Skip to main content

Features

Midnight trains to Georgia

The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency

Midnight trains to Georgia

Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler speak at a Nov. 13 campaign event in Cumming, Ga. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

In early December, a singing Santa Claus is set to descend on the Vinings Jubilee outdoor mall in northern Atlanta to perform holiday tunes at a safe distance from masked shoppers.

Santa won’t be the only celebrity in town. 

Also sleighing in from the North: entrepreneur Andrew Yang. The 45-year-old ran against former Vice President Joe Biden in this year’s Democratic presidential primaries, where he grabbed attention for his proposal to send monthly checks to every American adult. 

Now Yang is leaving his New York home for a two-month stay in Georgia to help Democrats hoping to bag one of the biggest prizes on their political wish list: control of the U.S. Senate. 

After an already-grueling election season, the drama continues in at least one state until Jan. 5, when two runoff contests in Georgia will decide whether Republicans keep the Senate—or whether Democrats eke out an advantage to control the Senate, the House, and the presidency. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the belated battle “the showdown of all showdowns” and told a packed room of Georgia Republicans: “This is Georgia’s decision to make. But it’s America that will live with the consequences.”

After the Associated Press projected Biden had won the presidency, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told a crowd of cheering New Yorkers, “Now we take Georgia, and then we change America!”

But that might not play well down South. 

Democrats in Georgia may need to walk a tightrope between accepting outside support for a critical ground game against well-organized Republicans and downplaying messages that sound like outsiders are pulling all the strings. (Republicans are pulling plenty of strings too and quickly turned Schumer’s comments about Georgia into a campaign commercial: “Georgia, don’t let these radicals change America.”) A slew of close races in November showed a nation divided down the middle, not the blue wave of Democratic dominance some predicted. It appeared Democrats narrowly won the presidency but lost much of their edge in the House, and they’re aiming at best for a tie in the Senate. Republicans, meanwhile, have to figure out the best way to rally their voters in the state.

Despite the tensions, activists like Yang say they’re still chugging South: “Everyone who campaigned for Joe should get ready to head to Georgia.” 

“This is Georgia’s decision to make. But it’s America that will live with the consequences.” —Marco Rubio

THE UNEXPECTED TWIST in this year’s Senate battle flows from an unusual quirk in Georgia law: In a Senate or House race, a ­candidate must grab more than 50 percent of the votes to win. If no candidate reaches the mark, the top two vote-getters head to a runoff. 

In the November election, all of the Senate candidates in Georgia fell short of an outright majority, so the state’s two Republican senators will face two Democratic opponents in January. Republican Sen. David Perdue faces investigative journalist Jon Ossoff, and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler faces Atlanta minister Raphael Warnock. 

Going into the Georgia races, Republicans hold 50 seats in the U.S. Senate. Democrats hold 48. That means Democrats need to pick up both seats in Georgia to bring the balance to a 50-50 tie. In that scenario and with a Biden win, a Vice President Kamala Harris would break the tie, giving Democrats a slim majority. 

Even a slim majority is a significant advantage: It would give Biden the ability to secure Cabinet officials and judicial appointments—including nominations to the Supreme Court. 

But it would also slow him down: A single Democratic dissenter could torpedo the party’s majority on some votes. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has already said he won’t vote to end the Senate filibuster or pack the Supreme Court. 

And Democrats wouldn’t have the 60-vote threshold needed to pass some of their most ambitious legislation. That means they’d likely face pressure to negotiate with Republicans on at least some measures.

Cue the outsiders.

When a CNN reporter asked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., whether she would negotiate with moderate Republicans, she said she would focus on helping Democrats win in Georgia “so we don’t have to negotiate in that manner.”

Not all Democrats are pushing that strategy. Shortly after the party nearly lost its House majority in November, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., reportedly warned colleagues about going too far left: “No one should say ‘defund the police’ ever again. Nobody should be talking about socialism.” 

That might be worthwhile advice for the Democratic candidates in Georgia, but they face scrutiny for the campaigns they ran before they knew how narrow the House and presidential races would be.

In June, Democrat Jon Ossoff, 33, didn’t directly answer a question from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about whether he supported the “Defund the Police” movement. He did say he supported legalizing marijuana, guaranteeing health insurance for all Americans, and expanding programs for tuition-free college. (He later said he supported police reform, not defunding the police.)

Ossoff also said he wanted to get rid of President Donald Trump and his Republican allies, calling them “a wannabe tyrant and his cowardly enablers.”

After the general election showed significant support for many Republicans, Ossoff showed a noticeable shift in the first campaign commercial for his January runoff against Perdue: Ossoff didn’t mention Trump, Biden, or the Democratic Party. He didn’t even mention his opponent. Ossoff said he would work to help the state recover from COVID-19 and invest in infrastructure: “We need leaders who bring us together to get this done.”

Raphael Warnock, the Atlanta minister running against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, also downplayed outside influence heading into the runoffs, even as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wrote a letter urging support for Warnock’s campaign. Republicans pounced on the plug from Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP

Raphael Warnock (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP)

Warnock hasn’t shied away from preaching progressive politics from the pulpit of Atlanta’s well-known Ebenezer Baptist Church—the congregation once led by Martin Luther King Jr. 

Not long before the November election, The New York Times reported he castigated Republicans during a campaign speech and said: “I’ve read the Gospels a few times, and Jesus spent a lot of time healing the sick. Even those with pre-existing conditions.” 

