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State & Regional Govt & Politics

    A veteran state official who briefly succeeded Gov. Brian Kemp after he stepped down as secretary of state last year has applied for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat ahead of a Monday deadline.  Robyn Crittenden, who now heads the state government’s largest agency, said Thursday she submitted her application to the governor’s office. She’s seen as one of the top potential contenders for the seat, which Isakson will vacate at year’s end. “Throughout my entire career, I have worked tirelessly to lead by example and serve with integrity,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I would be truly honored to continue that public service by representing Georgia in the United States Senate.” Kemp this week set a deadline for applications for Senate for Monday at 5 p.m., about two months after his unusual decision to invite the public to apply triggered a blitz of resumes from hopefuls.  It’s a sign that Kemp is nearing his decision to make an appointment after months of limbo, and Crittenden is the first of what’s expected to be a spate of well-known contenders to apply in the final days.  Though the governor could select a more familiar name – he’s got plenty to choose from – he’s also under pressure to broaden the party’s base by tapping a person of color or someone who doesn’t come from a conventional political background.  Crittenden fits both those categories. She became the first African-American woman to serve as a statewide constitutional officer in Georgia history in November 2018 when she was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to succeed Kemp, who resigned shortly after his election victory.  She built an extensive resume in local and state government, with jobs as general counsel at Morehouse College, chief operating officer for the Georgia Student Finance Commission, a high-ranking attorney for the Board of Regents and assistant county attorney in DeKalb County. More: Inside the slow start in the race for Isakson’s seat  More: US Senate: Who has applied for Johnny Isakson's Georgia seat Crittenden was tapped as commissioner for the Department of Human Services in July 2015, a role that oversees a 9,400 employees and a $1.9 billion annual budget. The agency provides child support services, aging services, and family and children services. During her short stint as secretary of state, she faced a series of thorny issues tied to the tight race between Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, including a flurry of lawsuits involving claims of voter suppression and the much-scrutinized count of absentee and provisional ballots.  She certified the state’s vote count on Nov. 17, a day after Abrams ended her run for governor without conceding defeat. She also drew headlines when she declined a request from Sarah Riggs Amico, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, for a recount of the race amid allegations of missing votes. Shortly after Kemp took office, he reappointed Crittenden as head of the Department of Human Services. Republican Brad Raffensperger, meanwhile, won the secretary of state’s seat after a December runoff victory over Democrat John Barrow.  Though Crittenden is a Republican, her stances on political issues and the degree of her support for President Donald Trump – major factors for any appointee – are largely unknown. She’s built a reputation of a policy wonk who has deep ties to state officials on both sides of the aisle.  Kemp has until the year’s end to sort through a list dotted with big names — including current and former officeholders, business executives, a U.S. ambassador, decorated military veterans and radio commentators. A Democratic state legislator has even applied. The rest are a snapshot of Georgia: schoolteachers and social workers, physicians and farmers, mechanics and managers.  Aside from Crittenden, other top potential contenders are U.S. Rep. Doug Collins; state Rep. Jan Jones, the No. 2 Republican in the Georgia House; Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton and Jackie Gingrich Cushman, an author and fiscal analyst who is the daughter of the former House speaker.   
  • A majority of Georgians disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance in the White House and he appears to be facing a hard fight against each of the five top Democratic candidates seeking to replace him, according to an exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. In head-to-head matchups, former Vice President Joe Biden ran strongest against Trump, leading the president 51% to 43%, fueled by solid support from women and independents. Other matchups against South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are much tighter. The findings provide an early snapshot of the developing race in Georgia one year out from the election and strengthens claims that the state will be a 2020 battleground. » Interactive: See poll results » Related: How — and why — we conducted this poll » Related: Georgians support impeachment inquiry, split on Trump ouster » PDF: Complete poll crosstabs The poll highlighted the sharp degree of polarization around Trump, who is the focus of public impeachment hearings that begin Wednesday. About 54% of registered Georgia voters disapprove of his record while 44% approve. It also shows the unsettled nature of U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s quest for a second term in 2020. Though about 50% of Georgians approve of his job performance, only about one-third say they’d support him in next year’s election. A bigger group — 