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Greg Bluestein

How Democrats plan to turn Georgia into a battleground state

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hugs Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., at her election night watch party after winning the South Carolina Democratic primary in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Georgia Democrats have long argued the state could be in play in November with Donald Trump or Ted Cruz at the top of the Republican ticket. Now the party’s leaders are putting their money where their mouth is.

The Democratic Party of Georgia unveiled a new statewide organizing field program on Friday helmed by a pair of veterans from battleground states. Democratic operatives describe it as a first-of-its kind organizing effort to identify voters, recruit volunteers, rally them around base-pleasing issues and corral them into votes in November.

It’s financed partly by an initial $100,000 donation from New York investor Philip Munger, whose contribution was revealed Thursday in the party’s latest financial disclosure. Munger, the son of billionaire Berkshire Hathaway partner Charles Munger, is a substantial donor to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and has written four checks totaling $1 million to Virginia’s Democratic party.

The Georgia party used Munger’s donation and contributions from other supporters – it reported a total of $476,000 in cash on hand with no debt – to help pay for two new hires to launch the program.

Amanda Ford, who was the top field director for the Ohio Democratic Party and organized for Obama in North Carolina during the 2008 campaign, will be the new program’s field director. And Kendra Cotton, formerly a senior political operative in North Carolina, was tapped as the party’s political director.

“To say that the Party is excited about this program is an understatement — the enthusiasm and electricity is tremendous,” said DuBose Porter, the party’s chair, in a statement. “Georgia’s ascendancy as a battleground state has only just begun. With this field program, and the talent we’ve been fortunate enough to assemble, Georgia Democrats have a clear path to ensuring that our state plays a key role in electing another Democrat to the White House.”

Georgia hasn’t awarded its electoral votes to a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992, and Republicans have swept every statewide office the last two election cycles. The GOP has overwhelming majorities in the state Legislature, and Democrats failed to find a big-name candidate to challenge Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson this year.

And Trump, the billionaire developer with a commanding lead in the GOP delegate race, earned sweeping support in Georgia’s GOP primary. He took all but four of Georgia’s counties and won nearly every demographic in the Republican electorate, complicating the case for his adversaries.

But Peach State Democrats have long pointed to changing demographics – a growing number of minorities and a rising tide of newcomers from more liberal northeast states – as a sign the state is veering from red to purple. And partisans contend that Trump’s nomination could hasten the change by turning off suburban women and independents who the Georgia GOP has long relied upon for its winning formula.

Some analysts agree. Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political scientist, wrote last week that the Trump effect could mark Georgia and three other red states as possible pickups for Clinton. And Democrats have eagerly tried to paint Cruz, his closest rival in the hunt for the GOP nomination, as equally polarizing.

Clinton’s campaign, which has quietly made Georgia part of its general election plans, made clear Friday the Peach State was on its radar. Marlon Marshall, Clinton’s director of state campaigns, said he is excited about the field program the state party is building.

With an incredibly diverse and growing electorate and a strong party infrastructure, Georgia is set to mobilize voters for Democrats up and down the ticket,” said Marshall.