If Gov. Nathan Deal hopes to avoid a runoff on Tuesday, a big part of his calculation involves peeling off more black voters from Democrat Jason Carter.
He ratcheted up his appeal to black voters at a metro Atlanta campaign swing today, where he was endorsed by about a dozen black preachers in McDonough who praised the governor's criminal justice overhaul and blasted a controversial Democratic turnout flyer that invoked the unrest in the Missouri town of Ferguson.
"That flyer wanted to compare us to Missouri and Ferguson. And that's not the case in Georgia," said Tony Lowden, a minister at a Macon church. "Every two years, the Democratic Party comes to Georgia with race as an issue instead of economic development, jobs and safety in our community. And we're saying not here - not in the Peach State."
The state GOP has tried to make inroads in the black community partly by pressing Deal's support for criminal justice initiatives designed to keep more nonviolent offenders out of prison. The number of black men sent to prison has declined by about 20 percent in the last five years, and the governor often touts the cost-savings from the overhaul on the trail.
Deal's strategists hope to push black support for the governor into the teens, but that's a formidable task. Five black candidates are on the Democratic ballot, and minority voters are the cornerstone of the party's support in Georgia. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released last week showed only 6 percent of black voters backed Deal.
Still, Republicans have tried to use the mailer to galvanize support. Sent to mostly black households, it urged voters to turn to the polls if "you want to prevent another Ferguson." Deal called the flyer "despicable" and his surrogates go even further.
"These political mailers are just about inciting fear and hatred. And we're supposed to believe they are peacemakers?" said Leo Smith, the GOP's minority outreach director, said at a stop on Friday. "These pastors are saying enough."
Deal told crowds Friday that minority support will help ensure that lawmakers complete the third leg of his criminal justice package, an effort to ease the transition of released inmates back into society.
"They recognize I'm the first governor who has really taken a serious effort to deal with this problem," Deal said of the preachers. "And they are seeing the results."
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