Choice of Atlanta is testament to power of the black vote as Democrats hope to turn solidly Republican state blue in 2020
At an open plan loft space in central Atlanta the sense of excitement among assembled Democrat voters was palpable, despite the grey sky outside.
As the city prepared to hold the fourth debate in the Democratic presidential primary, Stacey Abrams the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who last year came within 50,000 votes of becoming the first female African American governor in the US, delivered a brief address: We know that when we can fight together, when we can stand together, when we can vote together, our nation changes, she said as the diverse crowd applauded.
Tonights debate, which will see a smaller field of the 10 leading Democratic 2020 presidential candidates spar for two hours, is the first of this season to be held in Americas deep south. It occurs in a city with a majority African American population and in a rapidly diversifying state that the Democratic party hopes will break with decades of precedent and swing blue in 2020, following Abrams historic run for the governorship that attracted the highest number of Democratic voters in Georgia history.
The state has not held a Democratic primary debate since 1992, an indication of how solidly Republican it has been for a generation. But the partys choice of Atlanta, say some observers, is a testament to the power that black voters in this region will hold in this upcoming primary season and potentially in the general election.
This is a way of the party tipping its hat to recognition that black voters play an outsize role in primary selection, particularly in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, said Ted Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Centre for Justice who specializes in race and electoral politics.
These states also have black mayors in places like Birmingham, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi, so even though they are Red states, their significant black population is important for the primary and signals the role of local black governance in organizing voter participation and turnout levels.
While many pollsters have focused on the tight races shaping up in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, which are overwhelmingly white, in South Carolina, which votes days after these two states in mid-February, 61% of Democratic primary voters in 2016 were African American.
It is here, with overwhelming support from black voters, that frontrunner and former vice-president Joe Biden is currently polling at massive margins ahead of his rivals.
While Johnson cautions that African American voters should not be seen as a monolithic bloc, particularly during primary season, he attributes Bidens widespread support in the community to pragmatism and the desire to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.
Going into this, I was hoping that we would see the black vote split across maybe three or four candidates in order to break the myth that black voters all vote the same, think the same, have the same policy preferences. But because Trump is such a polarizing figure and so unpopular among black voters, the thing thats mobilizing most black voters is beating Trump. And the idea is that Joe Biden is in the best position to do so.