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DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — Behind a nondescript storefront just outside Atlanta, Delores Washington makes telephone call after call in this Democratic stronghold using a list of potential voters handed to her by a young party staffer.
The retired high school principal doesn't ask questions about the massive data collection behind the list compiled by expensive political consultants to predict and influence behavior at the polls.
But she knows what to do. "My job is to expand and get out that base," Washington said. "That's how we win."
Washington is at the heart of a fierce partisan battle to shape Georgia's November midterm electorate, as Democrats try to recruit more minority voters to the polls in this increasingly diverse state. Republicans, meanwhile, are seeking just enough "persuadable" voters to maintain the GOP's electoral advantage amid Georgia's tense, shifting political landscape.
The outcome will help determine control of the U.S. Senate, as Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue tussle for an open seat, with Libertarian Amanda Swafford also on the ballot. Separately, GOP Gov. Nathan Deal looks to withstand a challenge from state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.
Perhaps just as important as those marquee races, the election will serve as an early scorecard for both major parties in a state poised to join North Carolina and Virginia as Southern presidential battlegrounds — perhaps as soon as 2016.
"The more black and brown people, the more pressure we put on Republicans and Democrats to take our political strength seriously," said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King once preached. Warnock backs Democratic-aligned registration and turnout efforts, but said the matter goes beyond party. "You don't want to be in a situation where one party can ignore you and the other can take you for granted," he said.
Nunn's campaign, according to an internal memo, set a goal of winning 150,000 more black votes than the 700,000 Democrat Roy Barnes received in 2010 when he lost to Deal. Nunn also wants about 5,000 new votes from Asians and Latinos. Democrats are targeting about 869,000 eligible-but-inactive black, Asian and Latino voters. And they're hoping that five black women running for statewide offices will help boost minority turnout.
Republicans counter with an effort aimed at about 275,000 nonwhites who have voted in general elections but have little or no history of casting Democratic primary ballots. "We believe those are persuadable voters for us," said Leo Smith, the minority outreach director for the Georgia Republican Party.
Democratic and Republican campaign committees from Washington have invested heavily in field offices here, with paid staffers and volunteers using national party voter databases that try to replicate turnout successes of President Barack Obama's national campaigns. Both sides are pushing their identified supporters to vote early, and each camp agrees that it will take about 1.4 million votes to win in Georgia this year.
The scramble has produced bitterness and finger-pointing. Republicans balked when local leaders in DeKalb County — a Democratic stronghold in metro Atlanta that gave Obama 78 percent of its vote in 2012 — announced plans to open Sunday voting locations.
Republican state Sen. Fran Millar called it a "blatantly partisan move," citing proposed locations near large black churches, and Millar added in an extended social media post that he would "prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters."
Democrats mocked the GOP hand-wringing, noting that the DeKalb plan is possible only because Republican Supreme Court appointees struck down a Voting Rights Act provision that required Georgia officials to submit all election protocol changes for approval by the U.S. Justice Department.
"What have Georgia Republicans come to when they are outwardly admitting to suppressing the African-American vote?" said Georgia Democratic Chairman DuBose Porter. "I suppose (Millar) would prefer a return to literacy tests or the poll tax while he's at it."
Millar maintains that he only wanted a fair geographical distribution of Sunday voting sites. The final Sunday voting plan in includes access in heavy Republican areas, as well.
Democrats, in turn, protested when Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp launched an investigation — still ongoing — of a voter registration group organized by Democrats, alleging that a handful of registration forms are forgeries.
Both Kemp and the Democratic lawmaker running the registration effort insist they're following the law.
Kemp, who is seeking re-election this year, said investigators found at least 28 falsified documents identified after complaints from local elections officials. Democrats say they've collected at least 86,000 new registration forms. Any level of fraud should be rooted out, Kemp says.
State Rep. Stacey Abrams noted that state law required that her organizations turn in all forms they collect from voters. "If someone fills out a form as Mickey Mouse and lists an address in Anaheim, California, we have to turn in that form," Abrams said. "Essentially we are being accused of violating the law by complying with the law."
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