41% — say their choice depends on who the Democratic nominee is. The findings help illustrate the political challenges facing both parties as Democrats target Georgia as a 2020 battleground, aiming to flip both U.S. Senate seats up for grabs next year and carry the state in a presidential election for the first time since Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory. The poll was conducted Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. For Democrats, the most encouraging finding might be the shift of independents, a largely white bloc of voters that has traditionally leaned Republican. A majority of independents support the impeachment inquiry, and about 60% disapprove of Trump’s job performance. Republicans are buoyed by signs that Trump is further consolidating GOP support, with 87% of Republicans contributing to an increase in his overall favorability rating to 42%. A broad majority of conservatives also opposes the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry. And Gov. Brian Kemp’s popularity continues to rise: Some 54% of Georgia voters give him a favorable review one year since he won the election, up from 46% in April and 37% in January. That includes most women and about one-fifth of Democrats. His job approval rating was about the same. That echoes a generally positive view of Georgia’s direction. While about 61% of voters say they’re not satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. — including one-third who are “very” dissatisfied — voters are sunnier about Georgia’s outlook: About 60% are keen on the way things are going. Still, many voters fear darker economic clouds are threatening. About 55% of voters describe the economy as “excellent” or “good,” and one-third say it’s “fair.” But a majority – 54% — worry that a recession is likely in the next year. Not ‘perfect’ Those concerns join a swirl of other factors that will influence next year’s race for president, but Trump might loom largest. Democrats remain overwhelmingly opposed to the president, with about 90% “strongly” disapproving of him. Among them is Albert Ross of Savannah, who is leaning toward Biden but said he’s willing to support anyone else on the ballot to ensure Trump is a one-term president. “I wouldn’t vote for him if he was giving reparations,” said Ross, who is black. At the same time, Republican support appears to be strengthening for the president. In April, an AJC poll found 83% of GOP voters had a favorable impression of Trump. In November, that rose to roughly 87% of voters who strongly or somewhat approve of him. Beverly Hales, a retired preschool teacher from Canton, said she plans to support Trump because of low unemployment rates and support for the military — and she is willing to overlook what she considers his shortcomings. “I know he is not a perfect person; none of them are,” Hales said. “But I think he has done good for the country.” Each of the five potential Democratic presidential candidates tested in the AJC poll had strong support among women and voters under age 45, areas of traditional strength for Democrats in Georgia. But Biden fared better than his counterparts among independents, with 46% of the vote, and with white voters, tallying 34% of the vote. He and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders also performed best with men, each notching 42% of the male vote in hypothetical matchups against Trump. Apart from Biden’s 8-point edge in the head-to-head matchups, none of the other Democrats tested in the AJC survey have clear leads over Trump. The poll also suggests that Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive, could face a tight race. In a contest against an unnamed Democratic opponent, about 35% of voters back Perdue, including about three-quarters of Republicans. One-fifth of voters will back the Democrat. But the plurality of voters say they are in wait-and-see mode depending on who his Democratic opponent is. That includes two-thirds of independents and a majority of voters who consider themselves moderates or slightly conservative. Who Perdue will face remains an open question: Four well-known Democrats are competing for the nomination, and more candidates could join the contest before the May primary. ‘Pretty cautious’ The poll points to deep unpopularity of the Medicare for All plan to provide government-funded health care, which some Democrats say can be achieved without raising taxes on middle-class Americans. Both Sanders and Warren have made Medicare for All a main focus of their plans. Only 40% of Georgia voters support the idea, compared with 53% who oppose it. Independent voters are almost evenly split on the issue, and nearly one-third of Democrats say it’s a bad idea. Republicans, on the other hand, are nearly united in their opposition, with more than 80% against it. The lean toward more government programs factors into Anthony Quadagno’s 2020 calculus. He considers himself a “Reagan conservative” and is concerned with some of Trump’s behavior, but he plans to vote for him in 2020. “He backpedals a lot,” said Quadagno, who lives in Marietta. “I don’t know if I believe him. But I just think the Democratic candidates, they’re leaning way toward socialism and that scares me.” Democrats, meanwhile, are careful not to let a sense of enthusiasm about defeating Trump get to their heads. Flannery Williams, a gerontology student from Lilburn, described a tentative mood going into next year’s election. “It could go either way, but I’m pretty cautious about 2020,” she said. “I’d love to think it’s going great, but I thought the last election was going great — and I was very surprised when Trump won.”
