Can Obama take Georgia in 2012?

Will Georgia be up for grabs in the 2012 presidential election?

Speculation intensified after President Barack Obama got a bounce in the polls following the death of Osama bin Laden.

But let's not get carried away.

Sure, in the not-too-farfetched event that Obama carries 40 states, Georgia might be one of them.

Otherwise, don't bet on the Peach State turning blue.

Not that you can't make a case for it.

Begin by noting that Obama took 47 percent of the vote here in 2008 against Republican John McCain. That was the best showing by a Democratic White House hopeful in the state since 1980.

Just over 3 more percentage points - less if there's a third-party candidate - would put Obama over the top next year.

Next, cite recent polls showing his approval ratings here have climbed to so-so - up from awful last year.

Then observe that almost none of the budding GOP wannabes poll very strongly against him in Georgia.

The main exception: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won Georgia's GOP primary in 2008. But Huckabee may end up not running.

Lastly, cite 2010 Census data.

Minority group members - who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic - now make up nearly 40 percent of our population.

And the even bigger percentages that they represent among young people suggest that their slice of the population pie will grow.

"Obama looks like a pretty viable contender in the state," said a recent analysis by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm.

But that hypothesis at least starts to wilt under closer scrutiny.

Many view Obama's 2008 showing in Georgia as a solid platform to build on. But it's just as easy to see 2008 as a high-water mark for him and fellow Democrats.

He was shiny and new. Voters were weary of George W. Bush, war, recession and Republicans; they often got lumped together.

Obama rallied many new voters - mostly minorities and young people - to the polls. And McCain was never all that popular in Georgia.

But by 2010, the Democrats' allure had worn off.

No statewide Democratic candidate won as much as 44 percent of the vote; the average was barely 41 percent.

Yes, it makes sense to suppose 2010 was a high water mark for Republicans, just as 2008 was one for the Democrats.

But it makes just as much to suppose the GOP will ebb no lower than mid-tide in 2012. Unless it does, it would seem to be a reach for Obama to top 45 percent in Georgia.

But what should we make of the polls?

Not much just now; at this point in the 2008 election cycle, they showed Obama far behind in the race for his party's nomination.

And of the demographics?

Once again, not much just now; despite the ongoing shift, Georgia's electorate still will be lopsidedly white next year.

Historically, Democrats have needed close to 30 percent of the white vote to win; they've usually drawn around 23 percent - or less.

Lastly, lack of a corps of statewide officeholders could make it harder for the Obama campaign to get traction here. Aside from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the president has no Georgia heavyweights in his corner.

GOP political consultant Dan McLagan may have put it best.

"The Democrats have lost the Senate, the House and now every statewide elected office in Georgia," McLagan said. "Who's going to greet Air Force One?"

A good question.

 

Senior reporter Larry Peterson covers politics for the Savannah Morning News. He can be reached at 912-652-0367 or at larry.peterson@savannahnow.com.

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