For roughly two weeks, Atlanta was the center of the three ring circus which is currently the Democratic National Committee — though the DNC had some major competition for the presidential contest and debate here, versus the public Impeachment hearings underway in our nation’s Capitol. And though Atlanta was a brief stand-in for Des Moines, Iowa, as the temporary nexus and meeting point for Democratic White House contenders of all stripe, both the debate, which aired live from the former Fort McPherson and current Tyler Perry Studios, was the lowest rated of this campaign season, and by the fifth day of impeachment hearings, despite some riveting testimony, the proceedings were only being telecast live and without interruption on C-SPAN3.

But all over Atlanta, and certainly for days prior to the Big Show, there was evidence of side shows, fundraisers, news conferences and photo ops by candidates beyond the field of 10 who made the main stage. Though an intown urban location hosted the Big Show, the many side shows demonstrated that at least the metro Atlanta suburbs are again in play.

Successful entrepreneur and non-traditional candidate, Andrew Yang, held an unconventional media event, shooting hoops in an over-matched game of pick-up basketball, with other entrepreneurs, including NBA icon and longtime Atlanta Hawk, Dominique Wilkins. Yang runs a nonprofit, focused on job creation in the inner cities, and he was hosting many start-up and technology CEOs, in part making his pitch about making unconventional hires and ‘sharing the wealth’ of the new economy.

He found a receptive audience, among them, Don Barden, CEO of GAXtracts, a key player in the burgeoning industrial hemp industry in Georgia. Barden has successfully built and grown several other enterprises, having won the experienced entrepreneur of the year award, for his work leading 3Ci , during 2018 from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Barden shot hoops with Yang one night at the Epic Center in Austell, adjacent to Six Flags, and then met South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in a tony Buckhead home later the same week. And scenes like that were playing out all across metro Atlanta.

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who did not make the cut for the debate stage, hosted the sons and daughters of Atlanta’s Civil Rights stalwarts for a dinner at Paschal’s near the Atlanta University Center, to discuss options for solving the nation’s affordable housing crisis.

Former President Barack Obama made two Atlanta appearances in one week, one on the same day as the debate, with remarks including not so subtle references to the candidate field not moving the Democratic Party too far to the left. Non-candidate (so far) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought her book-signing tour to Atlanta the evening prior to the debate, coincidentally to Dunwoody, Georgia, which a few weeks prior elected its first Democrat as Mayor.

And yes, while the debate and impeachment hearings still matter, they were in a way trumped, no pun intended, by dozens of more intimate and smaller opportunities to actually meet, hear and speak to candidates for the White House, one on one.

President Donald Trump did hold his own side show in Atlanta the prior week, attempting to launch his own minority voter outreach, Black Voices for Trump. Though it is easy to understand why many are skeptical, the president does have a good economic story to tell minority voters, record employment, record business ownership and even record income growth among Asian, African American and Hispanic populations across the country.

But back to team blue. Millions were spent turning three hangers at Fort Mac into beautiful and high tech sound stages, custom designed and constructed for this Big Show. Millions were collected for campaign coffers as well as Democratic aligned PACs and 527’s at events across north Georgia. I will go ahead and wager, that the impact of the many side shows will outweigh the temporary bump to Georgia of the Big Show. Voters and donors made connections, some made decisions and even those still straddling the fence waiting for late arrivals, like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, are now feeling more compelled to pick a horse and start riding.

Early money is like yeast in presidential as well as all other campaigns. Candidates cannot remember EVERY voter they meet, but the early donors and supporters do have a tendency to resonate more. And those who have been playing this game for awhile also know that. The smart money always goes to the side shows.

Bill Crane is a senior communications strategist who began his career in broadcasting and has worked at the state capitol and in Washington in both political parties. Contact him at bill.csicrane@gmail.com.

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