President-elect Joe Biden will join the lineup of influential Democrats involved in Georgia's ongoing senatorial campaigns, according to his recently-named forthcoming chief of staff.
Ron Klain—who will formally step into the role when become Biden assumes office in January—discussed the outcomes of Georgia's two runoff elections, and how they could affect the next administration's political agenda, during an appearance on NBC News' Meet the Press Sunday morning. Klain previously served as Biden's chief of staff between 2009 and 2011, during his vice presidency under Barack Obama.
“We're going to work hard to win those Senate seats in Georgia,” Klain told Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd.
This is important because we need to turnout our base and make the case that Biden needs a Senate Majority that will help him get thing done. Biden’s presence would especially be helpful in boosting Ossoff’s bid:
Biden is the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 28 years. While run-offs in the Peach State have historically favored Republicans, Democrats are hoping Biden's win could help inspire Democratic voters and give Ossoff and Warnock the momentum they need to win the race on Jan. 5.
Tharon Johnson, senior adviser for Biden for President Georgia, told reporters on a press call that the state campaign focused heavily on mobilizing and engaging Black voters in metro-Atlanta areas and in rural South Georgia. He also said the campaign made inroads with disaffected suburban voters.
Johnson told reporters that they can expect to see the same level of outreach from Democrats for the Senate runoffs.
Ossoff said Sunday that he's not worried about galvanizing voters in the run-offs, despite getting roughly 100,000 fewer votes than Biden in the general election.
In 1992, Mr. Fowler, a former city councilman for Atlanta and congressman considered an up-and-coming force in the Senate, was seeking his second term. He had won in 1986 by surprising a Republican, Mack Mattingly, who had been swept in on Ronald Reagan’s coattails in 1980. Mr. Fowler’s opponent this time was Paul Coverdell, a Republican and a low-key Atlanta businessman, state legislator and ally of the elder George Bush, who had named him head of the Peace Corps.
Mr. Clinton’s Southern roots helped him carry Georgia with 43 percent of the vote — the last Democrat to win Georgia before this year — while Mr. Fowler surpassed Mr. Coverdell with 49.2 percent, besting him by 35,000 votes. But under Georgia’s unique law, it was not enough.
The runoff rapidly escalated into a bitter clash. As Mr. Clinton prepared to move into the White House, Republicans saw an opportunity to deliver him a quick blow by defeating Mr. Fowler. They pulled out the stops, pouring in money and sending Republican luminaries into Georgia by the planeload, including Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, who promised to turn over his Agriculture Committee seat to Mr. Coverdell if he won.
Mr. Fowler drew his own big-name visitor when the president-elect popped over from Little Rock, Ark., for joint appearances in Albany and Macon, where he played the saxophone with a high school band. He and Mr. Fowler raised clasped hands to celebrate what they anticipated as a coming victory.
But Mr. Fowler had problems. It was going to be hard to re-create the enthusiasm of the presidential election with the voting finished and Mr. Clinton victorious. Mr. Fowler was also facing backlash for his vote the year before to place Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. Mr. Fowler remembered Justice Thomas, a Georgia native, had strong support from the state’s Black community, but was opposed by leading women’s groups because of his anti-abortion stance and accusations of sexual harassment. He said he believed that opposition cost him.
In the runoff, held two days before Thanksgiving, almost one million fewer votes were cast than three weeks earlier and Mr. Fowler saw his initial lead vanish, losing to Mr. Coverdell by 16,000 votes — 50.6 percent to 49.4. It was a stinging defeat for Mr. Fowler but a welcome consolation prize for Republicans.
“We were more successful in getting our people back than the other side was in getting their people back without a presidential race at the top of the ticket,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who was a consultant to Mr. Coverdell. But he cautioned that the dynamic could be vastly different this time around, given that Mr. Warnock, an African-American, is on the ballot.
“Democrats have never had an African-American candidate to vote for at a time when control of the Senate is hanging in the balance,” he said. “The circumstances are clearly different. I don’t know if the outcome will be different.”
Mr. Fowler agreed, noting that Black voters now make up a significantly larger share of Georgia’s electorate than they did when he ran.
The Biden-Trump race may have increased the prevalence of voters backing Democrats on the presidential level and Republicans below it. But the tendency for weak partisans (or nonpartisans) to favor divided government is deeply rooted in American politics and quite common in other democracies. Voters without strong or coherent ideological commitments seem to have a strong predisposition for hedging their bets. And Democrats will need to obliterate that tendency if they are to capture both remaining seats. After all, the party will need such voters to forgo the option of balancing their own ballots by picking one Democratic Senate candidate and one Republican one.