  • A majority of Georgia voters approve of the Democratic-led impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, but they are more divided over whether he should be ousted from office, according to an exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Tuesday. The poll found that nearly 54% of registered Georgia voters approve of the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump tried to enlist Ukraine to open investigations into his political opponents. That’s compared with 44% of voters who oppose and 2% who don’t know or refused to answer. Asked whether he should be removed from office, Georgians were almost evenly split: About 47% say he should be removed, about 47% say he should not, and about 6% did not answer or didn’t know. Those are the findings from the latest AJC poll, which was conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs amid the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the president. » Interactive: See poll results » Related: How — and why — we conducted this poll » Related: Trump faces tough re-election fight in Georgia » PDF: Complete poll crosstabs It mirrors a growing collection of national polls that show the country is divided along political lines on impeachment, an issue that will attract even more attention Wednesday when the U.S. House holds the first in a series of public hearings after weeks of closed-door testimony. The poll, which was conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. The findings reflected the partisan warfare that’s dominated the public discussion about removing Trump from office. Support for impeachment is overwhelming among Georgia Democrats, with 94% in favor and only 6% opposed. Among Republicans, the opposition to impeachment is almost as strong, with 86% opposing impeachment and about 13% in favor. Independents are more split: About 55% approve of the inquiry and 43% disapprove. The results tighten when voters are pressed on whether Trump should be removed from office after impeachment. About 88% of Democrats say he should be ousted, a slightly lower proportion than support impeachment, while a higher percentage of Republicans say Trump should remain in office. The poll found 90% of Republicans oppose removing him from office, while 8% support it. A slim majority of independents also oppose Trump’s ouster, with 51% against removing him and 40% in support. ‘Strife and stress’ That sharp divide is no mystery to Flannery Williams, a gerontology student from Lilburn who begrudgingly admires Trump’s deep reservoir of support. She marvels at Trump’s “my way or the highway” mentality, which she said helps cocoon him from fallout over impeachment. “He’s broken many, many laws over the course of his presidency,” she said. “And the fact that he is president has given him leeway to do it.” The president’s Georgia backers echoed the rhetoric from many Republican politicians by describing impeachment as a politicized attempt to thwart Trump. Darryl Douglass, an information technology worker from Jonesboro, said he’s seen no evidence yet warranting Trump’s removal from office. “It’s all a political stunt because the Democrats have a hard time grasping that they’re losing the 2020 election,” he said. “Over the next couple of years, they’re going to come to grips with the fact that Trump will be sitting in the Oval Office in 2021 — and they can’t do anything about it.” Some Georgia voters are rallying behind Democrats who are leading the inquiry. Deby Glidden, an Atlanta consultant, is among the independents who say Trump should be removed from office. “He’s run afoul of everything this country stands for, including requesting political interference from other countries. I think that’s treason,” said Glidden, who once considered herself a Republican. “And there’s basis for impeachment with all of the testimony that’s been given so far.” Others worry that Congress is too focused on impeaching Trump while ignoring other demanding issues. Vivian E. Johnson, a college chaplain, said she wants Congress to expand health care access and create new ways to help recent graduates find work. “Impeachment is not going to make any difference. There are so many other things that we need to be focused on, and impeachment will divert us,” she said. “It’s causing a lot of strife and stress out there. This is just not the time.”
  • Three years after challenging black voters to shrug off support for Democrats and back him, President Donald Trump used Atlanta as a staging ground for a new African American outreach initiative that he said would be a key part of his 2020 re-election bid.  Surrounded by roughly 400 supporters, including some who were from out of state, the president on Friday invoked the refrain he repeated so often during the 2016 campaign in front of largely white crowds as an appeal to African American voters: “What the hell do you have to lose?”  Those who took the gamble and supported him, Trump said, were rewarded with criminal justice initiatives, low black unemployment rates and staunch opposition to abortion, he said at the launch of his Black Voices for Trump group. Democrats, he countered, can only come up with empty promises.  “Under Democratic politicians, African Americans have become forgotten — literally forgotten — Americans,” Trump told the crowd, a mostly black audience that also included much of the Georgia GOP’s top leadership. “Under my administration, they’ve become forgotten no longer.” Photos: Donald Trump visits Georgia More: Demonstrators take to Atlanta streets Friday to protest Trump visit More: Here’s what ‘Black Voices for Trump’ supporters are saying about Trump’s Atlanta visit Outside the cramped Georgia World Congress Center, hundreds gathered to protest the president, waving signs mocking his agenda or supporting his impeachment. Some got into shouting matches with Trump supporters. And earlier in the day, several of Georgia’s most prominent Democratic leaders assailed his presidency.  State Sen. Nikema Williams, the Atlanta-based chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said Trump was bringing his “backward agenda to Georgia to pretend like his actions haven’t been a disaster for the black community and marginalized communities across this entire country.”  “In Georgia, we know better on issues from health care to criminal justice to education to basic respect, Donald Trump has failed to be a president for all Americans, especially Americans from marginalized backgrounds,” Williams said Friday morning.  