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The Democrats vs. Republican message battle in Georgia

MARIETTA, Georgia — Jim Jenkins, 73, considers himself a Reagan Republican at heart. He says he’s disturbed at how Democrats have created “a society of takers” who depend on the welfare state. But he just doesn’t know if he can bring himself to vote for Republican Senate candidate David Perdue.

“I really believe it, about his outsourcing jobs,” says Jenkins, donning an American flag cap. “I don’t trust him.”

It’s one sign why Georgia’s Senate race remains one of the tightest in the country, even in a safe Republican district that went for Mitt Romney by 67% in 2012.

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There’s certainly a steady supply of Republican party loyalists in Marietta, the suburban hometown of Rep. Phil Gingrey, a stalwart social and fiscal conservative. That’s what GOP Senate candidate David Perdue is counting on. “I have to go with Perdue,” says Janice Hope, 62, walking into a coffee shop downtown. When asked why, she simply shrugged her shoulders. “I’m just a Republican is all.” 

In this close race, however, it’s more complicated than Red versus Blue. While there’s deep distrust of Washington Democrats and President Obama, that hasn’t turned all voters here against Democrat Michelle Nunn, despite the attempts by Republicans to tie her to the president throughout the race. 

Jenkins, the undecided voter, certainly finds a lot more to like about Nunn as a candidate, whom he considers to be “the most honest and most articulate and most human.” He has warm feelings about her father, former Sen. Sam Nunn, and believes there’s truth behind her attacks on Perdue for outsourcing jobs while he was working as a CEO in the private sector.

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But he feels like sending Nunn to the Senate would inevitably just enable the Democrats in Washington. “The only problem I have with her is that she’s a Democrat, and Democrats are big spenders,” he says. 

Jenkins is planning to vote on Tuesday but remains undecided. “It’s a really tough decision. Probably in the booth, my conscience will push me one way or the other,” he says. 

Nunn’s campaign strategy from the beginning has been to try to sell herself to voters as a moderate voice for reason who would be able to stand up to the president. She’s tried to cast herself as a politician in the mold of her father, a renowned centrist Democrat. 

And it’s clear that some of that message has come through, even within Georgia’s Republican strongholds. George Alvarez, 61, a proud Republican activist, believes that Nunn would actually be a positive force in the Senate who’d be more moderate than the principle. “She would probably be a good senator for Georgia,” says Alvarez, who owns a jewelry store in downtown Marietta. He adds: “I don’t think she has the socialistic tendency that Obama has.”

But Alvarez believes that Nunn’s promise to change the poisonous partisanship of Washington is “a farce.” And the main reason that he’s supporting Perdue—with a campaign sign in his store’s corner window, to boot—is because he wants Republicans to take back the Senate in November. “I think they’ll slow down the damage that’s being done,” he says.

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He says the Democrats have failed to create any jobs and believes Perdue, a lifelong businessman, would help push things in the right direction. Like Jenkins, Alvarez believes that Democrats’ welfare state has harmed Americans, including those it was intended to help.

“We talk to black Americans every day. Middle-class black folks say, ‘Obama, stop helping us,’” Alvarez says. “The Democratic Party is destroying the youth by taking away their motivation.”

Jenkins believes that Obama’s own racial background has shaped his approach towards policy. “Being a minority person, he was raised in an environment where there probably was a lot of prejudice, a lot of prejudice to [help] the upper-class white people. He’s trying to correct some of them,” Jenkins says. 

Once a John F. Kennedy supporter, Jenkins believes it’s been necessary to reverse the racial injustices of the past. But the Democrats’ safety-net programs haven’t given poor minorities a real leg up, he says. “Instead of giving them a chance, it’s given them a lifestyle.”

Perdue’s campaign are hoping the anger towards the president will ultimately work in the Republicans’ favor. But the barrage of anti-Obama rhetoric has also fired up Democrats like Lori Molander. 

“I personally take offenses to that. I’m an Obama supporter. I don’t understand why being willing to work with the president is a bad thing,” says Molander, 49, who works at a Marietta store devoted to locally sourced products. 

She’ll vote for Nunn tomorrow, whom seems like a “good-hearted, honest person” to her. But she’s still skeptical that Democrats will end up prevailing in Georgia. “This is such a red state, and a red area,” Molander says. “And people are just so angry.”