Obama receives a rare bipartisan welcome in Atlanta

When President Barack Obama last came to Atlanta, he was spurned by high-profile Democrats and Republicans alike. Democrats Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn didn’t venture to see him so close to the election, and Gov. Nathan Deal steered well clear of Air Force One.

With no election looming, though, Obama is no longer seen as quite so toxic to Georgia’s top-ticket candidates. The state’s Democratic elite came out in force to welcome the president Tuesday and — in perhaps the biggest surprise — so did the governor.

All recognize that with November’s contest behind them, they can afford to visit with the president. And even lobby him for a favor or two.

Deal, for one, said he used a brief meeting with the president to thank him for devoting federal funding to dredge Savannah’s port — and to plug his proposal to create a statewide district with power to take control of Georgia’s most distressed schools.

“I told him what we were doing with the Opportunity School District,” Deal said. “And if we get it passed, we’re probably going to call on him to help with it.”

It may have been an uncomfortable meeting: While still a member of Congress, Deal wrote a letter to the White House calling on Obama to produce his birth certificate amid questions about whether he was born in the United States. Deal has since said he was passing along concerns from his constituents and that he believes the matter is settled.

Carter, a former state senator who ran against Deal in November, faced criticism from fellow Democrats for missing the president's speech on combating Ebola last fall and not more openly embracing the White House during the campaign. Obama is vilified by many conservatives in Georgia but remains widely popular with Democrats.

“It’s not every day that the sitting president of the United States comes to your hometown,” said Carter, who has returned to his law practice. “And I was glad to see Governor Deal there.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort, an Obama supporter who also attended the event, pointed to the thousands of Georgia Tech students who had waited in line for hours to hear the president outline a sweeping student debt proposal.

“It’s out of season now. I don’t begrudge Jason anything,” said Fort, D-Atlanta. “But I will say that the president’s popularity and presence is good for Democrats. And this is proof positive that his proposals and policies remain very important for our party.”