Trump is trying to improve on dismal support among black voters. Just 8% of them cast ballots for him nationwide in 2016. And a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that only 4% of African Americans think Trump’s actions and policies have benefited black people.  Angeline Payne, who lives in South Fulton, said she attended the event to support Trump and “rally and recruit” black voters. More African Americans need to get engaged in politics and stop letting others tell them how to vote, she said.  “If you live in America, you’re involved,” said Payne, 58. “So you should get educated. Find out about the parties, where the parties came from, how they represent you, and then make a decision on what party you want to be and don’t let somebody tell you what party you’re in.”  Payne, who teaches financial literacy, said when voters aren’t engaged they just align with a party by default. “And if you’re not looking at the other side and seeing what they’re doing,” she said, “do you really want to be represented by that?” ‘Awfully bad’  The event was nothing like the last time Trump appeared at the Georgia World Congress Center, when thousands of his supporters thronged a vast concrete ballroom in 2016 for a rally memorable in part because the lights briefly went out.  Friday’s event was held in a far smaller room in the convention center and was open to only those who had invitations, leaving some of the president’s backers waiting outside for a chance to see him speak.  It started with an excerpt of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a poem that’s often referred to as the black national anthem, which caused a stir on social media with critics who called it disingenuous.  Trump was preceded by Vice President Mike Pence, who told the crowd of the sweep of black Republicans who were elected to office during the Reconstruction era and said that the GOP, from Abraham Lincoln to Dwight Eisenhower, has advocated for black Americans.  Then came U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the only African American member of Trump’s Cabinet, who drew a rousing ovation when he told the crowd that if “Trump is a racist, he’s an awfully bad one.”  That contrasted with the message from Williams and other Democratic legislators, who blasted the president’s play for black voters and said their party is best positioned to meet the needs of communities of color. The Rev. Timothy McDonald, a civil rights leader and pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, closed the news conference Friday morning with a scathing rebuke of Trump’s latest effort to woo black voters.  “To launch a program that he thinks is going to cause black people to vote for him is outrageous, it is insane and it is a slap in the face of all Americans of goodwill,” McDonald said. “This man’s rhetoric and his agenda have taken our country backward, not forward, to a time when there was much pain that existed.” ‘Why not?’  Although Trump’s event targeted black voters, the audience was peppered with influential white politicians from Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, and U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, Buddy Carter and Jody Hice were all in the building. Each was also singled out by Trump.  The crowd was also dotted with local black conservatives. Among the attendees was Herman Cain, the former presidential hopeful; Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and Melvin Everson, a former state legislator.  The event served as a reunion of sorts for black Trump supporters from across the nation. Political adviser Katrina Pierson named over a dozen states she said attendees hailed from, including Georgia, Florida, Ohio and Texas. “You forgot Arkansas!” a few people shouted.  Trump gave one of the most prominent speaking slots, though, to a lesser-known supporter: Kelvin King, an Atlanta contractor and Air Force veteran who credited Trump’s economic agenda for helping his business thrive and thanked the president for “making the black community a priority.”  “Our future success depends on our success in ignoring the distractions we see on a daily basis,” King said. “Don’t sit on the sidelines because of emotions or feelings.”  David Solomon, who came to the event from Miami, is the type of voter that Trump is hoping to win over. He said he was drawn to Trump because of his support for school choice and opposition to abortion, and that he plans to challenge other black voters to question their party ideology.  “Why not try something different?” he said. “We’ve already given them a shot for 50-some-odd years, and what have they done for us?” Bria Felicien contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump has departed Atlanta after a busy day that included a high-dollar fundraiser in Buckhead and a speech downtown to launch a new campaign initiative to court black Republican voters.  Photos: Donald Trump visits Georgia More: What to know about Trump’s Friday visit More: Here’s what ‘Black Voices for Trump’ supporters are saying about Trump’s Atlanta visit Also: Trump launches black voter initiative with message of economic growth Follow below for live updates of the day’s events: 4:55 p.m. Trump has departed Dobbins Air Force Reserve Base. 4:10 p.m. Trump is wrapping up his speech and is about to hit the road.  4:05 p.m. The president asks the approving crowd to imagine if Democrats shifted their focus away from impeachment and toward helping the black community.  “For over three straight years, they’ve been obsessed with one delusional goal - overturning the results of the 2016 election. And really, if you think about it, overturning American democracy,” he said, calling accusations that he helped Russia interfere with the election “delusional.”  “Now Democrats in the media – and they are partners – have launched a deranged hyperpartisan impeachment witch hunt. It’s a sinister effort to nullify the ballots of 63 million Americans,” he said. “It’s a craven pursuit of power and money.”  He accused Democrats of wanting to “redistribute your wealth” to “places you’ve never heard of.” And he said Democrats fought harder for people in the country illegally than African-American citizens.  “Under Democratic politicians, African-Americans have become forgotten - literally forgotten - Americans. Under my administration, they’ve become forgotten no longer.” 