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Contest for Atlanta mayor might hinge on race

November 30, 2009 |  1:17 pm

Could a sort of Reverse Bradley Effect have an influence on Atlanta’s potentially historic mayoral runoff election Tuesday?

The Bradley Effect, of course, refers to the idea that white voters will tell pollsters that they support a black candidate then fail to vote for that black candidate on election day. (To nerd out on whether the Bradley Effect — named for the failed 1982 California gubernatorial candidacy of then-L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley — even exists, start here.) Mary Norwood

In Atlanta, Councilwoman Mary Norwood is vying to become the first white mayor of the majority-black city since Sam Massell lost to Maynard Jackson in 1973. Her runoff opponent, former state Sen. Kasim Reed, is black.

In the Nov. 3 general election, Norwood, who is running on a platform to run City Hall more efficiently, proved adept at winning black support: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution crunched some numbers and found she won 23% of the votes cast in black council districts – better than Reed’s performance in white ones. Since then, the Atlanta firm InsiderAdvantage ran a poll showing Norwood with 25.5% support among black voters.

An emerging theme among politics watchers here, however, is whether that support is real. Matt Towery, the InsiderAdvantage CEO, writes in his election-eve prediction piece today that he has a “hunch” that “Norwood will underperform the 25% of black votes” that show up in that poll and another conducted by SurveyUSA. Kasim Reed

Towery doesn’t go too deep with the hunch, but in a Sunday analysis piece by Errin Haines, of the Associated Press, she quotes political strategist Tom Houck, who points to a sentiment that could give blacks pause in voting for a white candidate: the fact that Atlanta has emerged as an important political, cultural and economic symbol for African Americans. “Atlanta is a black city, a symbol to the world,” Houck said. “Putting Mary’s face on that picture would be hard for a lot of people to stomach.”

So how will Norwood fare in the city of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gucci Mane? Tune in Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Towery’s shop has the election at a dead heat, with both Norwood and Reed at 46%.

As a result, both candidates in recent days have been heavily courting gay voters, who are considered especially motivated to turn out Tuesday. Read the Los Angeles Times piece on that phenomenon, and marvel at the fact that Atlanta, by one measure, has the third-highest gay population among cities in the United States, behind San Francisco and Seattle.

 -- Richard Fausset

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Photos: Mary Norwood and Kasim Reed. Credit: Associated Press.