Georgia on His Mind

Barack Obama must be pleased as a peach.

Yesterday morning, the presumptive Democratic nominee ditched his pledge to accept a grant (and a spending cap) of $85 million in public money for the general election, freeing up the record-shattering fundraiser to drop a projected $300 million on expanding the electoral map. By afternoon, he'd already cracked open the war chest, investing an estimated $4 million to launch his first ad of the fall face-off (a sticky slice of apple-pie called "Country I Love") in 18 states--including scarlet-red Georgia. Pundits said this was mere gamesmanship, a head fake meant to force John McCain into defending Republican turf. After all, George W. Bush won by 17 points in 2004, and the latest polls put his Arizona successor ahead by at least 10. But the evening brought another morsel of good news for the Land of Lincolner: a poll from Atlanta-based Insider Advantage showing McCain with 44 percent of the Peach State vote--and Obama with 43. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a tie.

Could Obama actually, you know, win Georgia? Believe it or not, it's possible--if not yet likely. Ultimately, his performance depends on the two B's: Bob Barr and black voters. A former four-term Republican congressman from the Atlanta suburbs, Barr's

Here's where black voters come in. Obama has long boasted that he can flip Southern states in the fall by boosting African-American participation--often to the disbelief of experts. "I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I'm the nominee, goes up 30% around the country, minimum," he told New Hampshirites last August. "Mississippi is suddenly a Democratic state. And Georgia may be a Democratic state. Even South Carolina starts being in play." But while Mississippi and South Carolina are still serious stretches, Georgia, thanks to Barr, might now be within his grasp--especially with Obama's predicted cash advantage of $100 million over McCain. In addition to the "Country I Love" ad campaign, Obama now has 15 full-time paid staffers and 265 organizing fellows already stationed in Georgia, where many have been working since before the Democratic primaries ended to harness the excitement that increased black turnout in the 2008 primary by 85 percent over 2004. The plan? Register as many of the state's estimated 500,000 unregistered African-Americans as possible and make sure the 460,000 registered blacks who didn't vote in 2004 actually show up this time. All told, that's nearly one million untapped votes--a huge pool of possible supporters.

To get a sense of how a shift in the demographic composition of the electorate would affect Obama's chances, compare Insider Advantage's latest poll to its previous release. In 2004, 25 percent of the Georgia electorate was black, and 88 percent of Georgia blacks voted for John Kerry. That's Obama's baseline; a black candidate with his resources has the potential to significantly increase both black turnout and his share of the black vote. But in May's Insider Advantage poll--which showed Obama trailing McCain by 10 points overall--blacks only made up 21.9 percent of the pool, and only 79 percent said they supported Obama. Factor in how the poll also wildly underepresented 18-29-year-olds--another key Obama demographic, they made up 19 percent Georgia's 2004 electorate but only 4.9 percent of May's sample group--and that pretty much explains Obama's 10-point deficit. In comparison, June's numbers--29.4 percent black, 20.6 percent under 30 and 83.4 percent black support for Obama--are far more plausible. Far from a fluke, then, Insider Advantage's latest survey--the only one to include Barr and realistically estimate Obama's black backing--is probably the most accurate sounding we've seen.

-- "Senator Obama says that I'm running for Bush's third term," is how McCain puts it. "It seems like Barack Obama is running for Jimmy Carter's second."

Might want to be careful what you wish for, Senator.