3:50 p.m. Trump’s back at the mic, and this line was a crowd-pleaser: “Democrats want to invest in green global projects. I want to invest in black American communities.” 3:45 p.m. The president calls Kelvin King, an Atlanta contractor and Trump supporter, to the stage.  The Air Force veteran credits Trump’s economic agenda for helping his business thrive.  “Our future success depends on our success in ignoring the distractions we see on a daily basis,” he said. “Don’t sit on the sidelines because of emotions or feelings.” He thanks Trump “for being brave, for making the black community a priority and for fighting for all Americans.”  3:40 p.m. More applause for Trump when he claims: “We’ve done more for African-Americans in three years than the broken Washington establishment has done in 30 years.”  3:35 p.m. To a wave of cheers, Trump reminds the crowd of his appeal to black voters three years ago: “What the hell do you have to lose?” “For decades, Democrats have taken African-American voters totally for granted,” he said. “Democrats have run America’s inner cities at every level for 50, 60, 70 years. Really, I think, for 100 years.”  He said the “betrayal of the black community is unbelievable” by Democratic politicians.  “America is waking up to the Democrat Party’s record of neglect ... I deal with them all the time. I deal with crooked politicians, this guy Adam Schiff. Nancy Pelosi should go back home to San Francisco and clean up its problems.” 3:30 p.m. Trump spotlights some of the leaders of the “Voices for Trump” coalition including Harrison Floyd, a military veteran who recently dropped out of the race for Georgia’s 7th District.  He also showered praise on several Georgia Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is a potential U.S. Senate nominee.  “He’s doing a great job. Thank you. Thank you. See, they like you, Doug.” 3:22 p.m. The president takes the stage to a burst of applause, as the crowd chants “Blacks for Trump.” “The support we’re getting from the African-American community is overwhelming,” he said. “This is turning out to be a movement.”  Trump opens by recounting his 2016 victory, which he said “took America back.” “We’ve never done better than we’re doing now. The Republican Party was the original home of African Americans, and now African Americans are returning.”  3:20 p.m. Housing Secretary Ben Carson, the only African American member of Trump’s Cabinet, drew a standing ovation when he took the podium. “Let me tell you - if Trump is a racist, he’s an awfully bad one,” he said to applause.  3:15 p.m: The crowd is dotted with local black conservatives. Among the attendees is Herman Cain, the former presidential hopeful; Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr.; and Melvin Everson, a former state legislator.  Wearing an oversized Trump “Make America Great,” Bryson Gray talked of how he drove down from Greensboro, N.C. to attend Trump’s event.  “I support Trump 2020 and any way I can help him, I will. We have one of the best economies we’ve ever had,” he said. Gray said he once was a “Bernie bro” and was influenced by friends who said Trump was racist.  “I kept during research and I figured that what Trump said made sense,” he added. 3 p.m.: Chants of “four more years” break out when Vice President Mike Pence says “African-Americans and all Americans need four more years of President Trump.” He urged the crowd to appeal to their friends and neighbors to “tell the American people how we’re more secure today” because of Trump. “And I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of an administration, and stand with a president, who has renewed our party’s proud commitment to equality and opportunity for all,” he said.  Pence invoked Rep. John Lewis’ march across the Selma bridge, recounting how he once asked whether the Atlanta congressman – and outspoken Trump critic - ever thought about turning back. He was told, flatly, no.  “They helped change America for the better,” he said.  2:45 p.m.: A few hundred protesters have gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center.  2:05 p.m.: The event has begun.  2 p.m.: The Georgia World Congress Center was dotted with police officers in what looked to be a heavier than normal presence, as people trickled in to the rally.  They were young and old, black and white, including a couple holding hands, the woman carrying a small a U.S. flag. There were several red Make America Great Again ball caps, one atop a white man in a suit, another on the head of a black man in a suit.  Police set up a small cordon near the rally entrance, and only ticket holders were allowed in. 1:30 p.m.: President Donald Trump is set to raise roughly $3.5 million in Atlanta for Georgia Trump Victory at his events at the Whitley, a joint fundraising committee benefiting the RNC, Trump campaign and U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s campaign. About 325 donors are expected at the event. 1 p.m.: A few dozen Trump supporters and protesters lined the streets outside the Whitley hotel in Buckhead, where the president will headline a fundraiser.  One group unfurled a bright blue Trump banner for the passing motorcade. Protesters included a woman waving a sign that read: “I’m the whistleblower” and a group of demonstrators on Peachtree St. that chanted “lock him up.” 12:50 p.m.: The crowd is arriving at the Georgia World Congress Center.   12:30 p.m.: President Donald Trump chatted briefly with Gov. Brian Kemp, his wife Marty and their three daughters as he stepped off the plane. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Attorney General Chris Carr and House Speaker David Ralston joined them on the receiving line.  Some of Trump’s top Georgia allies in Washington followed him off the flight: U.S. Sen. David Perdue and his cousin, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, along with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.   Collins remains one of the best-known contenders to replace U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, but unless there’s a drastic change of plans, we don’t expect Kemp to announce his appointment to coincide with Trump’s visit.  Yet that might not stop the president from dropping a hint about who he favors at his events today. 12:10 p.m.: Trump has landed in metro Atlanta.  11:55 a.m.: Before departing the White House, Trump answered questions including one about his trip to Georgia and said,  “We're doing very well with African Americans. I think a big factor is the fact they are having the best economic year they have ever had in the history of our country.” 