ATLANTA — Although her name wasn’t on the ballot in the 2020 election, Stacey Abrams loomed large in her home state of Georgia.
Having narrowly lost a controversial gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp in 2018 that resulted in lawsuits and claims of voter suppression of African Americans, Abrams refused to concede and channeled her frustration into action. She launched Fair Fight, a grassroots nonprofit that encourages voter participation and educates voters about elections.
“As someone who has never lived outside of the South, one thing I love about being a Southerner is that we take our losses and our hits and we use that to build,” Hillary Holley, organizing director for Fair Fight, told Yahoo News. “That’s the culture down here.”
Many Democrats credit Abrams and Fair Fight with helping give Joe Biden a win over Donald Trump in the state and are betting they can help the party win two U.S. Senate runoff elections and regain control of the upper chamber.
Republicans are also quick to mention Abrams when diagnosing what went wrong this year in Georgia. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, said in a Monday interview with Fox News that Republicans now need to “turn out more votes than Stacey Abrams can steal” to prevail in the runoffs.
In a reversal from 2018, the cries of voter fraud and questions around election integrity are coming this year from Republicans around the state. Trump and GOP Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, whose seats are now in danger, all support a Texas lawsuit that is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out Georgia’s election results, and have called for Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Kemp to resign over their insistence that the election was fair and for certifying the vote count.
The ongoing acrimony among Republicans in the state is not lost on Fair Fight, who are looking to exploit any advantage in the runoff elections.
“[Republicans claimed] that there was double voting happening. Donald Trump would say that you can't trust vote by mail. And he only started saying that when Black and brown voters started using vote by mail here in Georgia. And so what we’re seeing now with their own base is a product of what they invested in,” Holley said, adding that Republicans are “reaping what they sowed.”
With the runoffs scheduled for Jan. 5 and early voting set to commence on Monday, Fair Fight is again hard at work, promoting the candidacies of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the two Democrats on the ballot. The party needs to capture both seats in order to forge a tie with Republicans that would be broken by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. If either candidate loses, Republicans will retain their Senate majority — and their ability to block Biden’s liberal agenda from becoming law.
“Recent polling indicates all four candidates are at around 48 percent, which is right around the Stacey Abrams point in 2018 and 1.5 percent below Biden's performance last month,” Atlanta-based political strategist Fred Hicks told Yahoo News. “That says what we all suspected: This race is not about flipping but rather it is about turning out voters.”
The Senate races could come down to which party wants it more. In this year’s general election there were two- to four-hour-long voting lines in Fulton and Cobb counties, which are heavily Black-populated areas. Ahead of the Senate runoffs, Cobb County officials closed more than half of the early voting sites that were available ahead of the November election. They restored two locations only after drawing ire from voting rights groups. Poll closures have also been ordered in Hall County, a heavily Latino-populated country, where there will only be four early voting sites instead of the eight for the general election. Forsyth County, a heavily Asian-populated county, will have five polling sites instead of 11.
“Rather than talking about the real issues that voters of color face, [Republicans] want to go and re-litigate something that has already been struck down by numerous federal courts, not only here in Georgia, but also across the country,” Holley said.
Hicks, meanwhile, believes that more election legal battles are all but assured in Georgia.
“Unless Republicans win, this election will not be over January 5,” he said. “What we are seeing play out in the presidential election will happen in the Senate race if Democrats win.”
Despite early polling closures and near daily confrontations with Trump supporters, Fair Fight organizers are ramping up outreach efforts. To date, the group has trained 14,000 volunteers to text and call Georgians, letting them know the importance of this Senate race. These volunteers have in turn sent out 1.2 million text messages and made nearly 600,000 phone calls in the month since the general election. But it doesn’t stop with the calls and texts, the group has also gotten creative.
Because rural areas may not have access to broadband to see digital ads, Fair Fight has partnered with local restaurants to give free food away to those affected by COVID-19.
“There's some significant job losses,” Holley said. “People are not making money. Families are hungry. Our small businesses are losing a lot of funds and revenue. So we're actually working with restaurants, paying them to give free food away that will come with voter education materials. There'll be some fun COVID-safe activities for them to do. So we're really investing in what we're calling paid visibility in these rural areas to let them know that we are here.”
Holley says that while Raffensperger and his staff members have reported receiving death threats, so too have members of Fair Fight. But none of them are backing down.
“It might be new to them, but it's not new to us,” Holley said of threats to Fair Fight’s volunteers. “We are having election workers doxed, election workers who can not go home and organizers who are in hiding. There are people who have agents outside their house because there are people actively trying to kill them.”
“But we know how to fight it,” Holley added. “We know how to protect ourselves and we’re ready for all that. … We’re going to win and that’s what keeps me going. And I hope that’s what keeps everyone else going too.”
Below are key dates for Georgians to remember ahead of the state’s Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5, 2021:
Cover photo Illustration: Yahoo News; Photos: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images (2)
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