Joe Biden on Friday pulled ahead of President Donald Trump in Georgia, setting the stage for him to become the first Democrat to win Georgia since 1992.
Biden leads by only 1,096 votes out of 4.9 million total votes tallied, with at least 8,000 votes left to count. The margin is so narrow that many news organizations, including BuzzFeed News, are not projecting a winner. A recount could potentially flip the state back to Trump.
Still, the fact that Biden pulled ahead in a Republican stronghold in the deep South is a major achievement. And a win in Georgia would bring Biden’s Electoral College tally to 269 — just one vote shy of the 270 needed to win the presidency. In that case, any one of the three swing states still in play — Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania — would catapult Biden into the White House.
In Georgia and throughout the South and Southwest, Democrats have been working for years to translate the states’ diversifying electorates into a new path to 270 votes in the Electoral College.
Early results had Trump far ahead, as votes from rural Georgia poured in. But Biden pulled ahead with strong support in absentee ballots from cities like Atlanta and Savannah and their suburbs.
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Trump won the state by 5 percentage points in 2016, down from Republican Mitt Romney’s 8-point lead in 2012. Democrats were hoping this would finally be the year they closed that gap. In suburban counties around Atlanta, Republicans once generated huge vote totals, but those regions have become majority nonwhite in recent years and Biden won big there this election.
Biden’s breakthrough also comes despite what voting rights advocates saw as a concerted effort by state Republicans to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning constituents.
“Every year after the Republicans took over the legislature in 2004, there was a new or multiple new pieces of legislation to make it more difficult to vote,” Vincent Fort, a former Democratic state senator who represented parts of Atlanta, told BuzzFeed News. “The bottom line is Republicans are losing the demographic game. They know that the only way they can win, because they’re not going to try to diversify their party, is to suppress votes.”
But Democrats have also been working to increase their share of the electorate. After Stacey Abrams narrowly lost her 2018 bid to become the governor of Georgia, she poured her energy into registering people to vote. She has said that more than 800,000 new voters have been registered in the state since 2018.
Georgia’s voter rolls looked a lot different heading into the 2020 election than they did in 2016. The percentage of registered voters who are white fell from 62% to 59% in the last four years, and nearly a third of voters of the state’s voters are now under 35 years old.