An estimated 400 people turned out to hear a speech by state Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), the party's likely nominee for governor, at a Clarke County Democratic Committee fundraiser Thursday night at the Classic Center.
Local Democrats called it one of the largest crowds for a party event in memory, second only to a 2012 victory bash for President Barack Obama at the Georgia Theatre. Past fundraisers have drawn about 250 people.
Carter and other Democrats called the turnout a sign that, after 12 years of defeats at the polls in Georgia, Democrats have the momentum going into the November election. A recent poll showed that Carter is within striking distance of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
"Anybody who thinks Democrats are dead needs to look around this room," Mayor Nancy Denson said.
The crowd at the $75-a-head fundraiser included 50 teachers who were sold discounted tickets subsidized by an anonymous donation. They heard Carter, local party chairman Joe Wisenbaker and candidate for lieutenant governor Connie Stokes hammer on Republicans for cutting a cumulative $7 billion from the state K-12 education budget over the past decade. Class sizes have increased in 95 percent of school districts, and three-quarters now have fewer than the 180 school days once mandated by law, Carter said.
"They have dismantled our education system," he said. "They are trading tomorrow for today."
The education cuts are draining the state economy, Carter said. He accused Republicans of pursuing low-wage jobs as the middle class tanks. The state's median income, adjusted for inflation, has fallen by $6,000 since the recession hit in 2007, dropping Georgia's ranking from 15th to 33rd, he said. Without educated entrepreneurs and consumers with spending money, the economy will never recover, he said.
"You can act like it's the president's fault, but he's president of all those other states [that have passed Georgia] too," he said.
Carter proposed separating education from the rest of the state budget and voting on it before everything else.
"That's what it means to have priorities," he said.
While pointing out other political candidates in the room, Carter mentioned former Athens state Rep. Keith Heard, who later confirmed that he will run for state insurance commissioner.
"Georgia has a lot of opportunities, and we're missing those opportunities playing politics with the lives of the citizens of Georgia," Heard said.
Incumbent Ralph Hudgens—who has proudly claimed to be "obstructing" the Affordable Care Act—is doing constituents a disservice by not helping them navigate the law or answering their questions about it, Heard said.
"We don't get to choose which laws we abide by and which ones we don't," he said.
Heard has been in the insurance business for 36 years and served 20 years in the legislature until Spencer Frye ousted him in 2012. Another Democrat, Liz Johnson, announced her candidacy for insurance commissioner in December.