SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. - Rusty Paul, the Republican mayor of Sandy Springs, a surging suburb abutting northern Atlanta's city limits, attributed the purpling of Georgia to one man: Donald Trump.
Get rid of the former president's influence, he said, and Georgia, which Tuesday reelected a Democratic senator, Raphael Warnock, returns to red.
Sure, he said, Sandy Springs is changing. Once almost-wholly affluent and almost-wholly white, the community has become more diverse ethnically, racially and economically. Apartment complexes have shot up along Roswell Road, and businesses have moved in, bringing with them workers from out of state or from downtown Atlanta to what is no longer a bedroom community. Young voters are also moving to the suburb, which was once considered the essence of uncool in the sprawling metropolis.
But, Paul said, he wins over those newcomers easily. The man who turned the northern suburbs blue was Trump.
"All of those are factors," Paul said in an interview about the ways Sandy Springs is changing. "But the greatest factor is Trumpism."
Warnock defeated Trump's hand-picked candidate, retired football star Herschel Walker, in a runoff Tuesday, giving Democrats a 51-49 majority in the Senate next year - a triumph for Democrats who managed to flip a seat in Pennsylvania, also by defeating one of Trump's picks. Walker's loss will almost certainly lead to soul-searching for a Republican Party that must decide how firmly to tether itself to the former president, who has already declared another run for the White House in 2024.
Paul pointed to the successes this election cycle of the former president's Republican detractors, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, as a sign of Trump's toxicity in Georgia.
"There's a very strong conservative streak in the northern suburbs - Cobb, North Fulton. If Trump's not engaged, they'll still vote Republican," he said, speaking of the northern edge of Atlanta's main county and Cobb County, just to the west. "But if they feel Trump's influence, they'll vote against him."
He pinpointed the former president's inability to pick good talent and his extraordinary capacity to find hot button issues like transgender rights and immigration that rally the base but turn off the center.
"Social issues drive younger voters most," Paul said, "and they see nothing in Republican Party they can feel comfortable with at the moment."
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