Three months away from the November elections and several weeks before he officially accepts the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Barack Obama's campaign to win over Newton County is in high gear.
On a humid Friday night, while many other county residents were enjoying a free concert on the Covington square or huddled in front of their television's to watch the opening ceremonies of the Bejing Olympics, approximately 100 local Obama supporters gathered in the Newton County Historic Courthouse to meet with campaign staffers.
"You're part of the biggest, most well-run campaign in the history of politics," enthused twenty something campaign staffer Owen Henkel, who is the county's field organizer for the Obama campaign, without a hint of insincerity.
Henkel, who arrived in the county only a week ago, said he was impressed that so many people turned out to the event, which was advertised largely by e-mail and word of mouth, with such short notice.
"It's so exciting to see so many people out here, after a week here," Henkel said.
While some of the attendees were local party officials or Democratic candidates running for local office, hoping to recruit supporters for their own campaigns, the large majority of people came because of their enthusiasm for Obama.
The large majority of attendees were black, though ages varied greatly. For many it was their first time volunteering for any kind of political campaign.
Marcus Bailey, 17, and Davarius Dennis, 15, said they planned to go door-to-door for Obama. Both boys said they were attracted to his candidacy because they felt it was time for the country to have a black president. Though he won't be old enough to vote for Obama himself, Dennis said he thought his chances of wining were "very good."
"He's a strong man," Dennis said. "He believes in what he can do."
James Martin, a Vietnam veteran who moved to Newton County a few years ago, said he feels he can emphasize with Obama and also likes his positions on education.
Echoing the campaign's much touted (and ridiculed) theme, Covington resident Deborah Belchef-Genkins said she supported Obama because "I feel like it's time for a change."
Alvin Bailey said he decided to support Obama because of his stance against the prescription of psychotropic drugs for children.
"He's the only candidate, I've heard, that wants to stop that," Bailey said.
Henkel said the Obama campaign's plan for winning Georgia, which has voted Republican in the last seven presidential elections, is based around the following key groups: the base (voters who will vote for Obama with little encouragement) sporadic voting Democrats, Independents and unregistered voters.
According to the campaign, there are 700,000 individuals of voting age in Georgia who are not registered to vote. A vast majority these potential voters are black and/or under 30, two demographics that voted strongly in favor of Obama in the primaries.
"The job in Georgia is massive," Henkel said of the work ahead of volunteers over the next three months. "We don't have a shot in Georgia without committed Georgians making it happen."
Like Georgia, which has seen its demographics change dramatically as more people move to the state from the Northeast, Henkel said Newton County was a microcosm of the state and its possibilities for political change.
Despite a solid Republican voting record in November, 2006, local enthusiasm for Obama far outshone any other candidate's performance in the February presidential primary.
Obama received nearly 73 percent of the 11,400 Democratic votes cast. In comparison, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain received only 26 percent of the 9,730 votes cast by county Republicans. McCain came in third place in the county, trailing Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.
Campaign staffers encouraged attendees to sign up for volunteer duties as team coordinators, data coordinators and door-to-door coordinators among other things.
Henkel told attendees that their volunteer support this year would have payoffs years down the line as the campaign support structure they built would help in getting more Democrats elected at the local level.
"That structure stays and you know how to put a candidate in office the next time," Henkel said.
Friday's event was the third in a week of events organized by the Obama campaign, which held a voter registration drive at the U.S. Highway 278 Applebee's on Aug. 2 and a volunteer recruitment phone bank on Tuesday. The campaign said it is in the process of lining up office space in Newton County.