Everyone I talked to in Georgia says there are two keys to winning those races in January. One is preventing that drop-off in votes cast in a runoff, and reassembling a version of the coalition that elected Biden, who got about 100,000 more votes than Ossoff. (Ossoff trailed Perdue by about 80,000.) It will be especially important to get 2020’s new voters—young voters, who increased their vote share in 2020, as well as Black, Asian, and Hispanic voters—to come out a second time, on a Wednesday just after the New Year holiday.
The other key is Donald Trump. He is openly feuding with Georgia’s two top Republicans, Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, because they certified Biden’s legitimate win (after completing a hand recount). Some of Trump’s supporters are insisting that Georgia Republicans should boycott the Senate runoffs to punish incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for inadequately aiding Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory. Both candidates have called for Raffensperger’s resignation, with zero justification; it’s not clear what more they could be doing.
Nobody thinks winning these races will be easy. Warnock and Ossoff have already been outspent by Republicans in the first month of the new campaign. Georgia Democrats have lost all eight runoffs staged since 1992, including a pair of US Senate contests. But progressive activists want to refute the notion that their dismal performance in past runoffs can predict the future. There’s never been a runoff with resources like this—many expect the two Democrats to be competitive financially down the stretch—or with voters who are so mobilized. “Demographics is the fire,” Nsé Ufot, the inspiring leader of the Abrams-founded New Georgia Project, told NBC News. “Organizing is the accelerant.”
While Republicans are more focused on overall turnout in this usually conservative state, Democrats are systematically reaching out to young people who helped Joe Biden flip Georgia blue. This demographic, 56% of which voted for Mr. Biden, will be key to helping Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock beat Republican incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
“It’s difficult to convince voters to get out and vote in the first place,” Ms. Bailey said. Without Mr. Trump as the motivating factor, Ms. Bailey said she would “imagine that’s going to bring turnout down a little bit, and whenever turnout is suppressed that tends to help Republicans.”
Democratic organizations and civic engagement groups are working to maintain turnout in January, focusing especially on getting young voters registered to vote by the cutoff date of Dec. 7.
In order to go two-for-two in Georgia, Ossoff and Warnock will need to recreate Biden’s coalition from the November election, in particular his strong support among suburban voters who were fed up with President Donald Trump. Large turnout in Cobb, Gwinnett and other suburban counties surrounding Atlanta powered Biden to victory in Georgia, making him the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.
The battle over suburban voters underscores demographic shifts that have reshaped the state’s political landscape.
Georgia’s population grew from roughly 8.2 million people in 2000 to 10.5 million in 2018, an increase driven primarily by a surge in new Latino and Asian residents. Non-white residents, who tend to lean Democratic, now account for 47 percent of the state’s population, according to state data. The share of the state’s electorate that is white dropped from 68 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2018, a Pew Research Center study found.
Strong turnout among Latino and Black voters also contributed to Biden’s win, in Georgia and across the country. But the near-doubling of turnout among Asian American voters — which historically has had some of the lowest turnout nationally — suggests a far-reaching change that could resonate for decades.
“We are that new electorate,” said Stephanie Cho, executive director of the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “Us along with Black women voters, along with Latino voters, along with young people, really have changed the trajectory of what Georgia looks like.”
With two crucial U.S. Senate races to be decided in Georgia on Jan. 5, both parties are keenly aware that the jump in newly engaged Asian voters could make the difference. Tight races are unfolding between Sen. David Perdue (R) and Ossoff, as well as between Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (D).