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Biden’s Georgia campaign visit signals state’s place on the margin-of-error map

By Tom Baxter

After Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, conventional wisdom warmed to the idea that if she had just made one more campaign stop in Wisconsin instead of traveling to Florida and other long-shot states, things might have turned out differently.

That idea has since been debunked as an over-simplified explanation for what happened in 2016, but it has had an influence in this year’s campaign. If Joe Biden loses this election, and he could, there’s bound to be second guessing about his Tuesday visit to Georgia.

The Biden campaign has until now been extremely cautious about over-extending itself. What may have tipped the balance in favor of investing time in Georgia may be the extraordinary bang for the buck which it offers this year. Not only is the presidential race here too close for either party to ignore, but Georgia has two U.S. Senate races and the chance for Democrats to gain another U.S. House seat.

Many of those Biden was appealing to in his stops in Warm Springs and Atlanta had already cast their ballots by the time he got here. As of noon Monday, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office reported that more than 2.8 million Georgians had cast ballots, split roughly 2-1 between early voters and absentees. That’s 106.6 percent of the total vote in 2016. The daily early voter totals, and particular the number of younger voters, are expected to go up in the final week of early voting.

It’s hard to say what that means. I vividly remember a huge early voting line at a black, Democratic precinct in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2000. Some of those in that line may have been among the 21,000 voters who were disqualified for overvoting, mostly because of a misleading sample ballot. But that’s the controversy of two decades ago. The point is that long lines can be deceiving.

With that as a caution, we’ve never seen anything like this year’s early turnout and surge in new voters. The best pollsters are very skilled in figuring out the contours of the voting universe so that the polling sample has exactly the right partisan and demographic mix. New voters make this even more challenging, and I’m not sure we’ll really have a handle on what this universe looks like until the votes are counted.

By no means all of those who have voted early are Democrats, and not all of those who stand in line on Election Day will be Republicans. But the Republicans have a lot more staked on that one day, in which they hope to offset the Democratic advantage in early votes with a huge red wave.

It’s a little surprising, given what might affect voting on Election Day, that the weather forecasts haven’t received more attention. A spot check of the 10-day forecasts for cities in battleground states indicates that next Tuesday should be generally sunny and only a little cooler than this week, ideal for a big turnout. But there’s at least one hurricane set to run its course between now and next week.

The concept of red states and blue states has dominated the political conversation for more than a decade — Barack Obama’s 2004 debut on the national stage was a convention speech in which he challenged the idea. What this year’s election has shown is that red and blue voters don’t live that far from each other, for all the stark differences in the way they view the world.

The margin-of error-map — those states that are too close to call this year — has expanded to include North Carolina, Iowa, Arizona, and even, as long predicted, Texas. President Trump’s campaign stop in Macon two weeks ago and Biden’s visit Tuesday are both acknowledgements that the electoral map can’t be so easily calculated this year.

If Biden wins the presidency — even if he doesn’t, in fact — we may very well see him back in the state after Nov. 3, campaigning for the Democrat in either one or two U.S. Senate runoffs. A runoff in the jungle primary seems inevitable, with Democrat Raphael Warnock leading the field. The big news in that race since Warnock’s surge has been Doug Collins’ clawback to take a slight advantage over U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

It should be a national Republican priority to keep U.S. Sen. David Perdue from falling into a runoff as well, but in the present state of chaos the GOP may not have focused on that yet.

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Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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