If anyplace in America could be considered the epicenter of the 2020 presidential election, it would probably be Georgia, the Peach State.
Proving the wisdom of the old adage that things often seem impossible until they’re done, Democrats in 2020 managed not only to capture the state’s electoral votes for the first time in a generation, but also changed the balance of power in the United States Senate by winning two runoff elections.
The thrilling victories of the Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, which were followed within hours by the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, are richly chronicled in Flipped, a recently published book by the chief political reporter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Greg Bluestein.
Flipped examines the resurgence of the Democratic Party in Georgia and the party’s big 2020 breakthrough, making the case that the Peach State is well positioned to alter the trajectory of national politics and create a space for Democrats in the Deep South. The progressive movement in Georgia, encouraged by former (and current!) gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has demonstrated what can be achieved through savvy, persistent organizing, and is already serving as a model for Democrats in other red states.
In its early passages, Flipped reviews the political landscape in Georgia following the 2016 presidential election as well as introducing key figures such as Abrams and Ossoff, who are now very well known. Trump’s 2016 victory over Hilary Clinton is characterized as an important flashpoint for the Democratic Party and a motivating event for the state’s progressive movement.
Bluestein helps readers get to know Abrams and Ossoff along with Republican foils like Brian Kemp, who Abrams is challenging again this year.
(Kemp won renomination this past week in the Republican primary, defeating David Perdue, while Abrams ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.)
Flipped describes how, in her 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Abrams broke with convention by focusing on voter registration, especially among Georgia’s Black community, in order to make the state’s politics more inclusive.
Abrams struck a balance in her campaign between championing progressive positions on tough issues such as reproductive rights (which previous Democratic candidates had avoided doing), and emphasizing policy directions supported by a majority of Georgia voters, including ideas to improve economic security and access to healthcare. Though Abrams did not defeat Kemp to become governor, her campaign changed the perception of Georgia both internally and externally, setting the stage for its political metamorphosis in 2020.
Republicans’ attacks on voters and infringements upon voting rights also had a galvanizing effect, inspiring Abrams to found Fair Fight and inspiring Democrats to commit to longer-term initiatives to organize and register voters.
The story of Jon Ossoff’s ascent is also retold.
In 2017, Ossoff became nationally known during a special election battle for the United States House, when he faced off against Republican Karen Handel.
Seeking to fend off attacks that he was too young and too inexperienced in addition to being a resident of a different district, Ossoff campaigned on fiscal responsibility and economic security themes to appeal to swing voters.
Though he didn’t win, his campaign turned heads. Not in recent memory had a Democratic candidate come so close in a historically Republican district.
Bluestein then explains how Georgia Democrats decided that for the 2020 cycle, they would cease attempting to chase swing voters through the politics of triangulation and instead mobilize the party’s base while adding new Democratic voters to the rolls through voter registration campaigns, giving their candidates a foundation with which to build upon and find a path to victory.
Adapting to life during the pandemic, the party’s Senate hopefuls Warnock and Ossoff experimented with new ways to campaign and leverage support from across the country to build competitive campaigns capable of taking on their entrenched and corrupt Republican foes. On Election Day, both Warnock and Ossoff succeeded in keeping their Republican opponents under fifty percent, ensuring that there would be runoffs with huge stakes several weeks later.
Georgia took center stage in the theater of American politics following Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ projected Electoral College win.
The full attention of both parties turned to the Peach State, as the Senate runoffs would decide which party would control the Senate in the 117th Congress.
Bluestein uses his concluding chapters to summarize the events that culminated in the historic dual victories of Warnock and Ossoff, which shocked Republicans and ended Mitch McConnell’s reign as Senate Majority Leader.
Flipped provides a satisfying account of the work put into organizing Georgia, providing hope for all progressives who feel isolated in Republican controlled states or districts. It recollects how Jon Ossoff recognized that the historically Republican district adjacent to where he lived consistently went without a serious Democratic challenger and resolved to be the change.
Although Ossoff lost to Karen Handel, the closeness of the outcome helped open the door for another candidate, Lucy McBath, who defeated Handel in the next election cycle, and whose journey to Congress is also covered.
Bluestein’s accounts of these elections are fun to read, as are his descriptions of the candidates’ growth as people and political leaders.
Flipped is an engaging read that offers something for everyone, from those new to activism to experienced political hands. It’s also a timely book, considering that Stacey Abrams is once against again going up against Brian Kemp in what will likely be the nation’s most closely watched gubernatorial race.
It’s too soon to say if the breakthrough Democrats secured in 2020 in Georgia was the beginning of a durable realignment or a series of victories that will be tough to replicate. Regardless, the Biden/Harris, Warnock, and Ossoff wins in 2020–2021 did have a profound effect. They ensured the Democratic ticket would wind up with the same number of electoral votes as the 2016 Republican ticket and that the Senate would be run by Democrats instead of by Republicans.
Had Republicans won the 2020 Georgia Senate runoffs, there would almost certainly not have been an American Rescue Plan, an Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or a new Supreme Court justice named Ketanji Brown Jackson. Or a record number of diverse judicial nominees confirmed to lower federal courts. All of that only became possible after Georgia progressives flipped the Senate.