Opinion | Suburbanites are saving the Democrats in Georgia — and elsewhere


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MARIETTA, Ga. — Cobb County was established in the 1830s by White Americans on land that had been occupied by Cherokees, who were forced to move west in what is now known as the Trail of Tears. It is named after Thomas W. Cobb, who was a U.S. congressman and senator representing Georgia in the early 19th century and owned enslaved Black people. Perhaps the most important figure associated with Cobb is former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented the county in Congress in the early 1990s and is in many ways the intellectual godfather of today’s Republican Party.

But Cobb has changed dramatically. It’s now run by a majority-Black county commission. And Cobb is part of a group of suburban counties in the Atlanta area that has become increasingly Democratic and turned Georgia into a swing state.

In the 2004 election, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry lost Georgia by 17 percentage points, including a 25-point defeat in Cobb. Two years ago, Joe Biden very narrowly won Georgia, in part because of his 14-point victory in Cobb. Sen. Raphael G. Warnock carried Cobb by 16 points in this month’s election and will need a similar margin to defeat Republican challenger Herschel Walker in their Dec. 6 runoff.

The electoral transformation of Cobb County is part of a broader shift happening in U.S. politics. Over the past decade, Americans who live in rural areas, a group that already leaned toward the Republicans, has become even more conservative. Urban areas are increasingly Democratic, but cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia were already so left-leaning that there wasn’t much room for Democratic growth. What’s been the saving grace for the Democrats in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 elections has been voters in suburban areas backing the party, particularly around Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Phoenix.

“Democrats in this county were feeling beaten down. We had been on the fringes for years,” said Mary Frances Williams, who was born in Marietta, one of the largest cities in Cobb, and lives there now.

“I really noticed things were changing in 2016. My precinct went for Hillary Clinton. I was shocked by it,” Williams told me when I met her at a coffee shop in downtown Marietta last week.

Two years later, Williams was a candidate herself, flipping a Cobb-based statehouse seat for the Democrats. The 67-year-old won reelection for a third time earlier this month.

Three factors are driving this suburban shift to the Democrats. First, the residents in these suburbs, particularly around Atlanta, are increasingly Asian, Black and/or Hispanic. In Cobb, 49 percent of residents are Asian, Black and/or Hispanic, compared with 28 percent two decades ago. In Gwinnett, another Atlanta-area county that has flipped decidedly to Democrats, about 66 percent of residents are Asian, Black and/or Hispanic compared with about a third in 2000.

Members of all three of those groups are more likely to vote Democratic than White Americans are. In many cases, people of color move from the city to the suburbs in the same metropolitan area. But particularly in the Atlanta area, many…



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