Georgia: Not a battleground, but it still matters

BY BILL BARROW ASSOCIATED PRESS ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia started the 2012 election season on the list of potential presidential battlegrounds. It's finishing as an afterthought as President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spend the closing days in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado and a handful of other states that will settle the election. Polling suggests Romney will carry Georgia comfortably on Nov. 6, likely by a wider margin than John McCain's five-point win four years ago but considerably closer than the blowout totals the Republican nominee will post in other Deep South states.
But Georgians have found other ways to matter, with their checkbooks and by volunteering to help the campaigns in other states that will go down to the wire. Players for both campaigns say they are pleased with Georgia's place on the electoral map. "There is a lot more enthusiasm for Governor Romney than there was for Senator McCain," said Romney's Georgia Finance Chairman Eric Tanenblatt, who also serves on Romney's national fundraising team. "We will deliver our electoral votes for the governor, and we're helping him win elsewhere, too." State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon refused to dismiss the possibility of an upset, though he conceded it would come only with "everything lining up" for an overwhelming Democratic turnout. Democrats haven't won the state in a presidential election since 1992, when then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton topped President George H.W. Bush and Texas billionaire Ross Perot. And the party's fortunes have taken a dive since Obama's inauguration. Republicans swept statewide offices in 2010 and are on the cusp of supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly. That landscape aside, Romney and Obama have each tapped Georgia for a load of campaign cash. According to the latest Federal Elections Commission tallies, Romney has raised at least $8.8 million for his principal campaign account. The president has collected at least $7.1 million. For those accounts, contributors are capped at $5,000 limits: $2,500 each for the primary and general election. Tanenblatt said the Republican total grows to more than $16.5 million, including contributions over the individual minimum that go to the Romney Victory Fund shared by the Romney campaign, the Republican National Committee and other party accounts. Berlon said he did not have up-to-date totals for the Obama-Democratic joint effort. Romney's individual campaign total almost doubles McCain's 2008 haul, though McCain was limited by accepting public financing for the general election. Neither Romney nor Obama opted into the public financing system. Obama raised $8.7 million in 2008, though that was fueled in part by his protracted primary fight against Hillary Clinton. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he is particularly pleased with fundraising for the president in the Atlanta metropolitan area. "Georgia and certainly Atlanta have stepped up every time the president needs us," he said. Reed is one of Obama's top surrogates, making multiple cable television appearances and helping raise money. He said he will spend Election Day in Washington, D.C., doing several interviews, then fly to Chicago for the president's election night party. Hundreds of rank-and-file activists from both sides, meanwhile, have been or will be deployed to Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio. Obama won all four in 2008. Romney likely needs them all to reach the required 270 electoral votes. For Obama, Ohio is the most important for a majority. Each side also has a "call-from-home" program that allows volunteers who don't want to travel to call targeted voters in swing states. Turnout efforts within the state center involve efforts from the two state parties' and their candidates' campaigns for the General Assembly. Through Wednesday, more than 688,000 Georgians had cast ballots early, either in person or by returning absentee ballots. That exceeds 10 percent of registered voters. More than 97,000 requested absentee ballots have yet to be returned. Early voting runs through Nov. 2. © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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