Marco Rubio sets his sights on Georgia and the South

Updated: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is set to return to Atlanta in December during a quick swing through the South - a first visit since dipping a big toe into Georgia's water wars on behalf of his home state.

It looks like the December event is designed to draw a crowd, with $2,700 required for a photo with the candidate.

Rubio last week waded into the exhausting battle over water rights among Georgia, Florida and Alabama. The Republican drew a critique from Gov. Nathan Deal's chief of staff, Chris Riley, for urging Congress to prevent any water changes in a spending bill that could favor Georgia.

It's worth a reminder that in June, Deal listed four Republicans he’d be willing to endorse in the 2016 contest. None of them were named Rubio.

Georgia Democratic Party chairman DuBose Porter quipped about Deal's non-endorsement and Rubio's pile of missed votes in the Senate in a statement:

“Mark this one down for the record books—Nathan Deal and I agree on something. Neither of us is impressed with Marco Rubio. It really is absurd that someone like No-show Rubio who doesn’t show up to work is asking for a promotion."

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This morning's "Crystal Ball" from Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia has an interesting look at how white evangelicals will shape the Republican nominating process next year. A taste:

Using exit poll data from the 2012 and 2008 GOP primaries, as well as data from the Census Bureau and the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas to help estimate numbers for states with no exit polls, we found that about two-thirds (64%) of the total delegates in states with contests on or before March 8 will come from states with electorates that may be at least 50% white evangelical. ...

However, while at first blush the early weight of these voters might suggest outsized influence on the overall outcome, proportional delegate rules could make it difficult for a non-establishment, socially conservative candidate to win the party’s nomination.

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On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders sees an SEC Primary opening -- in Texas. From the Texas Tribune:

The presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is expanding its footprint in Texas, setting up a statewide office and expanding its staff with just under four months until the Democratic primary.

In the next few days, the campaign plans to open a Texas headquarters in Austin — among the first known outposts of a presidential campaign in the state besides that of native U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. The office will be located on the city's east side.

The campaign's Texas effort is being overseen by Jacob Limón, a legislative staffer and former official at the state Democratic Party. Limón, who was recently named Sanders' Texas state director, is being joined by six other paid staffers in the state: David Sanchez, North Texas director; Cristina Garcia, Rio Grande Valley director; Theresa Haas, Houston director; Samantha Davis, operations director; Ananda Tomas, San Antonio director; and Sergio Feliciano Cantú, Latino outreach director.

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The $25 million plan to remake downtown Atlanta's signature park got a big boost.

The Woodruff Foundation will donate $10 million to the Georgia World Congress Center for its Centennial Olympic Park plan. The same foundation two decades ago helped lay the groundwork to transform the 21-acre park into a downtown jewel.

Sweeping changes are coming to the area with the construction of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the pending implosion of the Georgia Dome and plans for a high-end hotel on the western edge of the convention center complex.

The changes envisioned for Centennial include new event space on park grounds with a downstairs restaurant, turning a section of Andrew Young International Boulevard into a pedestrian walkway and a new entrance to the greenspace.

Frank Poe, the Congress Center's executive director, said he's "tremendously grateful and excited" by the Woodruff Foundation's investment. The search for the remaining $15 million, meanwhile, continues.

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Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., made the media rounds Wednesday for Veterans Day. In addition to a Fox News stop, he chatted with Denis O'Hayer at WABE-90.1.

O'Hayer asked about Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton's vow to fight "privatization" of the VA. Isakson's reply:

"That really illustrates that Mrs. Clinton does not really know what she's talking about, because what we did with the veterans choice bill last August is give private options to veterans of their choice to go to the private sector if the VA couldn't meet their health care needs.

"And we've actually expanded that with the help of Veterans Administration staff and Secretary [Bob] McDonald to where we had 7.5 million more appointments billed in the first nine months of this year than the first nine months of last year, principally because they had the access to private sector providers. Nobody's trying to privatize the VA. What we're trying to do is maximize the access veterans have to health care, and that means utilizing the private sector as well."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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