With 2 weeks until early voting, mayoral candidates ramp up ads, voter outreach

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Candidates jockey for top 2 spots with runoff increasingly likely

Time is running out in the Atlanta’s mayor’s race.

Tuesday marks two weeks until Atlanta voters begin early voting, and a recent poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows a wide gulf between the top two candidates and the rest of the pack. But many people have yet to make up their minds.

While 41% of poll respondents said they were still undecided, former Mayor Kasim Reed and City Council President Felicia Moore are the clear leaders at this point, in a statistical tie with 23.5% and 20.4% of the vote, respectively.

All of the next three candidates in the field of 14 came in under 6%, and none of the others polled above 1%.

So is there still time?

One of the candidates in the next tier — Councilman Antonio Brown, Councilman Andre Dickens or attorney Sharon Gay — could still make it a “competitive, three-horse race,” said political consultant and strategist Eleina Raines.

But to do so, they will have to run a breakthrough campaign and raise their visibility substantially before Nov. 2.

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“I see a huge opportunity,” said Raines, who was the political director for Rev. Raphael Warnock’s successful U.S. Senate race last year, and has worked on local campaigns in Atlanta before.

That opportunity could be seized upon through a blitz of TV advertising and an aggressive ground game that involves door-to-door canvassing and direct voter targeting, Raines said.

If no candidate garners more than 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held Nov. 30.

Big media buys, especially from Gay, Dickens and Brown, could be key to increasing their polling numbers between now and Election Day, experts said.

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Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Reed and Gay have been on the air since August, while Moore and Dickens launched ads of their own in recent weeks.

“The candidates have to be more … assertive about reaching out to voters, whether it’s television or radio commercials,” said Michael Sterling, a local attorney who ran for mayor in 2017.

Raines said building coalitions — groups of voters who are motivated around specific identities or issues — could be an ingredient in helping one of the candidates close the gap. That’s been difficult so far, given that much of the discourse in the race has been dominated by crime, she said.

Raines also suggested the second-tier candidates could benefit from digital “micro-targeting,” which involves using data to directly reach voters on digital platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, based on issues and messages they know will resonate with different groups.

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In the AJC’s recent poll, the demographics with the highest percentage of undecided voters were white, liberal and people between 18 and 29 years old.

“I would identify a certain bucket of voters and really be nuanced in how I approach them with messaging,” said TJ Copeland, who served as senior adviser for the Joe Biden campaign in Georgia last year.

“Really work to get in their faces between now and Election Day,” he said. “When you look in the undecided bucket right now, anybody has a good shot of making it into the runoff, according to those numbers.”

Reed and Moore’s strong showing in the polls so far speaks to their bases and name recognition over their years of City Hall experience. Both candidates have said recent poll results show they are in a good spot heading into October.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A press release from Moore’s campaign earlier this month said the race “is increasingly a two-person contest” between her and Reed. And a spokeswoman for the former mayor said they are encouraged by the results of the AJC’s poll but “not taking any vote for granted.”

Gay and Dickens, meanwhile, have promoted polls in recent weeks showing them within striking distance of a runoff spot. Gay’s campaign said the race is a three-way competition and heralded a campaign-commissioned poll showing her with 12% of the vote.

Dickens said at a recent event that his strategy over the next few weeks is to be “seen as often as possible” through in-person meet-and-greets and ads.

“Between now and early voting, we’re about to be everywhere, every day,” he said.

While Brown noted at a mayoral debate last week that he has polled the lowest out of the leading candidates, he told the AJC that “there’s a lot of opportunity for candidates who really haven’t hit their ceiling yet.”

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Several of the lesser-known mayoral candidates, including Kenny Hill, Richard Wright and Mark Hammad, said the large pool of undecided voters shows residents are dissatisfied with the group of leading candidates and are looking for a change.

A lot can change between Labor Day and Election Day.

Around this time in 2017, a WSB-TV and Landmark Communications poll found Peter Aman and Keisha Lance Bottoms were virtually tied for second place behind Mary Norwood with about 12% each. Bottoms ended up finishing first in November and beating Norwood in a December runoff.

In that poll, which was conducted in late August, just 17% of respondents were undecided.

Many are also closely watching to see if Bottoms will get involved in the race and endorse a candidate. The AJC’s poll showed she still had relatively high favorability numbers — around 57% of respondents approved of the job she’s doing as mayor — and her campaign account still has lots of cash on hand.

“She could really be that October surprise that shakes up the dynamics of this race,” Raines said.

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