Donald Trump claims victory in Georgia

Donald Trump won Georgia on Tuesday, continuing the Republican Party’s two-decade dominance in the state in a year when Democrats had perhaps their best shot at victory in a generation.

For Trump, the win gave him 16 crucial electoral votes in his effort to capture the White House.

The Republican built a firm lead in the rural areas of the state, outperforming 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, ran behind Barack Obama’s 2012 pace across the state, but she was showing signs of strength in major urban counties.

High school senior Kyle Zoeller, 18, cast a ballot for Trump in the first vote of his life.

He went to the polls at Montgomery Elementary School in Dunwoody with his mom, Beverly Zoeller, who also voted for Trump. She described herself as a “staunch” Republican but said she voted for Trump for personal reasons: Her son wants to join the Air Force, and she thinks the GOP supports the military more than Democrats.

“Not because I think he’d be a great president,” she said.

She never considered Clinton as the first female president because “I don’t think she’s a good representative for women.”

Said her son: “I’m totally for a woman for president; just not her.”

Preston Francis, 27, watched the sunrise smoking a cigarette outside the Cobb County Civic Center just before doors opened to voters.

Francis, who has lived in Cobb for 14 years, said he was leaning toward voting for the controversial Trump.

“I really can’t get mad at him because he’s being honest,” said Francis, who details cars for a living in Douglasville.

The black father of a 6-year-old boy voted for Obama twice but wanted something different for his third election.

He liked Trump’s promise of more jobs, but Francis played out how the candidate’s tax policy would affect those who make more than he does.

“It’ll be a totally different story when I see the ballot,” he said.

As it turns out, it was.

When he walked out about 30 minutes later, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he actually voted for Clinton.

When he was standing in the voting booth, he said he realized Trump hasn’t explained how he would build a wall on the Mexican border or regulate Muslims entering the country. He had to vote for her.

“She knows what … the black community needs, what the Hispanic community needs,” Francis said.

Trump’s win in Georgia comes after a campaign here that once seemed competitive as the two candidates made early signs of significant investment before retreating to what are considered the more traditional battleground states.

Both campaigns this summer staffed up in Georgia, and the Democratic National Committee made a significant financial commitment to turning the state blue for the first time since Bill Clinton won here in 1992. Hillary Clinton’s campaign all but merged with the Democratic Party of Georgia in a unified effort, while Trump’s campaign largely relied on the state GOP to run his get-out-the-vote efforts. The fight for the ground game was intense.

Even the bombshells of the national campaign seemed to have little impact in Georgia. When a 2005 video was released in early October that featured Trump making lewd comments and bragging about sexually harassing women, Georgia’s Republican leadership was unmoved. The same was true for Democrats when FBI Director James Comey this month announced the agency was re-evaluating its investigation of Clinton’s emails as new evidence emerged.

Clinton enjoyed a brief period in early August when polls showed her taking a slim lead in Georgia, but Trump recaptured the top spot by mid-August and never trailed again in the Real Clear Politics daily average of polls.

There were, however, signs that the Trump video and other accusations of misogynistic behavior had a price for the Republican. While an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in late October showed Trump leading Clinton overall here, female voters were breaking for Clinton 48 percent to 37 percent.

In the end, neither Trump nor Clinton had significant resources in the state, although the Democrat made a play for Georgia deeper into the calendar than any other Democratic nominee in years. In 2008, Obama contested Georgia until around Labor Day and then made a small ad buy late in the campaign. This year, Clinton, too, made a small, five-figure advertising buy on Atlanta television in October.

Still, while Clinton’s time, money and energy went elsewhere, other Democratic groups filled the gap in ways not seen here since 2000. Priorities USA, a Clinton-aligned super PAC, was consistently on Georgia’s airwaves with anti-Trump messages starting in mid-October. The group spent well over $1 million to support Clinton.

Otherwise, Georgia again played the role of donor state in the final weeks. In support of Clinton, her husband, Obama, vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine and others have visited to raise cash with limited public appearances. On the Trump side, three of the Republican nominee’s children visited in the past two months, also to raise cash and rally support.

Staff writers Ty Tagami and Ben Brasch contributed to this article.

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