Once the dust settles on the Presidential race, Georgia will become the center of the American political universe for the rest of 2020. With several Republican Senators holding on to their seats, Biden’s ability to get anything done in his first two years will likely hinge on the two Senate runoff races in Georgia. Thanks to the incredible work of Stacey Abrams and a host of grassroots organizers, Georgia went blue in a presidential race for the first time since 1992, and they will now be asked to deliver Georgia again to secure Democratic control of the Senate. With special elections normally tending to favor Republicans, the GOP pitching the idea that control of the Senate is the best way to constrain Biden’s “radical left agenda”, and Democrats no longer able to use anti-Trump energy to drive turnout, winning these races could be a decidedly harder task. Huge amounts of money will flow in from all over the country to help Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in their efforts, but the candidates need to triangulate the message they want to hammer home for the next two months.
The first thing they need to do is learn lessons from how Georgia turned blue in this election, and apply them to the upcoming one. Efforts to court moderate Republicans largely failed, but a massive mobilization of black voters in the Dekalb and Fulton counties delivered the state to Biden. The challenge for Warnock and Ossoff will be motivating those voters to turn out again in January without Trump on the ballot. Loeffler and Perdue will warn Georgians that Ossoff and Warnock are “Schumer’s puppets” and that if Democrats take the Senate, they will defund the police, take away their guns, and turn America into a socialist country. If Warnock and Ossoff spend their campaigns playing defense and re-assuring voters that they won’t do those things, they are sure to lose. The Republican voters who backed Trump will eat up all that fear-mongering and turn out, so the Democratic candidates will need a message that energizes their base to turn out in even greater numbers. They don’t need to forcefully get behind every progressive agenda item, or take the bait and allow Republicans to turn this election into a culture war, but there are two simple messages that they can relentlessly focalize that should both energize their base and help deliver some Republican-leaning voters.
It has been more than seven months since Congress passed its last economic stimulus and people are hurting. With unemployment through the roof and the pandemic showing no signs of slowing up, people are badly in need of relief. No one is more responsible for the failure to pass a stimulus bill than Mitch McConell, who wouldn’t even budge on the matter when Trump started pushing to get something done in a desperate bid to help his election chances. If Democrats gain control of the Senate, a bill can be passed on day one of Biden’s presidency to start putting money into struggling people’s pockets. If McConnell remains majority leader, he may refuse to even allow a vote on a stimulus bill, and anything that does get passed will likely only come after a prolonged period of negotiation and compromise. Knowing the election will have a direct effect on their material condition will give Georgians, especially those living in poverty who don’t traditionally turn out in high rates, a powerful impetus to show up and vote. Even some conservatives who are feeling the pain of the pandemic-induced recession may be convinced to put their grievances aside and vote to give themselves some financial relief. This message should also be particularly effective against the Republican candidates. Both Loeffler and Perdue have opposed the idea of giving economic relief to the working class, and were caught selling off stocks right before the market crashed while publicly downplaying the seriousness of the virus. By accurately painting Loeffler and Perdue as corrupt multi-millionaires who use their office to benefit themselves rather than help working people, Democrats can put them on defense and dull GOP enthusiasm while also energizing their own base.
Democrats would also be wise to make this election about fulfilling the legacy of John Lewis. After dedicating his life to fighting for voting rights, Lewis unfortunately lived to see his own state become ground zero for voter suppression after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act that he spilt his blood to get passed. The scars from Brian Kemp cheating his way to a victory in the 2018 Governor race are still fresh for black Georgians who spent entire days waiting in line to vote as Kemp used his power as Secretary of State to close polling places, order voting machines out of service, and deny voter registration applications on technicalities. When Democrats took the House in 2018, they promptly passed an updated Voting Rights Act which has been collecting dust on Mitch McConell’s desk for the past two years. If Republicans win in this runoff election, the bill will not see the light of day for at least another two years. After Lewis’ long fight against voter suppression, there would be something incredibly fitting about Georgia becoming the state that delivers the Senate seats needed to revitalize our Democracy in the year of his death. This messaging would further fuel the activist energy that is already thriving in Georgia and help drive massive turnout in Atlanta.
The Republicans are going to try their best to make this election a referendum on “coastal elites”, “patriotism”, “socialism”, and “Christian values”, but Democrats can avoid going down those rabbit holes by staying on message and making clear that this election is about putting money in the pockets of working people, and protecting everyone’s right to vote. Rather than listen to the out of touch consultants who caused Democrats to underperform across the country, it’s time for these candidates to listen to and collaborate with the activists who delivered Georgia to Biden and helped save the world from Trump. If they embrace that energy and build on it, another stunning victory in Georgia could be what allows the Democrats to move forward with a bold agenda during the Biden era, and set themselves up for future electoral success by improving the conditions of the American people. If not, we could see history repeat itself with McConnell gridlocking the government and Republicans re-taking Congress in 2022 by blaming Biden for the fires Trump started, just as they did during the Obama era. Winning this election is going to take a massive mobilization of volunteers phone banking and knocking on doors, but the candidates need to do their part by adopting a message that will drive voters to the polls.