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'This is not just a red county': Forsyth County Democrats turn out to see Abrams, Amico appear in Republican stronghold
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Supporters cheer on Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Sarah Riggs Amico at a campaign event Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, in Fowler Park. - photo by Brian Paglia

Anabella and Suzette Zuniga traded turns taking a picture under a Stacey Abrams and Sarah Riggs Amico campaign sign Friday at Fowler Park, first Suzette taking one of Anabella, then Anabella of Suzette. It was cold, with a biting wind, but the sisters from Forsyth County were eager to see the headlining candidates on the Democratic ticket for this year’s midterm election.

In particular, they were there to see Abrams, whose potential to become the first African American woman governor ever has launched her to national prominence and whose contested race against Republican rival Brian Kemp has grabbed national headlines as a gauge for both major parties’ chances in the midterm.

“I’m really excited to see her,” Suzette said.

A contingent of supporters were there, too, for the stop on Abrams’ “We Are Georgia” bus tour with other Democratic candidates, including Amico (lieutenant governor), Carolyn Bourdeaux (7th Congressional District), Josh McCall (9th Congressional District), Charlie Bailey (state attorney general), Steve Smith (state Senate District 27), Charles Ravenscraft (state House District 22) and Anita Tucker (state House District 25).

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Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, speaks to a crowd of supporters on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, as part of her "We Are Georgia" bus tour with other party candidates. - photo by Brian Paglia

For Abrams, it was her first campaign appearance in Forsyth County, and perhaps a surprising one. Forsyth has long been a conservative stronghold. The last Democratic gubernatorial candidate to win the county was Zell Miller in 1990, and almost four times as many Republicans turned out in Forsyth for the May primary as Democrats.

But Abrams’ race with Kemp is tight enough to warrant a visit to Forsyth. Polls show Kemp with just a 1.6-point lead, according to RealClearPolitics. The Cook Political Report categorizes the race as a toss-up.

For county Democrats, Abrams’ appearance in such a conservative-leaning county felt like validation that they’re not alone.

“I think it’s important that we show that this is not just a red county,” said county resident Lisa Whitmire.

Whitmire, 46, has lived in the Forsyth County-portion of Suwanee for six years and said her neighborhood is “right-leaning,” but she said she’s recently met more and more Democrats in Forsyth.

That in part emboldened her to try to volunteer for Abrams’ campaign. That didn’t work out, Whitmire said. (“I think she has enough volunteers,” she said.) Attending Friday’s event was a chance to contribute to the campaign in her own way by posting pictures from it on social media.

“This is the way I can get the word out,” Whitmire said.

The Zuniga sisters have lived in Forsyth for two years, and each was drawn to Abrams’ candidacy for her position on different issues.

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A person takes a picture at a Democratic campaign event Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, in Fowler Park. - photo by Brian Paglia

Anabella, an engineer, said she hopes Abrams would help implement stronger gun safety measures.

“Living in the South, I understand that (gun rights are) what’s important to them; it’s something that’s a cultural thing,” Anabella said. “But I think we do need regulation for safety for our kids in school.”

Suzette, a recent University of Georgia graduate, appreciated Abrams’ support for undocumented migrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, also known as Dreamers.

“I firmly believe that all students should have an equal right to seek higher education,” Suzette said.

All eventually were swept up by Abrams’ energy. The former state House minority leader touched on her hallmark issues of business, education and health care. She told poignant stories about her brother’s struggles with drug addiction and her own struggle to get a bank loan that might have kept a thriving business afloat.

With her winter hat and jacket on, Whitmire watched it all, one drop of blue in a sea of red, and remained optimistic of Democrats’ chances on Nov. 6.

“I’m hopeful,” Whitmire said.