NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 4th, 2021

After many years, victory in Georgia could finally be within the Democratic Party’s grasp

With only a day left to vote in Georgia’s two U.S. Sen­ate runoffs, the two Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lengers hold slim leads over the Repub­li­can incumbents.

Accord­ing to FiveThirtyEight’s analy­sis of recent polls, Jon Ossoff leads Sen­a­tor David Pur­due (who won his seat in 2014 by 8%) by 1.4%, while Rev­erend Raphael Warnock leads Kel­ly Loef­fler (who was appoint­ed to her role last year) by 2%. While both these fig­ures are well with­in the mar­gin of error, it is star­tling that the avail­able body of pub­lic opin­ion research shows these races being this tight giv­en that Geor­gia has been con­sid­ered a solid­ly Repub­li­can state for decades.

How did the Democ­rats come so far in the Peach State?

Undoubt­ed­ly, the can­di­dates in this elec­tion are part of the equation.

Repub­li­can mem­bers of the U.S. Sen­ate have come under fire – from Democ­rats and a num­ber of right-wing fig­ures, includ­ing Don­ald Trump – for stalling repeat­ed efforts to get finan­cial aid to mil­lions of Americans.

This is a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad look for Georgia’s two U.S. Sen­a­tors, both mul­ti-mil­lion­aires who have spent more time using their posi­tions to enrich them­selves (pos­si­bly ille­gal­ly) than try­ing to help their con­stituents sur­vive the pandemic.

Mean­while, the Democ­rats are field­ing two excel­lent candidates.

Loef­fler is faced by Raphael Warnock, the pas­tor of a his­toric Black church in Atlanta who has been able to buck old stereo­types about African Amer­i­can men (despite his opponent’s best efforts) and run a cam­paign focused on pol­i­cy issues – and pup­pies! David Per­due is being chal­lenged by Jon Ossoff, the thir­ty-three-year-old jour­nal­ist and for­mer can­di­date for Georgia’s 6th U.S. House District.

Ossoff has ham­mered Per­due over his lack of com­mit­ment to help­ing ordi­nary Geor­gians dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, while gal­va­niz­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic base with his com­mit­ment to civ­il rights.

How­ev­er, 2020 was hard­ly the first year that Democ­rats have field­ed tal­ent­ed can­di­dates for statewide posi­tions – and cer­tain­ly not the first year that the Repub­li­cans have field­ed cor­rupt, racist politicians.

The real sto­ry behind the close­ness of this race has been unfold­ing over many years, and includes two major fac­tors: shift­ing demo­graph­ics, and her­culean efforts on the part of on-the-ground organizers.

Demo­graph­ics is destiny?

Atlanta is one of the nation's fastest-growing cities

Atlanta is one of the nation’s fastest-grow­ing cities (Pho­to: Sean Pin­to, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Geor­gia has under­gone rad­i­cal change in recent years; the pop­u­la­tion has become younger, more racial­ly diverse, and more urban. The main engine of this change has been the cap­i­tal city of Atlanta, where the boom­ing tech and enter­tain­ment indus­tries have turned the city into an eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al cen­ter – and made it one of the fastest-grow­ing metro areas in the entire coun­try. Young pro­fes­sion­als (espe­cial­ly African-Amer­i­­cans) have spent recent years flock­ing to the city, not only from Georgia’s rapid­ly depop­u­lat­ing rur­al areas, but from across the nation.

How­ev­er, Geor­gia is not the only state under­go­ing demo­graph­ic change and pop­u­la­tion move­ment, and it hasn’t always spelled good news for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. In Texas sim­i­lar demo­graph­ic trends encour­aged pro­gres­sive hopes in 2020 – only for Trump to win by 5.5% and Sen­a­tor John Cornyn to trounce his Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger by 10%. Demo­graph­ic changes in oth­er states, such as Alaba­ma and North Car­oli­na, have not trans­lat­ed into Demo­c­ra­t­ic surges.

So what makes Georgia’s Democ­rats so special?

