WASHINGTON -- In a microcosm of the presidential candidates' diverging fortunes, Ashley Bell, a Gainesville attorney and one of Georgia's most prominent black Republicans, is switching his support from Rand Paul to Marco Rubio.
The reason: Rubio has the look of a winner.
Bell, a former Hall County commissioner whose switch from the Democratic Party made headlines in 2010, told us in a Sunday night phone chat:
Bell said the need to change horses struck him when he was in Orlando recently, along the I-4 corridor that is crucial to win Florida -- and the presidency -- next fall:
"It's a vastly diverse area, economically, ethnically. It’s a growing area and I think that Marco Rubio’s done that. He’s won in that area."
Bell broke the news to Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan when Sullivan was in Atlanta last week. Bell will be among the hosts for Rubio's Dec. 2 fundraising visit to Atlanta.
Bell's big issue, which he sees as a huge opportunity for the GOP to diversify, is criminal justice reform. He helped found a group called the 20/20 Leaders of America that is hosting a bipartisan presidential candidate forum this weekend in Columbia, S.C.
The confirmed candidates speaking Saturday are Republican Ben Carson, and Democrats Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley. Bell said Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Rubio will send surrogates. The only candidate to outright reject a summit with the 20/20 Leaders, according to Bell, was Donald Trump.
The event will be shown on Black Entertainment Television, and some questions will come from leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bell praised Carson for his willingness to show up:
"If every Republican campaign was like Ben Carson's, we wouldn’t have the problem we have in general elections. Ben Carson is unafraid to try to win the black vote, a total opposite from what we’ve seen in the past in a primary. ... I think that he has struck a chord with, especially, older black voters around his age group, people my parents' age who follow him every day."
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.