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Georgia Democrats after DNC: 'We can see the finish line'

PHILADELPHIA -- As Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine headed out on a bus tour of Pennsylvania and Ohio on Friday, Georgia Democrats, though bleary eyed and exhausted, were still basking in the glow of a Democratic National Convention that was so heavily represented by the Peach State.

And, they're trying to process what it means.

Georgia had a major presence on stage at the Wells Fargo Center every night of the four-night convention, beginning with former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin Monday afternoon and ending with the Rev. Bernice King, who helped give the invocation at Thursday's final session.

In between, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, former state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, former President Jimmy Carter, AIDS activist Daniel Driffin, state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta,  Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, graced the stage (although President Carter spoke by video). It was a mix of the party's old guard and current or rising stars.

Some, like Abrams, Reed and King, were feted at multiple events, from luncheons and policy events.

"I was deeply privileged to help kick-off one of the best conventions we've ever seen," Abrams said. "I spoke at a number of events over the week where Georgia was extolled as a state at its tipping point. Our collective efforts to elevate recognition of the state's massive, fast and unique demographic changes are bearing fruit."

There has to be a message to the fact Georgia had what appears to be a record-breaking number of high-profile speaking slots. At the past two conventions, in Denver in 2008 and Charlotte in 2012, Georgia's speaking roles could be counted on one hand, with fingers to spare.

"That says that we have a lot of well respected leaders in this state and a deep bench," Jason Carter, the party's 2014 candidate for governor who is expected to make another statewide bid at some point, said. "And the national party is taking notice. Georgia is in play right now."

At least Democrats hope it is. A Democrat hasn't won Georgia in a presidential race since 1992 and every four years since, the story has been the same: Democrats believe Georgia will be competitive and, other than for a few months in 2008, it turns out not to be.

With that caveat, there are reasons to believe this could be a different year. The state becomes more diverse by the day and that diversity appears to largely benefit Democrats. And, there's the Trump factor. More than a few establishment Republicans in Georgia have so far been frustrated by what they've seen of their party's standard bearer.

Watching this week's convention, when Democrats embraced patriotism and the military made that more stark, Republican operative Chip Lake said.

"It was tough for me to sit through last night," Lake said. "We all know that Donald Trump is the nominee for our party. But to watch all the speakers, to see them take items that we had ownership of – it was hard.

"Last night served as the height of frustration for the nomination of Donald Trump for the Republican Party."

Lake's concerns notwithstanding, there are many Georgia Republicans just as fired up about Trump as many Democrats now appear to be about Clinton.

"We are proud of the numerous Georgia Republicans who worked behind the scenes in Cleveland to ensure a successful, productive convention," said Georgia GOP spokesman Ryan Mahoney.

"From our committee members crafting the rules and platform to delegate wranglers, media surrogates, and elected officials, the state of Georgia was well represented at the Republican National Convention and Peach State conservatives continue to play a vital role in electing Donald J. Trump as the next President of the United States."

Still, Democrats leave Philadelphia ecstatic. Sure there remain pockets of upset among a subset of Bernie Sanders supporters who continued to express their displeasure with Clinton, Kaine and the Democratic National Committee. That just means there's work to do, Kip Carr, treasurer of the Democratic Party of Georgia and a Bernie Sanders delegate, said.

"If Georgia is not solidly a purple state it has potential of becoming one," Carr said. "What we have to do, we have to energize these millennials who came in as part of the Sanders campaign. It’s real clear. That’s my charge and I will talk to young people."

Many Democrats are gleeful of the prospect of a competitive presidential campaign in the state while others warn that enormous work remains to make that so.

"Some say we're a purple state. I know we’re in the right direction," Sheikh Rahman of Lawrenceville, the state party's newest member of the Democratic National Committee said. "I hope to win some day. I’m optimistic we’ll try our best. We’re doing a better job registering voters but not as well at turning people out to the polls. If we can get people to the poll we will win Georgia."

State party Chairman DuBose Porter said the breeze is picking up and it's blowing their way.

“The fact that our state had such a prominent role this week is no coincidence — people are paying attention," he said. "There’s a growing drumbeat of validation that Georgia is the next battleground state. And we’ll use this momentum to not only send the most qualified candidate of our lifetime — Hillary Clinton — to the White House, but lift up down-ballot candidates in the process.”

Rahman said victory is so close.

"We see the finish line," he said. "I can see the line. We just can’t cross that line."

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed. 

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