ATLANTA — Georgia will host a Democratic presidential debate in November, highlighting the state’s importance on the national stage as Democratic hopefuls eye rural voters.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that MSNBC and The Washington Post will co-host the live event — details on where it will be held and who will moderate have yet to be released.
To qualify for the debate, candidates have to meet fundraising and polling thresholds laid out by the DNC by Nov. 13.
According to NBC News, it looks like eight candidates have qualified so far: former vice president Joe Biden; U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Tom Steyer; and Andrew Yang.
Democratic Party of Georgia Chairwoman Nikema Williams said Georgia is key in electing a Democratic president.
“National Democrats know that the road to victory in 2020 runs through Georgia, and we are thrilled to welcome them to our state,” Williams said in a statement. “Georgia Democrats represent the present and future of the Democratic Party, and our voters will deliver the country for our next Democratic president. Georgia is the battleground state — and we are ready to win.”
Georgia Democratic National Committee members see the debate as reassurance from national leadership that Georgia may play a pivotal role in the presidential election — putting the state in play during the primary.
Wendy Davis, DNC member and Rome city commissioner, said Georgia Democrats are ready to be on the map and Atlanta is no longer just a fundraising hub.
“I think that people are noticing that Georgia voters matter, and Georgia voters outside of (I-)285 matter,” Davis told CNHI. “Georgia is in so many ways a microcosm of America in terms of how we look demographically. I am delighted that national leaders are understanding that you can't write off complicated areas.”
But Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer said the debate will only strengthen the Republican campaign.
"I am delighted that hard-working Georgians will have an up-close view of these ridiculous candidates and their ruinous proposals,” Shafer said in a statement. “It should boost the president's prospects here in Georgia."
As in 2016, rural voters are expected to be a deciding factor in the 2020 presidential battle. Democratic presidential hopefuls want to swing support for President Trump in rural America to their side. Hot-button issues may include tariff woes and health care access.
Davis specifically works in “communities that are outside the traditional Democratic Georgia” — often dubbed rural or small-town voters.
“Agriculture is not something you can overlook if you’re talking about running in Georgia,” she said. “Our farmers have been devastated by the Trump tariffs.”
Delayed federal relief after Hurricane Michael is also on people’s minds, she said. Other conversations may involve access to health care in rural areas — especially while Medicaid expansion continues to be stumped on a state level.
The 2018 gubernatorial race between now Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams highlighted the divide between urban and rural voters in Georgia. Kemp campaigned almost solely in rural districts — in some cases even outperforming Trump.
However, Davis said, it would be smart for Democrats not to fall into the divide of "your people versus our people."
"All these votes matter," she said.
Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.