By Jonathan Easley - 10-22-16 05:59 AM EDT
Donald Trump is running only a few points ahead of Hillary Clinton in Georgia, a ruby red state that hasn't gone for the Democratic nominee since 1992 when Bill Clinton, a Southern Democrat, eked out a victory in a three-way race.
Despite big talk from Democrats and the Clinton campaign this time around, election experts believe Trump is likely to carry the state for Republicans once again in 2016.
Republicans aren't sweating the outcome there and GOP officials won't even concede that Georgia is a battleground on par with purple states like Colorado and North Carolina.
The Clinton campaign hasn't committed any resources to Georgia, and Republican candidates have in the past outperformed the polls, leading many to describe Trump's 2-point lead in the latest Atlanta Journal Constitution poll as slim but safe.
Still, the tightening race has Democrats lumping Georgia into a group of red states, including Arizona, Utah and Alaska, where they see an opportunity to expand the map, as they've done elsewhere during the Obama years.
It's also increasingly being seen as a real Democratic target in the South.
No Democrat had won Virginia in 40 years before then-Sen. Barack Obama carried it in 2008. Hillary Clinton appears headed for an easy victory there in 2016.
And Clinton is now favored in North Carolina, which would make it the second time in three elections that a Democrat has won a state that went for the Republican nominee in every election between 1980 and 2004.
In Georgia, an exploding African-American population and shrinking share of white voters presents a challenge for Republicans.
"Demographics are moving in the right direction for Democrats," said Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia. "In terms of new worlds to conquer it's close to the top of their list. By 2020, we're probably talking about it as a traditional battleground state."
Republicans are confident Georgia will remain red in 2016 and say the media is overplaying Clinton's chances there.
While Trump has suffered high-profile defections from within his own party elsewhere, the entirety of the Georgia Congressional delegation is standing behind him.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is a state chairman for Trump and has been an outspoken advocate and active fundraiser for the campaign in the state.
Trump officials say the campaign is fully integrated with the party's robust state organization, and the Republican National Committee does not count Georgia on its map of 11 battleground states.
And demographics have not yet abandoned Republicans in the state.
While the share of black voters in Georgia has swelled to about 30 percent, white voters still make up 60 percent of the voting population.
White voters in Georgia are more conservative than they are in other parts of the country, with a strong majority identifying as evangelical Christians, who have been among Trump's most reliable supporters.
During the Republican primary, Trump romped to a double-digit victory in Georgia, which was supposed to be Ted Cruz country.
Meanwhile, Democratic support among white voters in Georgia is stuck in the low 20 percent range.
Analysts say Democrats need to grow that share to about 30 percent - where it is in North Carolina and Virginia - to be competitive.
"Democrats keep wishing and hoping they can flip Georgia and they love all the news about it being a close race but it's just not going to happen," said Alec Poitevint, the former chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. "Go ahead and check this column for Trump. Everything people are writing about is not going to happen."
So far, the Clinton campaign hasn't committed any meaningful resources into Georgia.
Instead, the Clinton campaign has focused on flipping Arizona, sending top surrogates like first lady Michelle Obama to the state.
That has frustrated some Georgia Democrats, who insist that the state would be in play if only the campaign would make an effort.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said Democrats could win the state based on support from African Americans, but warned black voters won't turn out for Clinton unless the campaign gives them a reason to.
Johnson, who is black, said the Clinton campaign risks appearing as if it is taking minority voters for granted in bypassing the state, ensuring it will stay under GOP control in 2016.
"It is extremely frustrating," Johnson told The Hill. "I'm hearing a lot of frustration and angst. It's not just from elected officials, it's citizens on the ground wondering why we can't get any love shown to us....We're not being wooed for our votes. That's a mistake."
A visit by one of the Obamas would set the state's black voters on fire for the Clinton ticket, Johnson said.
But with the Senate majority at stake, strategists say it makes more sense for the Clinton campaign's red state strategy to focus on states with competitive Senate races, like Arizona, Indiana or Missouri.
There's a Senate race in Georgia, but it isn't close. Incumbent Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) is running well ahead of Trump and walloping his rival, Jim Barksdale, by double-digits in every poll.
There are no competitive races for statewide office down-ballot either, leaving only Georgia's 16 electoral votes up for grabs. Georgia's electoral votes are a luxury for Clinton and don't factor into her path to the White House.
Furthermore, Democrats have seen this movie before.
In the 2008 presidential election, polls showed a toss-up between Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) in the weeks before Election Day.
The Obama campaign dispatched an army of volunteers into the state and made some late ad buys, but McCain outperformed the polls and ended up winning by more than 5 points.
That's part of a pattern in which Republicans running in the state outperform the polls. Experts say pollsters regularly over-sample the Atlanta metro region or discount the fervent and deeply ingrained conservative streak that runs through the rural areas of the state.
Still, Democrats believe the future is bright for them in the Peach State.
Of the states Mitt Romney won in 2008, Georgia was the second closest contest behind only North Carolina.
Atlanta has been a magnet for young black professionals, many of whom have moved from liberal bastions in the northeast, attracted to the culture and economy. Hispanic and Asian populations are also on the upswing.
And the state Democratic Party, which was once very weak, appeared to turn a corner in 2014, raising a ton of cash for Senate and gubernatorial contests.
"No question - Georgia will transcend to a majority-minority state by 2025," Johnson said. "So from a demographic perspective things are looking up. But I don't think Democrats can continue to take minority votes for grants. If they do, it will be to the party's peril."