ATLANTA --- How Georgia Democrats fare in next month's election could depend on whether black voters show up at the polls.
Observers say turnout will be especially key among African-Americans, who turned out in record numbers two years ago across the country to elect President Obama. Obama's absence on the ballot, combined with an overall lack of interest in the midterm vote, will likely mean waning black support this year for Democratic candidates.
"The issue is not whether the African-American vote is some kind of record," said David Bositis of the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "What you're really talking about is black voters turning out at a level comparable to whites."
The state is generally conservative and easily went for John McCain in 2008.
In Georgia, the top of the Democratic ticket is in position to get the attention of black voters.
Senate candidate Mike Thurmond -- the state's labor commissioner and the only African-American not previously appointed who has won election statewide in Georgia -- is also expected to appeal to blacks in November. He is running against Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
"My guess is the reason Mike Thurmond did not seek re-election and instead is matched up against the most popular politician in the state is there is a hope on the part of Democrats that by having him on the top of the ticket it might energize black voters," said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. "It doesn't look like it's having that kind of impact."
Bositis said that Thurmond's odds for victory are slim but that his statewide appeal could be an asset to gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes and other Democrats.
"If he can bring out a small percentage more black voters, there will potentially be some close races where that might make a difference," he said.
Barnes, like many Democrats across the country, has distanced himself from Obama during his campaign. But he has attempted to appeal to blacks in other ways, picking up early endorsements from former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, civil rights icon Andrew Young, members of the black clergy and current Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, all of whom carry weight in the black community.
In 2008, three out of four registered black voters in Georgia cast ballots, and black turnout was a record 30 percent of overall turnout in Georgia. Historically, Georgia's black voters have comprised between 23 percent and 25 percent.
African-Americans are among the most loyal Democrats. With Republicans motivated this election cycle, the black vote could be crucial for Democrats.