Thus, the party has no choice but to tackle the problem head-on by making a strong, affirmative case for unified Democratic government. To my mind, the best way to do this is to make voters understand what is actually at stake in whether Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer is majority leader: Namely, whether the next round of COVID stimulus legislation will be large or small.
McConnell has made it clear that his caucus will only support a modest and “targeted” COVID relief package. Senate Republicans have rallied behind a $500 billion package that includes forgivable loans to small businesses and a $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit but no aid to states and cities and no more $1,200 relief checks. Democrats, by contrast, back a $2.2 trillion stimulus that includes a $600 a week federal unemployment benefit, another round of relief checks, funding for states and cities, housing assistance, small business aid, and a variety of other social support. Critically, stimulus is one thing that Democrats can do without abolishing the filibuster, and which even the party’s most conservative senators are unlikely to block.
All available polling indicates that the voting public favors the Democratic position. In a New York Times–Siena College survey from late last month, 72 percent of voters, including 56 percent of Republicans, backed a $2 trillion stimulus modeled after the House Democrats’ proposal. Of course, the 2020 election taught us that polls are likely undersampling Trump supporters. But national polls look like they will be off by only three or four points. Double that error — stipulate, baselessly, that all of the undersampled Trump voters out there also oppose large-scale stimulus — and you still end up with 64 percent of the public favoring the Democratic approach.
And the party may be able to compound that advantage by spotlighting the concrete consequences of taking a more austere approach to relief. Faced with COVID-induced revenue shortfalls — and little fiscal support from Congress — Georgia cut its 2021 budget by 10 percent, slashing nearly $1 billion from K–12 education. A Democratic Congress would deliver a level of fiscal support to states that would make it possible for Georgia to avoid defunding its public schools. A Republican Congress wouldn’t. Ossoff, Warnock, and their party should make sure Georgia voters understand that. (Ironically, the GOP is also doing more to “defund the police” than the Democrats are, as Republican opposition to fiscal aid to cities has led many jurisdictions to reluctantly lay off cops.)
Perdue and Loeffler may try to co-opt a pro-stimulus message, just as other Republicans have done on the issue of health-insurance subsidies for people with preexisting conditions. But if so, that would be a minor victory in itself. Unlike that health-care issue, which will only become salient in the unlikely event that the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA, COVID stimulus will be the No. 1 legislative fight of the coming weeks and/or months. If Perdue and Loeffler embrace generous fiscal aid to states and more relief checks on the stump, they will need to then support it in Congress, or else violate a campaign promise on a high-profile issue immediately after winning election (something politicians are typically reluctant to do, even in our grossly undemocratic age). Thus, making the Georgia runoff into a referendum on stimulus is both a sound strategy for winning a Democratic Senate and also, potentially, a means of tilting the center of political gravity on coronavirus relief to the left, even if Democrats lose.
Abrams is quick to point out that she is part of a team that includes the state and national Democratic parties, as well as groups such as the Abrams-founded New Georgia Project, the NAACP, the Working Families Party and the Movement for Black Lives.
Her reach and her visibility right now are unmatched. Ted Terry, the first vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, described Abrams as a crucial player in a ballgame that is now in overtime.
“You want to have your MVP in the game,” Terry said. “We have candidates that are great, but they have to have a supporting cast of other MVPs. And, without a doubt, Stacey is one of our top MVPs.”
She endorsed and campaigned for Ossoff and Warnock during the general election, even pressuring other Democrats in the crowded special election to step aside and ensure Warnock proceeded to the runoff. Ossoff, who owns an investigative media company, said Abrams' backing remains a crucial piece of his campaign.
“Stacey’s efforts will be vital to our success in these runoffs,” he said. “Her resources, volunteers, her presence on the campaign trail and her strong investment in dual victories here are absolutely essential. And I’m honored by her support and grateful for all that she is doing.”
In just the first three days of the runoff season, Abrams raised $6 million for Ossoff and Warnock, largely based off her big social media following.
Georgia State University political science professor Amy Steigerwalt said Abrams became a touchstone partially because she has always stayed true to her core mission: engaging voters to help Democrats win in Georgia.
Michael Giusto, a high school senior from Alpharetta, a suburb north of Atlanta, missed voting in the 2020 election by just 10 days. This time he has the opportunity to vote for his state’s senators—so long as he registers by December 7.
“It’s kind of surreal,” he told me the day before his birthday. “I’m coming to the realization that voting is a more powerful and valuable way to participate in the government than anything else I could do, and I will have this responsibility dropped on me in less than 12 hours.”
Giusto is one of about 23,000 17-year-olds who—according to the Civics Center, an organization devoted to youth civic engagement—were ineligible to vote in the presidential election but will be eligible to vote in the Georgia runoff.
