CHICAGO - Delegates ended the Democratic National Convention on Thursday upbeat about their chances of taking Georgia's 13 electoral votes after getting a promise from Vice President Al Gore: The presidential ticket will campaign in the state.
"Georgia is this year, as it was last time, the key state in our strategy for victory," Mr. Gore told the delegation the morning after his big night in the convention spotlight. "Georgia is going to see a good deal of us."
That's important in a state where some Democrats worried the ticket might abandon Georgia, a move that in turn could hurt some local candidates.
Georgia's primary push 1992 helped propel Bill Clinton to the Democratic nomination, and the ticket spent enough time campaigning in the state to call it a second home. Nonetheless, Clinton-Gore won Georgia by only 13,000 of the 2.3 million votes cast.
Until this year, polls showed Mr. Clinton nearly dead in Georgia for 1996. And during a speech to delegates Tuesday, Clinton-Gore Campaign Chairman Peter Knight didn't make Georgians any firm promises about putting resources into the state.
Political observers, including Gov. Zell Miller, raised the possibility the president could mathematically devise a strategy to win re-election without Georgia.
That would leave congressional, legislative and local Democratic candidates to fend for themselves against a GOP that has committed to win the state.
"(Republicans) have got to have Georgia," said John Barrow, a member of the Athens-Clarke County Commission attending the national convention. "We don't have to have Georgia."
But Mr. Barrow expects his area to support Mr. Clinton and added, "I don't think they're writing off Georgia at all."
Neither does Mr. Miller, who told reporters, "Georgia is in play."
State Sen. Charles Walker, an Augusta delegate, predicts a narrow win by Mr. Clinton this fall because of his policies promoting economic growth and his championing of education, the environment, and keeping cigarettes out of the hands of minors.
"The (Republican) Contract With America scared the daylights out of most Georgians and Newt Gingrich and his group have gone too far to the right," Mr. Walker said. "People are moving closer to the center."
However, Mr. Clinton's recent call to limit tobacco advertising and eliminate sales to minors may hurt him in south Georgia and other rural areas of the state.
"The rural areas - that is where Clinton-Gore is weakest," acknowledged delegate E. Stephanie Stuckey, an Eastman native who travels small-town Georgia as an 8th Congressional District campaign field director.
"It's just a matter of getting the word out. I think people have a notion of what the national Democratic Party was in the mid-1980s, and they're still stuck on that," she said. "They're persuadable."
In contrast, Augusta delegate Lola Scott Russell said black voters won't need much persuading to get to the polls in support of Mr. Clinton this November.
"People are excited about the (Clinton-Gore) candidacy in Georgia," Ms. Russell said. "It's obvious the Republican agenda doesn't speak to us."