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National Public Radio: In Suburban Atlanta, African-American Newcomers Could Flip Counties Blue

The growing African-American population in suburban Atlanta is making Georgia appear less solidly Republican than it has recently been and could make it a presidential swing state.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: The last time the state of Georgia voted to put a Democrat in the White House, it was 1992 - Bill Clinton. Now, as Hillary Clinton makes a bid for the presidency, there is some thought that Georgia could be in play again this November. African-Americans from the North have been moving into the historically white suburbs of Atlanta in huge numbers. That migration is changing some solidly Republican counties. As part of our project, A Nation Engaged, NPR and some member stations are going to political battlegrounds to ask people in key populations what they want from this presidential election. The question - what does a better life look like for you in your community? And as NPR's Asma Khalid reports from Georgia, the answer for many there is representation.

NADIA LOWE: My name is Nadia Lowe, and I work for the New Georgia Project.

KHALID: The New Georgia Project is a group with a mission to sign up the estimated 800,000 people of color who are eligible to vote but not registered. Lowe is an intern with the group, and people like her symbolize the changing demographics in the state.

LOWE: I was born in Rochester, N.Y. And then, when I was two, I moved to Atlanta, Ga.

KHALID: There are thousands of black folks with roots in Georgia moving back from the North. And a lot of them, like Nadia's family, are moving to Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta. I meet up with Nadia and her mom at this town square. We're outside a gelato shop with a fountain. Back in 1970, Cobb County was 95 percent white. Now, it's closer to 55 percent.

NATINA MARIE ADAMS: It is still predominately white here, but a lot of things have changed in 10 years.

KHALID: That's Nadia's mom, Natina Marie Adams. She's a Democrat and says the population here has changed in ways you might think would benefit a Democrat, but.

ADAMS: This is a deeply segregated here still.

KHALID: Exit polls in 2008 show more than three-quarters of white people voted Republican.

ADAMS: In Georgia, although we have a lot more blacks and Latinos moving here, it would take all of them - right? - like, to come out and vote, which is unrealistic - to see that type of change, right.?

KHALID: Natina says, this election, she's particularly concerned about race and policing.

ADAMS: The blue-on-black crime is an issue that is very important to me. It is an emotionally taxing time.

KHALID: But Natina says it feels like people of color don't have much political power, even on the local level. Most of the elected officials are white, and she wants to see more people who look like her. We heard that complaint a lot, especially in nearby Gwinnett County.

JIM SHEALEY: Good morning. My name's Jim Shealey, and I'm running for Gwinnett County Commission.

KHALID: Shealey is campaigning at a bus stop. He's passing out flyers calling for better transportation. Even though less than half the people in this county are white, the country commission is all white.

SHEALEY: They are all white representation - I mean, no diversity, no nothing. I mean, it's like, whoa, wait a minute; this is not right.

KHALID: Shealey thinks it's important to have black and brown people in that office. He's also part of the reverse migration trend. Shealey all of his life in Ohio. But when he retired five years ago, he came down here. He says, if Democrats have any hope of flipping the state, they've got to pay attention to Gwinnett. It's the state's second largest county, and it's majority people of color.

SHEALEY: So if you turn Gwinnett, the state can turn blue. Without Gwinnett the state won't turn blue. That's the key.

KHALID: Shealey thinks it's all about turnout. He says Democrats just need to register more people of color and make sure they show up on Election Day. But in the last few elections, Democrats did rely on black voters, and it wasn't enough. Four years ago, Mitt Romney won both Gwinnett and Cobb counties, Asma Khalid, NPR News.

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