That number is not enough to close the gap between either Democrat Jon Ossoff and the Republican incumbent, Senator David Perdue, or Democrat Raphael Warnock and his Republican opponent, Senator Kelly Loeffler. But the Gen Z vote, which tends to favor Democrats, could make a serious dent in the Republican lead.
Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter in Atlanta, expects the Senate runoffs to also be close and the result to hang on turnout. He said that Trump’s defeat in Georgia has shown Democratic voters the power of their ballot in what was once a Republican stronghold, and he will use that to keep them engaged with the Senate elections.
“Black voters in particular really had an impact on this race. There’s some black voters that may not have believed in their power to flip this state, but now they believe and so there’s even more voters that can motivated to come out. Because now more than ever, they know that their vote matters, that they’ve got power. So there’s all that momentum,” he said.
Democrats are mobilising support for two very different candidates. The Rev Raphael Warnock is pastor of Atlanta’s renowned Ebenezer Baptist church where Martin Luther King preached in the 1960s. If he wins, Warnock would be the first black US senator from Georgia.
“I think Warnock’s going to drive the turnout,” said Joshua Meddaugh, chair of the social sciences department at Clayton State University, a mostly black college in metro Atlanta. “He is a monster candidate. He is incredibly well liked. He is charming and well received and an easy person to get behind. There are going to be some of those moderate Republicans, maybe some of those religious values Republicans, that he’ll be able to draw.”
On the other hand, Meddaugh expects Warnock’s opponent, the sitting Republican senator Kelly Loeffler, to struggle because of her loyalty to Trump and association with conspiracy theory groups such as QAnon.
Warnock’s opponent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), has already put more than $1 million behind two new attack ads that seek to tie Warnock to the so-called “radical left” and accuse him of celebrating “anti-American hatred.”
Other Senate Republicans have joined in on the attacks, hyperaware that the runoff between Warnock and Loeffler will play a critical role in determining party control of the upper chamber in 2021 and beyond.
Warnock, the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, went largely unscathed in the runup to the November general election as Loeffler and her top Republican opponent Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.) focused mainly on fighting one another for the support of President Trump’s conservative base in Georgia.
But with Collins now out of the running, it’s Warnock who has found himself in the line of fire.
“The chaos of the Georgia Senate race up until last Tuesday sort of allowed Warnock to fly under the radar because there were so many people on the ballot and there was so much focus on the presidential race,” said John Ashbrook, a GOP strategist and former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “I think that’s the main reason why you hadn’t heard more until now.”
Republican operatives have been combing through Warnock’s past sermons and public remarks since well before the runoff campaign began, looking for anything that could prove damaging to his Senate ambitions.
One ad released by Loeffler’s campaign on Thursday highlights Warnock’s 2008 defense of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of President Obama whose fiery sermons and rhetoric earned him widespread criticism more than a decade ago.
Another ad from Loeffler’s team seeks to cast Warnock as sympathetic to communism and alleges that, as a senator, he would “give the radicals total control.”
While Georgia’s runoff law was enacted in the 1960s to undermine Black political power, according to a 2007 report from the Interior Department, these upcoming runoff races might instead be a way for Black constituents and other constituents of color to further reinforce their political influence. Though the elections won’t occur until January 5, organizers from around the state are already preparing to mobilize voters.
“With runoff elections, there’s usually a very low turnout rate,” Helen Butler, the executive director of Coalition for the People’s Agenda, another organization responsible for transforming Georgia from a red to a battleground state, says. “We’re trying to increase that turnout rate, not by endorsing candidates, but by showing people the connectivity between public policy and their everyday lives and how elected officials make those policies.”
As organizations like the Coalition for the People’s Agenda gear up for the upcoming elections, most of their game plan includes continuing to enact the strategies that have already worked for them: in-person and social media outreach, phone and text banking, and flyers and education—not only about how to safely and correctly cast votes, but also about the stakes of the Senate races. They plan to target all possible voters, especially 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before January and will therefore be eligible to vote.
“We’ve gone without access to clean water. We talk about Flint [Michigan] all day long, but we don’t talk about Juliette, Georgia, where folks are developing cancer because the coal ash is in the well water that they drink every single day,” Woodall says. “We don’t talk about the air quality, the economic disparities, especially in the city of Atlanta, which has the widest wealth gap in the nation. That’s what we’re fighting for, and that’s what’s on the ballot box.”
Other integral strategies for organizations on the ground include forging coalitions with groups and acknowledging electoral work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Fenika Miller, the middle Georgia organizer for Black Voters Matter, joined the organization by way of another group she founded, New Vision MSK, whose goal is to empower and educate women to advocate for themselves and their communities.
