With less than three weeks until the Senate runoffs, Georgia Democrats are crisscrossing the state in tour buses and caravans, shoring up enthusiasm among the same voters who delivered the state for Joe Biden in November.
This week, Jon Ossoff’s campaign is prioritizing rural Black voters in a weeklong bus tour. The goal is to motivate infrequent and newly-registered voters to show up at the polls. Democrats have been slowly making inroads in rural counties, turf the party once ceded to Republicans. Now, thanks in large part to the work of grassroots activists and state leaders like Stacey Abrams, they believe that all of Georgia is in play. And they’re taking advantage of that opening.
Since November, the Ossoff campaign has made more than 750,000 phone calls and texts and mailed 50,000 postcards to Black Georgians outside of the more populous metro Atlanta counties, encouraging them to head to the polls. Campaigns and voting groups, meanwhile, are running the same playbook they employed ahead of the general election: registering new voters with a focus on young people and communities of color, pouring millions into radio and television advertisements and mobilizing Black voters, who comprise more than 30 percent of the state’s population and its registered Democrats, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office.
As the coronavirus bears down on the state, the Ossoff campaign’s message to rural Georgians has focused on health care and infrastructure, making the case that sweeping policy changes to both would be possible only under a Democrat-controlled Senate. Rural health care, Ossoff argues, would be one of his top priorities — and one he sees as not just a public health issue but a civil rights one.
“We can build new health clinics to serve every community,” Ossoff said in an interview, noting the campaign’s online and in-person outreach to rural Black voters to discuss these issues. “Folks in rural Georgia shouldn’t have to drive an hour and a half to get to an emergency room. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
More than 75,000 Georgians registered to vote after the Nov. 3 election, a boon for the grassroots groups that aimed to add as many new voters to the rolls as possible before January. According to data first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a majority of the state’s new voters are under 25 or people of color, two groups that historically vote for Democrats. What’s more, a whopping 1.1 million Georgians have voted early since polls opened on Monday, according to data from GeorgiaVotes, which tracks voting patterns in the state.
Still, Democrats have a lot of ground to make up. Biden won Georgia by fewer than 12,000 votes in November but finished with nearly 100,000 more than Ossoff. In a handful of key counties in the state like Fulton and Cobb, about one-fourth of Georgians who cast ballots in November have already voted.
The campaign, however, is confident that a large enough number of Georgia voters who cast ballots only to oust Trump will be motivated to return to the polls for what has become an all-important down-ballot race for both parties. And the increase in mail volume due to the holiday season’s overlap with the election is likely to cause a delay in counting mail-in ballots, setting the stage for a last-minute nail-biter.
Voting rights activists have also made efforts to reach out to rural voters. They argue rural voters’ involvement in the November election was just as critical as that of voters in urban areas. During a call with reporters on Wednesday, Black Voters Matter co-founders LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright said that while most people paid attention to Georgia’s urban areas, on-the-ground activists were heavily involved in mobilizing rural voters.
“A lot of gains [that] came out of rural Georgia, I think, were unexpected for some because they did not expect that those voters would show up,” Brown said. “Part of our strategy has always been this strategy around literally making sure that we were connecting the urban and the rural power. That we would literally be able to speak to those who are in our communities that we see were often most marginalized.”
On Monday, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will travel to Georgia to campaign on behalf of Ossoff and the Democrat competing for the other Georgia Senate seat, Raphael Warnock, and will make stops in Suwanee and Columbus, two battleground areas in the state. Her visit sets the stage for Democrats’ closing message to Georgia voters, Ossoff said: He and Warnock can’t deliver on their campaign promise to deliver “health, jobs and justice” without a a Democratic majority in the Senate.
Republicans, for their part, are encouraging their voters to be a “firewall” against Democratic control of the Senate. In the face of President Donald Trump’s fueling conspiracy theories about a “rigged election” in the state, GOP strategists and party officials say they feel confident that the state will reelect both Republican candidates. Democrats, though, are just as confident that Trump’s misinformation campaign will bring their voters to the polls.
Even so, Ossoff said he is concerned about Republican attempts to make it more difficult for Georgians to vote. On Friday federal judges dismissed two cases brought by the Republican Party that aimed to eliminate the use of absentee ballot dropboxes and further scrutinize signature-matching on ballots. While the cases were dismissed, they hint at a possible Republican effort to refute the results of the runoffs if they are not in their favor.
It’s also why Ossoff’s campaign has invested heavily in voter protection efforts in addition to releasing campaign ads highlighting his commitment to racial justice.
“This is an attack on Black voters in Georgia because it was the Black turnout that delivered this state for Joe Biden,” Ossoff said, referencing the cases. “And we can pass a new Civil Rights Act to secure equal justice for all but unless we win these Senate races, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell will block all of that. So folks need to get out to the polls and vote."
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