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

Saturday, May 28th, 2022

Book Review: Flipped recounts Georgia progressives’ big 2020 breakthrough

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 by Greg Bluestein (Book cover)

Flipped: How Geor­gia Turned Pur­ple and Broke the Monop­oly on Repub­li­can Pow­er (March 2022, Pen­guin Ran­dom House)

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.

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 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.

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