“We’re having conversations, showing love to our people who have been marginalized, overlooked, ignored before, and bringing them into the conversation in a way they probably have not been engaged before,” Miller says. “That makes a world of difference in communities where most times it feels extractive. You’re calling me to ask me for my vote, but you don’t care how I’m doing as a person.”
Though Georgia may have recently become an epicenter for national politics, organizers want others from around the country to know that these gains were hard-fought and they stand prepared to continue advocating for Georgia residents.
“This is the result of work within the Latino community in collaboration and close partnership with our allies in the Black community and the Asian-American community,” Jerry Gonzalez, chief executive officer of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), an organization dedicated to increasing voter participation among Latino communities in the state, says. “We’ve been able to make sure we’re able to leverage our resources to do strategic outreach for our communities to ensure we have a greater impact, and that’s what you’re seeing.”
Jon Ossoff has faced skewering attacks from his Republican rival for months. Raphael Warnock is just getting used to the onslaught.The two Senate Democratic candidates appeared Sunday together for the first time in the runoff cycle, stumping at a joint event in Marietta to a cheering crowd of hundreds.
But their reunion underscored a reality in the campaign: After going largely unscathed for months, Warnock is now under a sustained barrage from U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Republicans. How he responds will directly affect Ossoff’s chances against U.S. Sen. David Perdue.That’s because the two Republicans and two Democrats are effectively running as a packaged deal in Jan. 5 runoffs for control of the U.S. Senate. And every hit on Loeffler could hurt Perdue, just as every ding on Warnock could drag down Ossoff.
It’s a dynamic that Republicans have come to grips with, too. Perdue made his first campaign appearance of the runoff cycle at a crowded restaurant in Forsyth County, where he and Loeffler said the next eight weeks will be more about appealing to conservatives than preaching to the undecided.
In a recent interview before one of his car rallies, Ossoff was skeptical that Republicans would be de-motivated by a Trump loss, but said he thought the party was wasting precious time on a fantasy that had no bearing on his race or on Warnock’s.“The American people are hurting,” Ossoff said. “Hundreds of thousands have died. Hundreds of thousands more stand to lose their jobs. No one cares about Donald Trump’s temper tantrum. And if that’s how they want to spend the next few weeks, then they’re really missing the plot.”“It’s hard for somebody who cheats so much to admit defeat,” said Shante Johnson, 46, an Ossoff and Warnock supporter in Atlanta, referring to Trump. “When you lose, it must be because someone else cheated, because you cheated to get where you are.”Republicans see their message getting through anyway. While neither Republican has taken questions recently from reporters, both have used short remarks at rallies to lambaste the Democrats, while saying little about their own priorities in the Senate. Ads from the Republicans portray their opponents as “radicals” who would be puppets of the far left and jam that agenda through the Senate.“Defund police. Voting rights for illegal immigrants. Washington, D.C., as the 51st state,” warns a narrator in Perdue’s latest ad. “Vote Perdue to stop them.”Still, many Republican voters, in Georgia and elsewhere, seem most focused on stopping the left with a vote-count miracle that keeps Trump in office.Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who is attending orientation for new members of Congress, spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally of Trump supporters in Washington on Saturday. A brief “Stop the steal!” chant went up at the rally in Cumming before the senators spoke. Outside, some supporters of the president chanted “Four more years!”
The moment is not over, so Renee Montgomery is working to keep the momentum for two Senate seat runoffs in her home of Georgia.
The Atlanta Dream veteran opted out of the 2020 WNBA season to focus on social justice work, using the phrase “moments equal momentum,” and has been on screens all over the place to promote social justice, voting and advocacy. She told USA Today Sports her “platform has grown by not playing” and she’s now shifted her attention to the two Senate runoffs in Georgia.
One involves Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler.
— Alysha Clark (@Alysha_Clark) November 13, 2020
Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue has declined an invitation to debate Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff ahead of the January runoff election for his seat, CNN has learned, and will instead be represented by an empty podium.
Perdue declined an invitation to participate in a December 6 debate with his Democratic rival, said MaryLynn Ryan, the chair of the Atlanta Press Club, which is hosting two separate debates for both Senate runoffs.Ossoff's campaign told CNN they have accepted the Press Club's invitation, with Ossoff tweeting Sunday, “Looks like Sen. David Perdue is too much of a coward to debate me again. … Senator, come on out and try to defend your record. I'm ready to go.”
— Michael McDonald (@ElectProject) November 15, 2020
The runoff elections are on January 5th. We need to our base to vote Democrat all the way on the ballot. Click below to donate and get involved with Ossoff and Warnock’s campaigns and these Georgia Democratic groups:
— Michael McDonald (@ElectProject) November 15, 2020