race with Republican David Perdue for an open U.S. Senate seat. Stuglin moved here from Detroit six years ago bringing his Democratic politics with him. He says Democrats could make gains in Georgia if their voters would just turn out.

STUGLIN: They think it's a lost cause. It's never going to happen. It's a red state, just deal with it.

ELLIOTT: The Democratic operatives say Georgia's days as a reliably red state are nearing an end, in part driven by demographics. In 2000, 75 percent of Georgia's electorate was white. Now, it's just more than 60 percent white.

STACEY ABRAMS: While demography can be destiny, destiny needs help.

ELLIOTT: Democrat Stacey Abrams is the House minority leader the Georgia Assembly and founder of the New Georgia Project, an aggressive campaign to register minority voters.

ABRAMS: There are 800,000 unregistered African-American, Latino and Asian voters in the state of Georgia.

ELLIOTT: Asian-Americans are the fastest growing minority in the South with Latinos close behind. Both groups have settled in Atlanta's bustling suburbs. The New Georgia Project has been canvassing door-to-door and conducting drives to sign up voters. Abrams says they've registered 87,000. Georgia doesn't register by party. But the group has targeted populations that tend to vote Democratic. The question is will they?

Along with the Senate race, Georgia also has a tightly-fought governor's contest. Democrat Jason Carter, President Jimmy Carter's grandson, is challenging the Republican incumbent Nathan Deal. Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie says Republicans still have the edge in Georgia. She doesn't expect this new Democratic voter push to bear fruit this cycle even though the registration numbers are impressive.

ANDRA GILLESPIE: The more important number for me is not whether or not you register 87,000 people to vote, it's whether or not you can get those in 87,000 people to the polls.

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ELLIOTT: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter spent last Sunday urging voter turnout in African-American churches around Atlanta. Carter says what's happening here can alter the political landscape.

JASON CARTER: Georgia is changing dramatically. There's no doubt that Georgia is next in line as a national battleground state.

ELLIOTT: Republicans are taking note of the change. Governor Nathan Deal also campaigned at an African-American church in Macon on Sunday and appeared at a school last week with the rapper Ludicrous. Deal spokesman Brian Robinson says Republicans have to expand their electorate.

BRIAN ROBINSON: And that is our battle - changing the way people identify themselves by party over the next 20 to 30 years.

ELLIOTT: On the frontline of that battle is Leo Smith, Minority Engagement Director for the state GOP. For the past year, he's been touting Republican values.

LEO SMITH: These are ideas of liberty and freedom that grandmama and 'em used to talk about. You know, God bless the child that's got his own. Keep the man out of your house. Man don't work, man don't eat. All those were sort of black value systems that I grew up with that sound really Republican. (Laughter).

ELLIOTT: Smith acknowledges his work is cut out as he sits in the state office surrounded with portraits of the top Republican officeholders in Georgia - all white men. Debbie Elliott, NPR news.

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