A stunning 200 people came to a last-minute campaign stop at Hendershot's this afternoon to meet state Sen. Jason Carter, the likely Democratic nominee for governor.
Carter devoted much of his stump speech to convincing the Democratic activists and donors in the room who've been beaten down by a decade of defeats that he has a legitimate chance to win. He cited a poll showing that only 36 percent of voters think Gov. Nathan Deal should be re-elected, as well as President Barack Obama's performance in 2012. Obama won 46 percent of the vote without spending a dime here, making Georgia the second-least red state behind North Carolina.
"The thing I've heard the most is people are excited to have a real race," he said.
Policy-wise, Carter focused mainly on education. Sixty thousand students have dropped out of the technical college system, 140 school districts hold class fewer than 180 days out of the year, there are 9,000 fewer teachers in the state than there were four years ago, and college enrollment is down for the first time in memory because HOPE reform has put higher education out of reach for some, he said.
Carter was the public face of Democrat's opposition to HOPE cuts, which he called an "unbelievable catastrophe." Even Deal has recognized that his reforms pushed thousands of students out of two-year schools and has moved to rectify the mistake.
At the same time that education is being cut and cut—incidentally, leading 39 cities and counties to raise property taxes, Carter said—he accused the Deal administration of trumpeting Site Selection magazine naming Georgia the No. 1 place to do business.
"You're not really building for the future," he said. "You're building for the present, and you're building for these magazine articles that don't matter."
And while the big fish like Caterpillar get all kinds of tax breaks, Deal made sure that the same incentives aren't available to small businesses with fewer than 100 employees, Carter said. That's one reason why Georgia's unemployment rate is still 8 percent, he said.
Talking with reporters after his speech, Carter was critical of the Affordable Care Act but, unlike Gov. Deal, wants to expand Medicaid using Arkansas as a model.
"Obamacare is a mess," Carter said. "Everybody thinks that, Republican and Democrat, at this point. We have to find a solution that makes sense."