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In one affluent Atlanta suburb, Biden and Trump work to win over wary Georgia voters

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are meeting ahead of their first general election debate Arrived on Thursday Georgiathe battleground that produced the smallest margin of any state in 2020 and became the epicenter of Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s election.

Now, in their rematch, Georgia will test which man can best put together a winning coalition despite their respective weaknesses. They all need to convince grumpy voters in places like Fayette County, a suburb south of Atlanta, that they are less scary than the alternative.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the third time in a row, has been convicted of misdemeanor crimes and awaits sentencing and three more criminal trials, including in Atlanta. That legal threat could worsen his battles with moderate Republicans and independents, some of whom deserted him as he helped dismantle the coup. constitutional right to abortion and refused to accept defeat in 2020.

Biden, the incumbent Democratic president, has presided over an inflationary economy, faced a war in the Middle East that divided Democrats, and failed to solve immigration problems along the southern U.S. border. He faces possible defections from non-white and younger voters.

Fayette, one of Georgia’s wealthiest counties, has long housed retirees and Delta Air Lines workers looking for homes near the Atlanta airport. Now it is also a bastion of Georgia subsidized by the statefilm industry. At the Trillith development, a fast-growing luxury city and film studio, employees can be overheard talking about the latest Captain America movie being filmed there.

Like other Atlanta suburbs, the county of 120,000 residents is leaning left. Democrats have not yet unseated Fayette’s Republican majority, but they came close in December 2022, when Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock won 49.5% of Fayette’s votes in the 2022 election. defeating Republican Herschel Walker.

“We believe the path to the presidency this year runs straight through Fayette County,” said Joe Clark, chairman of the Fayette County Democratic Party and member of the Fayetteville City Council.

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The Trump campaign opened its first campaign office in Georgia in Fayetteville on June 13.

“They want to try to overthrow our province,” he warned Brian Jacka former Trump aide who recently emerged victorious GOP nomination for a Republican-leaning congressional seat.

Statewide, Republicans say Georgia is still leaning toward them. Yes, Democrats won four times statewide in Georgia, starting with Biden in 2020, and continued as Jon Ossoff and Warnock rose to the top. double wins in a 2021 runoff that secured Democratic control of the U.S. Senate, and culminated in Warnock’s reelection in 2022. But the Republican Party Gov. Brian Kemp won a second term as Democrat governor in 2022 Stacy Abrams by a comfortable marginsweeping away polling stations along the way.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ top strategist, said Democrats were slow to move in Georgia in 2020. Both parties have spent heavily this year.

“This is the first time since the 1990s that Georgia has been a top presidential election battleground on both sides of the aisle, from the beginning of both campaigns,” Groh-Wargo said.

Both parties have work to do. Many voters, Democrats and Republicans, say they are discouraged by the Trump-Biden rematch. Some say they are not sure they will vote at all.

Robert Kennedy Jr.’s independent bid is another wildcard. Kennedy is not certified for the vote, but he could make Georgia even harder to predict.

Some previously solid Republicans have moved to split their ticket. Trump and Walker showed weakness in metro Atlanta, while Kemp remained strong.

Quentin Fulksa southwestern Georgia resident who is Biden’s top deputy campaign manager and managed Warnock’s 2022 campaign, estimates that Warnock won 9% of Republican voters.

“The quality of the candidates matters,” said Republican strategist Brian Robinson. Trump has sparked “a real realignment” that drew working-class voters without college degrees to the Republicans, Robinson said, but has pushed away voters with college degrees.

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Some of those voters “still want to vote for Republicans or are willing to do so,” but only under the right circumstances. During Georgia’s Republican presidential primaries in March, about 78,000 voters — most of them in metro Atlanta — voted for Nikki Haley over Trump, even after Haley her campaign suspended. Haley’s total was more than six times Biden’s margin of victory in Georgia in 2020.

Fayette ranks seventh among Georgia’s 159 counties in voters who supported Kemp but not Walker. Haley won 13.2% statewide, but nearly 19% in Fayette County.

Rhonda Quillian, who was shopping at a farmers market in Peachtree City, supported Haley. She says neither Biden nor Trump feel like an option for her. She is considering not voting at all.

Quillian said she liked Trump’s policies after voting for him in 2016, but was angry with him, especially after the January 6, 2021 election. Insurrection at the Capitol.

“If he wasn’t so selfish, I would vote for him in a heartbeat because of the policy,” Quillian said. “But he’s a little scary when he starts talking and he’s trying to overturn the election and be anti-Constitution and, you know, ‘I am the law.’ I’m sorry, no, this is a democratic republic.”

For Biden, the challenge is to replicate the coalition that produced his razor-thin margin. Responding to warnings from Georgia Democrats that he must engage with black votersThe president has visited regularly, and Vice President Kamala Harris has made five trips to Georgia this year.

“We need to talk to Black voters in both urban and rural Georgia,” Fulks said. “That’s where I start.”

Trump has boasted that he will make popular breakthroughs Black voters. Robinson acknowledged that it’s unlikely Trump would get even a fifth of black voters, but said that wouldn’t necessarily be necessary: ​​Black voters typically account for about 30% of ballots in Georgia. If some black voters stay home, or Biden’s share falls even slightly, Trump could benefit.

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Deidra Ellington, a consultant who lives in Fayetteville, calls the choice between Biden and Trump “slim choices.” Ellington, who is black, says she no longer feels loyalty to either party.

“It’s almost to the point where you can’t even live paycheck to paycheck anymore,” Ellington said. “You get the first salary, and then it’s a matter of borrowing for the next salary in between.”

In a April poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, more Democrats said Biden had hurt the cost of living and immigration than helped. The Biden campaign has tried to do that soothes that pain.

“The president understands very well what Americans are going through, and the fact that there is still more work to do,” Fulks said.

The Republicans, meanwhile, want to turn the elections into a referendum on Biden’s handling of the economy.

“My pitch is: Are you happy with $4 a gallon of gas and $6 for a jar of mayonnaise? If not, it wasn’t when Trump was in power,” said Suzanne Brown, a Peachtree City Council member who canvassed for Republicans this spring.

The Democrats say yes Keep Trump out of the organization, with the aim of convincing fringe Democrats and convincing independent and moderate Republicans to support Biden. The campaign has a dozen offices and 75 employees statewide, including some in Fayetteville.

“I think Trump underestimates the power of organizing,” Fulks said.

That’s not the case, says Henry Scavone, spokesman for the Republican National Committee. He says the Trump campaign has gone from zero offices to a dozen since June 13.

Republicans, aware that voters are in a sour mood, are optimistic but not cocky about places like Fayette County.

“If the election were held today, Donald Trump would almost certainly win here,” Robinson said. “But the elections are not taking place today.”

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Barrow reported from Atlanta.

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