10:25 a.m.: An interestingly timed video from civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, posted on Twitter this morning. 9:15 a.m.: Georgia Democrats kicked off the morning with a news conference blasting President Trump’s latest play for black voters and insisting that their party is best positioned to meet the needs of communities of color. State Sen. Nikema Williams, the Atlanta-based chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said Trump was bringing his “backwards agenda to Georgia to pretend like his actions haven’t been a disaster for the black community and marginalized communities across this entire country.” “In Georgia, we know better on issues from healthcare, to criminal justice, to education to basic respect, Donald Trump has failed to be a president for all Americans, especially Americans from marginalized background,” Williams said. “Donald Trump's administration has made an all out assault on people of color.” Other Democratic legislators of color joined her at the morning news conference held on the steps of the state Capitol, including State Sens. Harold Jones and Sheikh Rahman and State Reps. Derrick Jackson, Donna McLeod and Shelly Hutchinson. Rev. Timothy McDonald, a civil rights leader and pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, closed the presser with a scathing rebuke of Trump’s latest effort to woo black voters, an initiative the president will launch in Atlanta later today. “To launch a program that he thinks is going to cause black people to vote for him is outrageous, it is insane and it is a slap in the face of all Americans of goodwill,” McDonald said. “This man's rhetoric and his agenda have taken our country backwards, not forward, to a time when there was much pain that existed.” 8:30 a.m.: The president’s critics plan to make his one-day trip to Atlanta as uncomfortable as possible, starting with a morning press conference at the state Capitol led by prominent African-American Democrats. State Sen. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, and other top officials plan to highlight how Trump’s agenda “hurts Georgia’s black community.” In 2016, a paltry 8% of black voters nationwide cast their ballots for Trump. And a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that only 4% of African Americans think Trump’s actions and policies have benefited black people. The AJC’s Ernie Suggs explored Trump’s struggles with black voters – and his attempt to woo influential African-American supporters – in a story you can find here.   
  • President Donald Trump is headed to Atlanta on Friday for a one-day trip that includes a roundtable discussion with donors who signed six-figure checks, a fundraiser to boost U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s re-election bid and the rollout of a campaign initiative targeting black voters. Trump is set to touch down at Dobbins Air Reserve Base around 11 a.m., head to the roundtable and fundraiser in Buckhead for lunch and then go downtown to the Georgia World Congress Center for his midafternoon speech before returning to Dobbins. Expect major traffic snarls throughout the city. Here’s what to know about the day: ‘Black Voices for Trump’ The headline-grabbing event of the day will be the unveiling of the “Black Voices for Trump” coalition in downtown Atlanta. The president is set to speak after 2 p.m. at the invite-only event, along with Vice President Mike Pence and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Trump is expected to highlight recent statistics that show low unemployment rates for black workers as well as an opportunity zone program that Republicans tucked into their 2017 tax-cut legislation to encourage investors to pump money into struggling areas. But Republicans face a daunting challenge wooing black voters in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams and other Democrats won the African American electorate by a huge margin in 2018. Exit polls showed 94% of black voters backed Abrams over Republican Brian Kemp in last year’s race for governor. The national data for Trump is grim, too. In 2016, only 8% of black voters cast ballots for Trump and, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll, only 8% of black voters identify in some way with the Republican Party. There’s much buzz about how many black Republicans will show up at Trump’s kickoff at the downtown convention center and which Georgians will be tapped to lead the new group. He has several prominent African American conservatives to choose from, including Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Bruce Levell, a Dunwoody jeweler who was a leader in Trump’s black outreach group in 2016; and Ashley Bell, a White House policy adviser. Senate speculation Word that Trump will arrive in Atlanta on Air Force One with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in tow has sparked a frenzy of rumors in Georgia political circles that the Gainesville Republican will be Gov. Brian Kemp’s pick for the U.S. Senate. Collins remains one of the best-known contenders for the office, but unless there’s a drastic change of plans, Kemp is not expected to announce his appointment for the soon-to-be vacated U.S. Senate seat in time for Trump’s visit. More than 500 people have submitted resumes since the governor posted his online “help wanted” sign for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down at year’s end for health reasons. The list is studded with well-known names — including current and former officeholders, business executives, a U.S. ambassador, decorated military veterans and radio commentators. A sitting Democratic state senator even raised his hand for the job. Still, the president might use the event to drop a hint about whom he favors — increasing the pressure on Kemp. As the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Collins has been one of Trump’s top defenders in Congress. And last month, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., headlined a fundraiser that raised about $300,000 for Collins and called him “the kind of fighter we need in the Senate.” Trump’s Atlanta events will be filled, too, with other potential Senate appointees who may try to quietly make their case for the position. Promoting Perdue Trump is preparing to host a high-dollar fundraiser in Atlanta to help defend Perdue, one of the staunchest critics of the Democratic-led impeachment effort. The president