CORRECTION: This story was updated at 12:24 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, to correct Sen. Jeff Mullis' endorsement in the Georgia special election for U.S. Senate.
Joe Biden was in Georgia on Tuesday, a relatively surprising visit from a Democratic nominee for president in a state that — a few months ago — was seen as a near lock for Republicans to shore up the electoral votes needed to secure the Peach State.
Georgia hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1992. However, after Gov. Brian Kemp narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, leaders in the Democratic party believe Georgia is becoming a lot more purple than red.
Recent polls have put Biden ahead of Trump in Georgia by less than two points. Trump won Georgia in 2016 by five points.
Biden was in Warm Springs, Georgia, a small town in the southwest part of the state, home of Franklin D. Roosevelt's historic Little White House. In his speech, Biden touched on everything from the struggling economy and the rising coronavirus cases and deaths around the country to racial injustice and the divisiveness that he said has consumed America for years.
"These are all historic, painful crises. The insidious virus. Economic anguish. Systemic discrimination. Any one of them could have rocked a nation," Biden said. "Yet, we've been hit by all three at once. But if we're honest with ourselves, the pain striking at the heart of our country goes back not months, but years. Our politics has for far too long been mean, bitter, and divisive."
However, Biden said he doesn't believe America has gone past the point of no return.
"I know this country. I know our people," he said. "And I know we can unite and heal this nation."
A short drive away, Gov. Kemp spoke at a "MAGA Meet-Up" event in Manchester, Georgia, and showed his own optimism for Trump and other Republicans carrying Georgia again in November.
"I know Joe is in Georgia today," Kemp said. "I'm not really sure why. I could only speculate that he was needing some good barbecue and Southern hospitality. I think you should be applauding yourselves for getting Joe to come out of the basement and experience freedom in America. If he came here looking for Electoral College votes, he's in the wrong place."
Nsé Ufot is the chief executive officer of the New Georgia Project, which aims to increase voter registration, especially among young people and minorities. Ufot told the Associated Press that Biden's strategy would not have been viable eight years ago.
"If this was the Georgia of 2008, 2012, I think there's no way we would have seen a Biden come this late," Ufot said. "It's a loud signal and acknowledgment of Georgia as a battleground state."
In other Georgia races, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the leading Democratic nominee for a Senate seat, said this week he's confident he can win outright and avoid a runoff with either of the Republicans Kelly Loeffler or Doug Collins. In an interview with the Times Free Press last week, Warnock said he'll be the senator for all of Georgia, not some of it.
"I think that the clearest indicator of what a person will do in office is what they were doing before they sought office," Warnock said. "I've spent my life as a pastor and an activist fighting for voting rights, affordable health care and the dignity of work. For me the choice could not be clearer. Loeffler has spent her time in the Senate making money. Collins has spent his time in Congress making deals. I've spent my time working alongside ordinary people trying to make a difference."
Loeffler has the backing of Kemp, President Donald Trump and Sen. Jeff Mullis and nabbed an endorsement from unopposed 14th Congressional District candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene. Meanwhile Collins has support from a number of established Republicans in Georgia including Speaker of the House David Ralston.
One of the reasons the Democrats are feeling optimistic about the chances to flip Georgia is the record voter turnout the state has seen in the first two weeks of early voting.
On Tuesday morning, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced over 3 million people had already voted in the state, which is over 73% of the total votes (4.1 million) cast in the 2016 presidential election. Raffensperger said the 4.1 million could be surpassed during early voting and mail-in ballots alone.
According to an interactive map created by Georgia Public Broadcasting, more than 10% of Georgia's precincts have seen more than 50% of their total registered voters cast a ballot already.
Georgia voters are breaking turnout records every day during the three-week early voting period, especially in metro areas across the state, but the same can be said for voters in Northwest Georgia.
There, Catoosa County has seen the largest turnout so far with 18,627 through Oct. 24. That includes 14,454 in-person votes and 4,173 mail-in ballots.
Catoosa County Elections Director Tonya Moore said those numbers far exceed 2016's numbers. That year, 17,161 people voted early and 691 people voted by mail.
Four precincts in Chattooga County have seen at least 40% turnout. In Walker County, 7,400 people have voted through Oct. 24. That's compared to 13,591 in all three weeks of 2016.
Northwest Georgia is a reliably red corner of the state and is likely to stay that way through 2020. On a statewide level however, Georgia has moved into the national spotlight as a state that could flip come next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.
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