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Can Georgia swing? 

Everybody says Dubya will win Georgia. What if everybody was wrong?

To open his set at the Vote for Change concert Sept. 30, Bruce Springsteen stood alone under a single spotlight, with just his 12-string guitar. The E Street Band was silent, and Springsteen played his own version of "The Star Spangled Banner," creepy and majestic at the same time.

It was the best -- but far from the only -- political statement of the night. Bright Eyes lead singer Conor Oberst remarked on the necessity of removing "that madman" from the White House. Michael Stipe pretty much let R.E.M.'s music do the talking, squarely hitting the mark with "Around the Sun," the band's newest album's last track, which includes the lyric, "I wish the followers would lead with a voice so strong it could knock me to my knees."

Presented by the left-leaning nonprofit groups Americans Coming Together and MoveOn Political Action Committee, the tour took Springsteen, R.E.M., and Bright Eyes to Cleveland, Detroit, St. Paul, Orlando, and Washington, D.C.

The only thing that sucks about the Vote for Change Tour is that it ain't coming anywhere near Georgia.

MoveOn's explanation is that the tour will "focus on states that are expected to have the closest race in the presidential election this fall." Groups like ACT and MoveOn, not to mention both presidential campaigns, are focusing their efforts on supposed swing states -- to the virtual exclusion of Georgia.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock says, "My guess would be that they looked at both the [Republican] governorship and our Senate seats here, and maybe that convinced them Georgia was not as hospitable to Democrats."

When you look at some of the numbers, it's understandable why politicos would assume Kerry can't win here -- particularly the numbers that show how many more Georgia votes Bush won than Gore did in 2000: 300,000-plus.

"I think the campaigns go where they need to be," says Caroline Adelman, communications director of the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Georgia, on why Kerry isn't stumping here. "But just because we don't have a lot of visits from the candidates doesn't mean we don't have something going here."

In fact, a look at other sets of numbers, such as a recalculation of one GOP poll and the ZIP codes and sheer volume of newly registered voters in Georgia, shows something might be going on, indeed.

Since early June, Bush has steadily maintained popularity in Georgia, according to nonpartisan pollster Rasmussen Reports. Rasmussen Reports has Bush with a steady, 11-point lead over four months.

According to GOP pollster Strategic Vision, Bush has grown astoundingly more popular, surging from an 11-point to a 24-point lead over the past two-and-a-half months.

The most recent Rasmussen Reports poll, conducted in late September, has Bush leading Kerry in Georgia, 53-42. A Strategic Vision poll, also from late September, has Bush leading Kerry by a whopping 58-34.

Thus, early summer might have been the perfect time for Kerry to stop by and introduce himself to Georgians -- or perhaps even a visit by John Edwards, whose down-home country demeanor and blue-collar background would have better appealed to folks from White County to Waycross, would have helped.

That doesn't necessarily mean it's totally over for Kerry (the polling process of Strategic Vision could be seriously flawed, as you're about to see). But it does mean that the Kerry team might have missed a big opportunity to turn the tide in Georgia, Bullock says.

Now, about that flawed poll. In early August, a Strategic Vision survey jibed with the most recent Rasmussen one, finding that 52 percent of registered voters in Georgia would vote for Bush and 43 percent for Kerry.

But Strategic Vision's methodology was and remains questionable, according to political experts.

The poll results were calculated on the assumption that just 18 percent of statewide votes would be cast by African-Americans. Yet African-American turnout for the last three statewide general elections was 23 percent, according to Bullock and the Georgia secretary of state's office. Historically, most African-Americans vote Democrat.

Recalculate the August Strategic Vision poll using the more accurate percentage of African-American voters, and Bush would have led Kerry by only 4 percentage points, according to the Democratic Party of Georgia. And Bush's 4-percentage-point lead is just barely outside the poll's 3 percent margin of error.

Of course, the Strategic Vision spread grew a lot wider come late September. The August discrepancy doesn't necessarily make Kerry a winner. But it does show that the two candidates are closer than some people would have us believe.

What's more, new voters are registering in higher than usual numbers, mostly in historically Democratic areas and mostly thanks to efforts of African-American get-out-the-vote groups. Those new voters typically don't show up in polls.

Registration is up 300 percent among African-Americans in some parts of South Georgia, according to Adelman. Over the weekend, the biggest complaint at a Georgia for Democracy door-to-door voter registration drive, which took place mainly in the Kirkwood area, was that everybody was already registered, volunteers found.

Across the state, voter registration is up 51 percent from this time four years ago. (Disclosure: It could very well be that a fair chunk of those new registered voters were inspired to sign up so that they could vote in favor of Georgia's proposed anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, and those folks almost certainly will vote Republican.)

Could the droves of new voters make any bit of difference in the wide, wide gap between Dubya and Kerry?

"The folks who hate George Bush, yeah, they are going to be sure to vote, make sure they get their shot in," says Bullock. "One of the things which does get people to the polls is that they're much more likely to turn out and vote against something than to vote for it."

Senior writer Steve Fennessy was the lucky bastard who got to see Springsteen, R.E.M., Bright Eyes and others at the Vote for Change show in Philly. He contributed his account of the show to this article.

michael.wall@creativeloafing.com

Just the stats

  • Bush's percentage of the Georgia vote vs. Kerry's, according to the most recent nonpartisan poll: 52-43

  • Bush's percentage of the Georgia vote vs. Kerry's, according to the most recent GOP poll: 58-34

  • Predicted percentage of Georgia voters who are African-American, according to the GOP poll: 18

  • Percentage of African-American voters in Georgia's last three general elections: 23

  • Percent increase in newly registered Georgia voters in January-August 2000 vs. January-August 2004: 50

  • Total number of new registered Georgia voters in January-August 2004: 285,384

  • Number of total Georgia votes for Bush in 2000: 1,419,720

  • Number of total Georgia votes for Gore in 2000: 1,116,230

  • Percentage of AJC online voters who believed Kerry looked more presidential than Bush during the Sept. 30 debate: 58

  • Last year a Democratic candidate won the presidential election in Georgia: 1992
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