When Steve Smith was crunching the numbers after he secured the Democratic nomination for state Senate District 27 in May, he found his favorite precinct in Forsyth County.
Smith ran unopposed, but there were three candidates vying for the Republican nomination, and he wanted to see how much of the vote he had received compared to them to gauge his chances in the November election. Smith went precinct by precinct, and the numbers were consistent, except for one.
“It was like 20 percent, 21 percent, 22 percent, 23 percent,” Smith said, “and 42 percent. And I went, ‘What? Wait a minute, huh?’”
Smith had come to Brandywine.
The recent midterm election results were billed by some in the political realm as a rebuke of the Republican Party under President Donald Trump from suburban voters, but Forsyth County remained a GOP stronghold overall. The county voted for Republicans in every contested race on the ballot by wide margins.
Except in Brandywine. There 3,890 voters in the southwest corner of Forsyth County slightly favored Democrats, a small enclave of blue support not seen in the county for perhaps the first time in almost three decades.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams got 53.31 percent of the vote in Brandywine over Republican Brian Kemp’s 45.27 percent. Even Forsyth County resident and GOP lieutenant governor candidate Geoff Duncan lost the precinct to Democratic challenger Sarah Riggs Amico, who received 52.81 percent.
Brandywine favored Democrats for secretary of state, attorney general, Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, state House District 22 and more in a precinct that voted for Trump (47.91 percent) over Hillary Clinton (45.04 percent) just two years ago.
MARGIN OF VICTORY IN 2018 GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL RACE IN FORSYTH COUNTY BY PRECINCT
“We knew that most of our Democrats that are in Forsyth are in the south end,” Smith said, “but we didn’t realize that we had moved the needle that much down there.”
Smith attributed some of the party’s success in Brandywine to urban sprawl pushing into the south part of the county, bringing with it a younger and more diverse electorate that is rapidly defining the Democratic coalition.
“The electoral landscape is changing in suburban areas,” Smith said, “and Forsyth is a suburban area now.”
But Smith said the Democratic Party also made a more concerted effort in Forsyth County than past elections. The campaigns for Abrams, Amico and 7th District candidate Carolyn Boudreaux had a field organizer in the south part of the county, and Smith said as many as 100 volunteers were canvassing at any given time.
On Friday, Oct. 26, most of the party’s major statewide candidates, including Abrams, visited Forsyth County during a bus tour at Fowler Park. The candidates spoke beneath a blue banner with white letters that read ‘YOUR VOTE MATTERS,’ a marketing strategy by the Forsyth County Democratic Party to inspire dispirited voters.
“For the first time ever, the state Democratic Party paid attention to Forsyth County,” Smith said.
Smith said the local party saw progress in precincts other than Brandywine, too. They set a modest goal to get 25 percent of the total county vote, which they exceeded in every statewide race. Smith himself received 27.35 percent of the vote in his state Senate contest against Republican Greg Dolezal. Many of the county’s southern precincts, like Big Creek, Old Atlanta, South Forsyth, Windermere and Polo, went above 30 percent for Democratic candidates.
“That was just tremendous to us,” Smith said.
Smith acknowledged Democrats have a long way to go in Forsyth County. Brandywine is one of the smallest of the county’s 16 precincts, and northern precincts favored Republicans at recent levels. The party didn’t even field candidates for local offices.
Still, Smith said Nov. 6 provided a dose of hope for local Democrats. Smith spent some of that day at his new favorite precinct, and as he sat in the parking lot watching voters go in and out of the polls, he couldn’t help but think of elections to come.
“We’re really excited about the progress,” Smith said. “It bodes well for the future.”