Progressive organizers helped deliver Georgia to Biden — but can they get two Democrats elected to the Senate as well?

Marquise Francis
·National Reporter & Producer

ATLANTA — For Georgia Democrats, President-elect Joe Biden’s trip to the Peach State on Tuesday to stump for Democratic Senate hopefuls Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock is a testament to all they’ve accomplished in recent years. Biden was the first Democrat to win the state since 1992, and now the party has a chance to send two Democrats to the Senate from a state that had been solidly Republican for decades.

At the same time, Democratic organizers say that they’re taking nothing for granted. Former Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams’s 2018 gubernatorial loss to Republican Brian Kemp is still a fresh and painful memory for them — and a reminder to stay “humble.”

“I remember around that time, the excitement was super-high,” Jaylan Scott, the executive vice president for Young Democrats of Georgia, told Yahoo News. “It was like we knew that Stacey was going to flip Georgia, but it didn't happen.”

“It was very discouraging in that sense ... but I think that that was more of a sign of maturity,” he added. “We need to be a little bit more humble about this. This ain't done yet. It's just all the more work to do.”

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Stacey Abrams speak to voters in Atlanta. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Stacey Abrams speak to voters in Atlanta. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

That work, first and foremost, includes electing Ossoff and Warnock in next month’s runoff elections. Unless Georgia elects both Democratic contenders, the GOP will retain its Senate majority and its ability to block progressive legislation. And while it’s notoriously difficult to accurately poll special elections, surveys have indicated that the Democrats are roughly neck and neck with their Republican opponents.

The Young Democrats of Georgia is one of the state’s most prominent youth-led groups working to ensure Ossoff and Warnock come out on top. Scott, 21, said the Young Democrats are concentrating on reaching out to an estimated 23,000 new young voters eligible to vote in the Jan. 5 election and letting them know how important this runoff election is.

“I think the biggest lesson we’ve learned [from November] is that our democracy can work,” Scott said. “When everybody's mad, when everybody's tired of something, we do have the power to fire whoever is in office.”

People of color in Georgia came out in big numbers in the November election, making up 40 percent of the electorate. Biden won 70 percent of their vote and improved on Abrams’s margin in eight counties in metro Atlanta. Overall, Asian American turnout increased by 91 percent from 2016 to 2020, Latino turnout by 72 percent, and Black turnout by 20 percent, while white turnout grew by just 16 percent, according to an analysis by the Democratic data firm Target Smart.

At the same time, there is some concern in Democratic circles about minority turnout in Georgia. The progressive data journalist David Shor, for example, argues that Democrats won the state despite lower-than-expected levels of minority voter participation and an increase in minority support for Republicans.

“If you look at county-level returns in Georgia, it’s pretty clear that nonwhite voters, as a share of the electorate, decreased at a time when the nonwhite share of the state’s population probably increased. Relative to the electorate as a whole, nonwhite turnout fell. ... The only reason we won is that there were these very large swings toward us among college-educated white people in the Atlanta suburbs,” Shor told New York Magazine after the election.

People attend a rally with former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro and Jon Ossoff, Georgia Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, on Dec. 7. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
People attend a rally with former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro and Jon Ossoff, Georgia Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, on Dec. 7. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Groups like the Young Democrats have their work cut out for them as they attempt to keep their voters engaged and reach new ones who didn’t vote in November. To do all this, they say they’re using a unique digital targeting strategy to connect with potential voters from all over the state on social media. And they say they’re raising the money they need to to stay competitive.

“In the past, we really haven't had the infrastructure to do everything we would want to do,” Scott said. “But this election cycle is completely different. … We can start up a full-blown field plan that allows every young person to get involved. If you want to be mobilized during this election cycle, you have the ability to be able to do that.”

“If you don't have a phone, if you don't have access to technology, the young Democrats of Georgia, we want to be able to get that to you,” Scott added. “We need people to go out into rural Georgia and also campaign. ... So if you need a room down there, if you need transportation down there, we're just trying to work that out trying to lift every barrier.”

But the Young Democrats aren’t the only progressives on the ground in Georgia. Having numerous organizations reaching out to different groups of voters will make a big difference at the ballot box, says Georgia-based Democratic strategist Abigail Collazo.

“We won't win by all of us trying to do the same things,” Collazo told Yahoo News. “We'll win by organizations doing what they each do best, all working toward the same overall goals. ... To get a real understanding of the full scope of voter engagement work in Georgia, you have to see the different layers of the different organizations, all reaching people in different ways.”

Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for U.S. senate, speaks during a drive-in rally in Columbus, Ga. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images)
Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for U.S. senate, speaks during a drive-in rally in Columbus, Ga. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images)

And if the Democratic candidates continue to talk about the issues that matter to Georgians, Collazo says, they will win. That includes highlighting Perdue and Loeffler’s stock trades over the last year, which has become a thorn in the side of both Republicans.

“Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are doing two things they need to win — talking specifically about what they will do in the Senate to support Georgians ... and holding their opponents accountable for their corrupt dealings in making money off stock deals while Americans suffered,” Collazo added.

“These are the issues that motivate voters — knowing that they can trust their elected officials to put their interests and their families first. If Warnock and Ossoff continue to effectively make that case to the voters, they will be elected.”

A number of Black-led organizing groups, including Fair Fight, the New Georgia Project and Black Voters Matter, have also been at the forefront of the progressive movement in Georgia for the past five years. Each one is taking a slightly different approach, but they’re all investing in things like radio ads and sending volunteers door to door to get Ossoff and Warnock elected.

Greg Nasif, another Georgia-based Democratic strategist, believes that “every form of organizing helps,” but he adds that nothing beats in-person interactions, even if those interactions are happening at a safe distance.

“A whole lot of groups are texting, calling, and writing postcards to Georgians,” Nasif told Yahoo News. “Many locals are overwhelmed, even the ones who plan on voting. The truth is nothing beats face-to-face conversations, even if those faces are 20 feet apart and behind masks.”

A "Vote" sign at a rally in Lilburn, Ga. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A "Vote" sign at a rally in Lilburn, Ga. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Nasif added that in-person outreach can be done safely. He has started a “March to the Blue” initiative, in which he reaches out to prospective voters to raise awareness about the runoff races.

“We're reaching younger folks, we've registered them to vote right there in the streets, and we've raised awareness about the runoff election with thousands of young people, many of whom don't have suburban front doors to knock on, or Georgian area codes to call or text,” Nasif said.

“Far too many don't even realize that, as legal Georgia residents, they can register to vote here. The only way to get these folks involved is to talk to them in person. That's how Fair Fight registered a million Georgians to vote after 2018, and that's what we've been continuing on the ground.”

While the stakes are extraordinarily high in this election, Scott said that Democrats have turned the corner in the state and now have a “majority of thought” in Georgia.

“We [as Democrats] definitely have the majority of thought here. So people can think and they can scream all day long, but at the same time, the majority of people voted for Joe Biden here in Georgia.”

Below are key dates for Georgians to remember ahead of the state’s Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5, 2021:

Key Georgia dates
Key Georgia dates

(Cover photo Illustration: Yahoo News; Photos: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images, Young Democrats of Georgia)

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