Irwin County is about two hours south of Macon, off Interstate75 or approximately one hour east of Albany.
This county has been politically ‘red’ or voted Republican for numerous election cycles which has now stretch over a decade.
Every vote counts and state Democrats shouldn’t disregard having an impact in Irwin County. Even though Irwin County is best known for their football team, the Irwin County Red Indians in which their slogan is “Go Big Red.”
In mid-August, former Governor Roy Barnes paid a visit for two days and picked up endorsements from some farmers and business leaders in which is a great sign for his campaign.
Barnes commented that education and job creation are the top two concerns in Irwin County and he wanted to focus on using agriculture as a way to create more jobs for people in the area.
WALB-TV had done a story on the former governor and part of their written account went like this: “Roy Barnes is no stranger to Irwin County, but this time around talking with some of the same people….”
Irwin County is more of a diverse county than their current voting record suggests, and maybe it’s part of the reason why Barnes lost in 2002 and Democrats have had a harder time in recent election cycles.
Barnes may need to talk to a larger cross-section of people in rural communities–instead of talking to some of the ‘same’ people– and this could speak to voter apathy and lack of voter intensity among Democrats.
One of the main reasons Obama won in 2008 was due to appealing to younger voters of all races and backgrounds. Ultimately, it was the difference. For Barnes, he is apparently going against the grain and appealing mainly to older, Georgia conservative/independent voters.
Ocilla is the county seat and largest city. The next largest city is the unincorporated Irwinville.
According to the most recent Census figures, Ocilla is 60% African-American.
However, the photo opportunities taken of Barnes by WALB-TV in Albany and the Ocilla Star newspaper show him with primarily older Irwin County residents.
Irwin County is more diverse than local media and current election cycles show.
Barnes has said he wants to appeal to more independent voters and that is all well and good, but attracting a true big tent political strategy of including all Irwin County –young and old of all backgrounds– instead of picking and choosing would be more advantageous.
Irwin County did vote for John McCain in 2008 over Obama. Incidentally, former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Martin did better in Ocilla and the other seven voting precincts in Irwin County than Obama.
In 2000, George W. Bush won this county by winning 60% of the Irwin County vote and in 2004, Bush won again with 68% of the vote.
If you look at Irwin County’s economic and demographics, it appears they are voting against their best interests when voting for a Republican who supports policies such as tax cuts that benefit the wealthy.
Ocilla is Irwin County’s largest voting precinct with approximately 2,600 registered voters. Overall, there are close to 5,200 voters. So Ocilla represents a little over half of all registered voters; even though Ocilla is 60% African-American, 2 % Latino.
Ocilla is like big island surround by smaller more conservative communities such as the unincorporated Irwinville, Minnie, Roberts Osierfield, Mystic, Fletcher and Holt.
In 2008, Ocilla voted for Barack Obama with 55% of the vote, but former U.S. Senate candidate received 60% of the vote. Only 9% of Irwinville voted for Obama, but 23%of Irwinville voted for Martin.
Maybe if then-candidate Obama visited rural south Georgia, he would have done much better in Irwin County and erased that five point loss to John McCain.
Irwin did vote overwhelmingly for Roy Barnes in 1998 with 67%, but swung their support to Republican Sonny Perdue four years later with 59% of the vote.
The last time a Democratic presidential candidate won was former President Bill Clinton in both1992 and 1996. However, independent candidate played a large role in both 1992 and 1996. Perot collected 16% of the Irwin County vote and only 9% in 1996.
Ocilla is not a lost cause for Democrats this year or any other year.