Sow­ing and reaping

The biggest fac­tor in the Democ­rats’ progress in Geor­gia has been a net­work of activists and orga­niz­ers who have spent years reg­is­ter­ing and empow­er­ing new vot­ers – despite heavy resis­tance from the state’s Repub­li­can establishment.

With­out a doubt, the most famous of these orga­niz­ers is Stacey Abrams.

Abrams is a polit­i­cal phe­nom­e­non in her own right; a ten-year vet­er­an of the State House, she came with­in a hair’s breadth of becom­ing Georgia’s gov­er­nor in 2018 and was recent­ly con­sid­ered as a run­ning mate for Joe Biden.

Representative Stacey Adams

For­mer Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Stacey Adams, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Leader in the Geor­gia Gen­er­al Assem­bly, explains what needs to be done to turn states in the Deep South blue (edu­cate, acti­vate, and agi­tate!) at Net­roots Nation 2014.

Abrams blamed her 2018 defeat on the bla­tant use of vot­er sup­pres­sion by her oppo­nent, then-Sec­re­­tary of State Bri­an Kemp, and has spent the past two years chal­leng­ing the state’s dis­en­fran­chise­ment of its Black, poor, and urban pop­u­la­tion through a vari­ety of orga­ni­za­tions under the umbrel­la of Fair Fight Action.

Abrams has a genius for the work: State Sen­a­tor Jen Jor­dan cred­it­ed her with see­ing the advan­tages of demo­graph­ic changes before any­one else, while for­mer guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Jason Carter has argued that she “built the infra­struc­ture” that allowed Joe Biden to eke out vic­to­ry in the state’s pres­i­den­tial election.

How­ev­er, Abrams is not the only per­son mov­ing the nee­dle, as she would be the first to admit. Besides the orga­ni­za­tions that Abrams leads, there are a pletho­ra of groups mobi­liz­ing vot­ers, with dif­fer­ent areas of expertise.

The New Geor­gia Project – which was orig­i­nal­ly found­ed by Abrams and is now run by her pro­tégée Nse Ufot – began as an effort to help poor Geor­gians take advan­tage of the Afford­able Care Act but quick­ly trans­formed into an effort to enfran­chise these vot­ers. The suc­cess of the NGP can be mea­sured in how fierce­ly the Geor­gia estab­lish­ment have opposed them; two Repub­li­can sec­re­taries of state have lev­eled spu­ri­ous inves­ti­ga­tions and law­suits against the group (which failed to find any wrongdoing).

Anoth­er vot­er reg­is­tra­tion group, Black Vot­ers Mat­ter, is deter­mined to empow­er Georgia’s most dis­en­fran­chised pop­u­la­tion – African Americans.

Led by their ener­getic founder LaTosha Brown, the group encour­ages Black vot­ers to grasp “the pow­er that they have and deserve”.

Togeth­er, these groups have knocked on mil­lions of doors, called mil­lions of phones, and spent mil­lions of dol­lars in adver­tis­ing to help expand the vot­ing pop­u­la­tion. Per­haps more impor­tant­ly though, Georgia’s orga­niz­ers have devel­oped inno­v­a­tive tech­niques for find­ing and engag­ing new voters.

The New Geor­gia Project’s vol­un­teers have knocked on over five mil­lion doors, but have com­ple­ment­ed their work with social wel­fare efforts like toy and food dri­ves in poor areas. Mean­while, orga­niz­er Sta­cy Efrat dis­cov­ered an “untapped gold mine” of Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers by focus­ing on the sub­ur­ban apart­ment com­plex­es where many new­com­ers to the state live (they offer bet­ter rent prices than one-fam­i­­ly homes in the same areas).

All of this effort by orga­niz­ers seems to have paid off. Geor­gia has seen record-break­ing ear­ly vot­ing for a runoff elec­tion, with over three mil­lion votes already cast. 114,000 of these ear­ly votes have been cast by vot­ers who didn’t vote in the gen­er­al elec­tion. As huge as the num­bers already are, activists’ ambi­tions are even larg­er. “It’s unheard of to turn out more peo­ple in a runoff than the gen­er­al elec­tion,” says vet­er­an orga­niz­er Feli­cia Davis, “but we are going to do it.”

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