For Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson, President Joe Biden’s visit to Duluth Thursday was a testament to the county’s role in helping him win Georgia and, by extension, the White House.
Biden and his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, came to the Infinite Energy Center for a celebration of the president’s first 100 days in office. It came less than a day after Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, where he outlined his plans for the coming year.
The county was originally set to host a rally for Biden last month, but the shootings at spas in Atlanta and Cherokee caused changes to the plans for that visit.
Gwinnett’s commission chairwoman said the county is excited that the president has noticed its diversity and potential role in future Georgia and national politics, however.
“I think he recognizes the influence and the progressive change we’ve shifted to,” Hendrickson said. “So, it’s very meaningful to have him speaking to our constituents and our community, because this is a reflection of the nation looks like.
“And, this is the best place to be. If he was going to chose any place in the world, this was the best place for him to choose.”
“Getting Back on Track” was the theme of the drive-in rally in front of the Infinite Energy Center’s arena, but it was more than that for local leaders.
They saw the event as a chance for Gwinnett to shine and celebrate what they saw as the county’s role in Biden’s election.
“Once again, we find ourselves the center of the political universe,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, whose district includes Duluth, told the crowd before the president arrived.
State Sen. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, said, “Gwinnett delivered for President Biden, Gwinnett delivered for Jon Ossoff and (Raphael) Warnock, and I think it shows that he appreciates that. He values that, so I think that’s one of the reasons he’s come here. I think it’s not a coincidence and he’s depending on us for the next step and for the future.”
Gwinnett was once a solidly Republican area, but it has been gradually shifting from red to purple and eventually blue on the political map over the course of recent election cycles.
It is also home to nearly 600,000 registered voters.
After the 2020 election, there are only two Republicans left who hold an office at the county level and several local offices are now held for the first time by African-Americans.
President Joe Biden highlighted higher than expected COVID-19 vaccination levels, as well as legislation successes, but also laid out some of the things left to do, such as passing a new voting rights act named for late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
There had been speculation before the Nov. 3, 2020, election that, if Biden could do well enough in Gwinnett, it could potentially help him win Georgia’s 16 electoral college votes.
Biden received about 58% of the votes cast in Gwinnett in November. Statewide, he defeated then-President Donald Trump by 11,779 votes.
“We’ve always said as Gwinnett went, so would the state and this last election definitely proved it,” said Snellville resident Anthony Molina, who lead attendees in reciting the pledge of allegiance at the rally. “Gwinnettians came out.
“Gwinnett County has changed a lot, and continues to change and, for the first time, we’re going to have representative leadership in the county.”
Gwinnett County, whose population is approaching 1 million residents, has long been touted by local officials as a window in the nation’s future. It is a majority minority community where about one-quarter of the population was born outside the United States, and within the next couple of decades, it is expected to become Georgia’s most populous county.
Sections of the Duluth and Suwanee area are referred to within the Korean community as “K-Town” because of the large number of Korean residents and businesses located there. The county also has a large enough Spanish-speaking community that it is required under Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act to provide all elections materials in both English and Spanish.
“Actually, being the most diverse county in the state of Georgia, I think America is going to look like what Gwinnett already looks like,” Hendrickson said. “So, not only have we shifted demographically, we’ve shifted culturally, ethnically, politically.
“I mean the whole landscape has changed since 2018 and we continue to see a lot of change and growth, and I think Gwinnett has been responsible for leading a lot of the change efforts across the state ... I think Gwinnett has been leading the way and I think President Biden recognizes that and I think he’s showing us some love.”
Some of those changes are not limited to the ballot box, however. Hendrickson said the county, which has in past strived to be a leader in areas such as water, has been stepping forward to lead the way on addressing issues such as immigration, police reform and housing.
Of course, Biden was not the first member of his administration to hold a rally at the Infinite Energy Center in the last six months. On Nov. 1, Vice President Kamala Harris — then still only a candidate for the office — headlined a pre-election day drive-in rally in the same parking lot.
That attention from the administration has put Gwinnett on at least the political map, according to Hendrickson.
“If people didn’t know Gwinnett County before, they know Gwinnett County now,” she said. “We are truly on the map right now and everyone should be paying attention to Gwinnett because we are going to be a model county of how to address progressive issues at the local level ...
“We are the preferred destination where everyone thrives.”