recently set up a joint fundraising committee with the Republican in time for Friday’s fundraiser at an undisclosed Atlanta locale that will run attendees $2,800 to get in the door and a six-figure check to attend a roundtable. The money-in-politics tracker OpenSecrets.org reports that Perdue is the first congressional candidate to directly receive support from a Trump-backed fundraising committee. Perdue is one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the U.S. Senate and was standing by him at Game 5 of the World Series last week when baseball fans at Nationals Park in Washington greeted the president with boos and chants of “Lock him up!” Four Democrats running for Perdue’s seat have tried to paint him as a Trump stooge too blinded by his loyalty to do what’s best for his constituents. At a campaign event on Saturday, Democrat Teresa Tomlinson labeled Perdue “the enabler, the influencer, the co-pilot of this president.” Attendees will have to dig deep into their wallets: A place at the roundtable will cost supporters a $100,000 check. It follows with a luncheon that will run attendees $2,800 for a seat at the table — and at least $35,000 for a photo with the president. Protests and counterprogramming The president’s critics plan to make his one-day trip to Atlanta as uncomfortable as possible. One group is planning his “biggest UNwelcome yet” to start at Centennial Park at 2 p.m., just before Trump is set to speak at the Georgia World Congress Center. Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is spoofing Trump’s invite to announce his own counterprogramming event: a happy hour Friday evening at Manuel’s Tavern, a hangout for cops, journalists and politicos. And state Democrats will hold a press conference at 8:30 a.m. at the Georgia Capitol to highlight how Trump’s agenda “hurts Georgia’s black community.”
  • A new law that allows companies to grow and sell medical marijuana in Georgia for the first time has been stalled since it was signed six months ago. But that’s about to change.  House Speaker David Ralston said Wednesday on GPB’s “Political Rewind” that he’ll soon begin to appoint members of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission. Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan could also follow suit. The expansion is effectively sidelined until they do, triggering criticism from families and health care advocates who have lobbied for years for the expansion.  “I thought it was important that we get it right. We didn’t want to just draw names out of a hat. We wanted to be very deliberative of how we select these individuals,” said Ralston. “We have our appointees ready and you’ll be seeing that commission become appointed in the next few days.” The legislation, House Bill 324, gave the seven-member commission vast oversight over the state’s medical marijuana operation, including picking which businesses can grow the plant and developing the licensing requirements that retailers must meet to sell it. It’s a cornerstone of a law that creates a new but limited marijuana industry in Georgia, allowing the production of a cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives users a high.  The legislation was celebrated as a milestone for patients who were previously allowed to use the drug — but had to violate state and federal laws to purchase it. One potential cause for the lag time is that the commission is essentially a startup, unlike other boards and agencies with built-in procedures and existing members. State officials say they’ve been inundated with applications — more than 50 candidates have surfaced for the spots. The law also sets strict requirements for appointments, including a rule that commission members must not have any ownership stake or other financial interest in a cannabis oil firm during their term — and five years after it ends. The delay has been a setback for patients and their families who celebrated the law’s passage with hopes it would provide much-needed treatment for severe seizures, terminal cancers, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.  “It’s extremely frustrating for medically fragile patients to finally get a bill passed that allows the distribution of medical cannabis oil, and then still be waiting on Governor Kemp to establish the commission,” said Blaine Cloud, whose daughter Alaina suffers from a severe form of epilepsy that could be treated by the drug.  “Registered patients and many others continue to suffer every day – and will continue to suffer since it will take time to get companies licensed once the commission is finally established.” Read more here: Georgia medical marijuana expansion stalls amid ‘frustrating’ delay   
  • A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday asked a judge to require quick notification to Georgia voters when their absentee ballots are rejected, giving them time to correct problems and have their votes counted. The lawsuit, filed by the Democratic Party, said voters often aren’t told about mismatched or missing signatures on their absentee ballots until it’s too late. “Every Georgian should have the right to cast their vote and make sure it counts,” said Nikema Williams, chairwoman for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Our elections need clear and fair standards to ensure that no one is disenfranchised and that no community is unfairly targeted.” Election officials threw out 8,157 absentee ballots in last November’s election, about 3% of all absentee ballots returned by mail. Many of those rejections occurred in Gwinnett County, which imposed strict standards for accepting absentee ballots and rejected 1,733 of them. State law requires election officials to “promptly notify” voters of problems with their signatures, but some voters who mailed their ballots near Election Day weren’t informed in time to submit a revised provisional ballot along with identification information. Voters have three days after Election Day to correct issues with an absentee ballot, according to a new state law. Election officials should notify voters of missing signatures by phone, email or text messages within one day after receiving their absentee ballots, according to the lawsuit by the Democratic Party of Georgia, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The lawsuit also wants Gwinnett to change the design on its absentee ballot envelopes, which included small type. Gwinnett officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.
