Anthony Thornton has never volunteered to work during a presidential election — until now.
Thornton, a 69-year-old Democrat, is motivated by the hope of victory. The retired salesman believes Georgia has become a battleground state and he desperately wants to help Georgia turn blue for the first time in 20 years.
So he plans to drive senior citizens to the polls, something he hasn’t done in previous presidential elections.
“It’s important to make sure people have transportation to the polls and it’s important to get out the vote,” Thornton told AMI. “I also want to encourage early voting, so I will pick up and drop off as many people as I can and I’ll wait for them to vote. I’m working through my church, which should keep me busy. I believe this election is in the bag [for Clinton] if we come out to vote.”
Thornton has lived in Georgia since 1972. It has been a Republican stronghold since the Reagan era. But today, the race is tightening between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, due in part to the state's shifting racial demographics.
About 44 percent of Georgia's population are members of minority groups, according to the Center for American Progress. That's up from 37 percent just a decade ago. During that period, minorities have accounted for 81 percent of the state's population growth.
African-Americans account for the largest share of that growth, followed by Hispanics, whose numbers nearly doubled during that period to more than 850,000, making it the 10th-largest state by Hispanic population.
This demographic shift is apparent in the state's largest city. Atlanta is 54 percent black – the vast majority of whom are Democrats – 38 percent white and 11 percent Hispanic. Political pollsters, Democratic officials and some residents say racial politics in Georgia could significantly impact the presidential race.
“Demographics have changed dramatically in Atlanta and particularly in Marietta [Cobb County] where I live,” said Lyn May, who was a speechwriter and press secretary for former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.
“Marietta is a microcosm of the nation,” May said. “Marietta was once overwhelmingly white, but now more minorities are living here and there is a sizable Hispanic population.”
In Cobb County, African-American homeownership rose while white homeownership fell between 2000-2010, according to census data, marking the greatest growth in homeownership by any particular race.
Atlanta, always a magnet for African Americans, is one of the many
Southern cities experiencing a “re-migration” of black families looking for
more land and lower costs of living. Hispanics are lured to the city and its surrounding
counties by the demand for workers, especially in manufacturing, construction
and agriculture. The population of Hispanic millennials in Atlanta is expected
to increase by 24 percent between 2013 and 2018.
Bill Murrain, a former civil rights lawyer based in Atlanta, who supports Clinton, said minority voters can be game-changers in the current election and future elections.
“In this, the reddest of states, Trump’s chicanery and buffoonery are operating to give the Democrats of the state of Georgia a realistic opportunity at the ballot,” Murrain said in an interview.
“Many of my friends and neighbors are excited by the opportunity and are now donating to the Georgia state party, volunteering and doing our share to register new voters as well as making every effort to get as many voters as possible to the polls early.”
Many Georgia residents believe if Georgia turns blue, it could also impact other Southern states.
Meanwhile, Republican nominee Donald Trump has been courting African Americans over the past few weeks. Trump and Clinton are locked in a tight race in Georgia, according to a Monmouth University poll that shows Trump with 45 percent to Clinton’s 42 percent.
"In recent days, across this country, I've asked the African-American community to honor me with their vote," Trump said before a predominantly white audience in Dimondale, Michigan last month. "I fully recognize that outreach to the African-American community is an area where the Republican Party must do better."
Directly addressing African-Americans, Trump continued: “What do you have to lose? What do you have to lose? You're living in poverty, your schools are no good. You have no jobs — 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
Last week, Trump campaigned with boxing promoter Don King, who used the N-word while introducing Trump from a church pulpit during a meeting of black pastors in Cleveland, Ohio. King’s remark was met with swift condemnation from many African American leaders.
Meanwhile, an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Trump with just 2 percent of support among African Americans, a key voting bloc.
But Republicans in Georgia remain optimistic.
“This is a critical year for the party as we work to elect conservative candidates and advance the Republican message of limited government, personal responsibility, economic freedom and fiscal accountability,” Trey Kelly, chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party, wrote on the party’s website.
“Our efforts in Fulton are essential to keeping Georgia red and achieving victory in statewide elections and our local communities.”
In the meantime, Murrain predicts Trump’s efforts to court African Americans and Hispanics in Georgia will backfire, which will help turn the state blue.
“We watched as he disparaged the Muslim, immigrant and Mexican communities,” Murrain said. “So now he shouts at us from the confines of his segregated communities.”