  • A month after a federal judge temporarily blocked Georgia’s new anti-abortion law from taking effect, a group that opposes the procedure plans to display graphic images and videos of aborted fetuses at four public universities this week, starting Monday at Georgia Tech. Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year signed legislation that would have outlawed most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity — usually around six weeks of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.  “A preborn child is no less human than a born child,” Mark Harrington, president of the group, Created Equal, said in a news release. “Thus, to treat the preborn in a way we’d never treat a born person is a grievous violation of human equality. College students deserve to see the victims of this injustice and to know the science and reasoning behind defending the preborn.”  Created Equal has permits to visit Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities and the University of Georgia. The group plans to use a Jumbotron at various locations at the schools to display images to make “the case that abortion is age discrimination.”  All four schools, along with the University System of Georgia, said in statements that the organization properly completed paperwork to appear under their various freedom of expression policies.  “We are aware of Created Equal’s plans and have been in contact with organizers,” Georgia Tech said in a statement. “We have reserved space for this outside group in a designated outdoor area, which is consistent with how we handle all requests like this one. As a public university, we are committed to supporting freedom of expression on our campus.”  Georgia State sent a message to students alerting them about the organization’s planned presence on its main campus Wednesday in downtown Atlanta. The message was clear that the university is not excited about the upcoming appearance.  “You may wonder why your university would allow speech that is hateful or mean-spirited,” the message said. “However, the university has an important constitutional duty to uphold the free speech rights of all people, without regard to the content of their speech.”  The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sued the state, saying the new anti-abortion law violates a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion as determined by the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.  States across the country passed bills similar to Georgia’s this year, which anti-abortion activists said they hope will overturn the Supreme Court ruling. Federal judges in each state have temporarily blocked the respective laws from going into effect.  Lawyers will likely return to court early next year to argue the specifics of Georgia’s law. Attorneys for the ACLU said the new law is essentially a ban on abortions, but lawyers for the state said the procedure still could be performed before cardiac activity is detected. Created Equal conducted similar events at some Michigan schools about three weeks ago. Telephone calls to the organization Friday were not immediately returned.
  • President Donald Trump is preparing to host a high-dollar fundraiser in Atlanta this week to help defend U.S. Sen. David Perdue, one of the staunchest critics of the Democratic-led impeachment effort. The president recently set up a joint fundraising committee with the Republican in time for a Friday fundraiser at an undisclosed Atlanta locale that will run attendees $2,800 to get in the door and a six-figure check to attend a roundtable.  The money-in-politics tracker OpenSecrets.org reports that Perdue is the first congressional candidate to directly receive support from a Trump-backed fundraising committee.  Trump’s trip is part of what Politico describes as a plan to raise money for vulnerable Republican senators who are pushing back against impeachment. Perdue, who is seeking a second term in 2020, has called the inquiry a “partisan show trial.”  It also marks a shift in strategy. Trump didn’t divert fundraising cash to Senate candidates during his White House run in 2016, instead funneling campaign donations toward the Republican National Committee and state GOP groups.  Perdue is one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the U.S. Senate and was standing by him at Game 5 of the World Series last week when the president was  greeted with boos and chants of 'Lock him up!' from baseball fans at Nationals Park.  His four Democratic rivals have tried to paint Perdue as a Trump stooge too blinded by his loyalty to do what’s best for his constituents. At a campaign event on Saturday, Democrat Teresa Tomlinson labeled Perdue “the enabler, the influencer, the co-pilot of this president.”  Trump’s visit, first reported last month, will start with a roundtable that will cost supporters a cool $100,000 to attend. It follows with a luncheon that will run attendees $2,800 – and a donation of at least $35,000 for a photo with the president.