He’s defended Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of the church President Barack Obama once attended. (Wright’s inflammatory sermons drew attention during Obama’s 2008 presidential run, including a sermon with Wright repeating the refrain that God should “damn” America.)

More recently, Warnock wrote an editorial in The Advocate, a ­popular gay publication, decrying what he called “so-called religious freedom bills.” Warnock called for the passage of the Equality Act—legislation supported by Biden and Harris that some conservative scholars say poses a direct threat to religious liberties.

Meanwhile, Alveda King, a longtime conservative and the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., lives in Atlanta and has called out Warnock for supporting legalized abortion: “Please don’t confuse the Warnock abortion agenda with the King family legacy!”

Abortion has played a sizable role in Georgia politics over the last year, with the state’s Legislature passing a bill banning most abortions after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat. (A judge blocked the law.) That looks to stay the same in the January contests.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List plans to spend at least $4 million in the races. Planned Parenthood officials have endorsed both Warnock and Ossoff in their runoffs and pledged to pour money into their campaigns. In 2018, the abortion giant donated some $800,000 to Ossoff’s first congressional run, but Ossoff narrowly lost—showing that campaigns don’t live by donations alone. 

They also live by a ground game. On that front, some Democrats urged their party not to grow complacent over what appeared in mid-November to be a White House win—including what looked to be a close victory in Georgia—as they head to the runoffs. 

“We’re going to have to sit down and take a serious look at how to run these senatorial campaigns in Georgia,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., told USA Today. “We’re not going to win them if we run those the way we ran the Biden campaign.”

Brynn Anderson/AP

Jon Ossoff (Brynn Anderson/AP)

RUNNING A GROUND GAME isn’t easy during a pandemic. 

Many Democratic candidates not only limited attendance at campaign events, they limited the in-person contact their volunteers and staffers had with voters.

It was a way to be careful during a serious health crisis, but some Democrats now say the campaigns should have adapted to visit more voters face to face. During the warm summer months, Republicans said they knocked on millions of doors, often following a simple protocol: Back away and leave plenty of distance from whoever answers the door. 

After Democrats suffered bruising House defeats in November, former Democratic presidential candidate Beto ­O’Rourke wrote a memo outlining why he thought some Democrats performed poorly in his home state of Texas: “Nothing beats meeting your voters, eyeball to eyeball.”

Democrats have said they’ll find ways to meet more eyeballs in Georgia, but the timeline for both parties is short: They have a little more than six weeks to hoof it through Georgia during Thanksgiving and Christmas, asking politics-weary voters to go back to the polls one more time.

Many are looking to Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia state House representative who narrowly lost a bid for governor against Republican Brian Kemp in 2018. Abrams has worked with grassroots organizations that have reported helping register nearly 1 million voters since 2016. (Warnock was once chairman of New Georgia Project, an organization Abrams founded in 2013.)

For Democrats, at least two types of voters are key in the January runoffs: black voters who usually overwhelmingly voted for Democratic candidates and the swaths of suburban voters who backed Biden. For Republicans, voters in areas outside of urban centers are key.  

While advocacy groups gear up to help, so do the groups campaigning on abortion. Officials at Planned Parenthood said their organization doesn’t plan to knock on doors in Georgia, but leaders at the Susan B. Anthony List say their group does. 

Spokeswoman Mallory Quigley says the organization is working with other pro-life groups to build a field team to make phone calls and knock on doors across the state. That’ll be a steep hill to climb in a short time: “So we’re going to have to be really creative to get this done before Jan. 5.”

While voter registration is important, Charles Bullock, a professor of politics at the University of Georgia, says voter turnout is the bottom line for both campaigns: “It’s much more about contacting the people who you think voted for you last time, and less about prospecting for new voters. … And if you weren’t especially inspired to vote in this presidential election, are you really going to get excited about these Senate runs?”

REPUBLICANS ARE TRYING TO KEEP their voters excited. Loeffler and Perdue paired up to raise funds and share resources in their races against their Democratic opponents right after the November elections.

Pundits favor Republicans to win their contests, and Loeffler has a particular advantage: Though she finished behind Warnock on Nov. 3, she was also competing against another Republican running in the special election for her Senate seat. 

“It’s much more about contacting the people who you think voted for you last time, and less about prospecting for new voters.” —Charles Bullock

So she’ll likely pick up a substantial number of voters who pulled the lever for Republican Doug Collins, and she’ll shift more focus to her Democratic opponent than to the Republican she was trying to ward off in the general election.

Warnock will also focus on Loeffler: As Loeffler tells voters that Warnock is a left-wing radical, Warnock tells voters Loeffler profited from the coronavirus pandemic by trading stocks based on early Senate briefings about COVID-19. 

Warnock denies charges of socialism, and Loeffler denies accusations of insider pandemic trading. (A Senate ethics committee reported it didn’t find evidence Loeffler broke any laws.) But the attacks are bound to grow more personal, even over an already-difficult holiday season.

Another tightrope for the Republican candidates: They’ve supported Trump’s calls for challenging election results, and they called for the resignation of Georgia’s secretary of state, alleging he wasn’t handling the initial electoral process properly. It’s awkward, given that Brad Raffensperger is a Republican. Raffensperger ordered a hand recount of Georgia’s presidential votes but said he didn’t think it would affect the outcome. Biden was leading by about 14,000 votes at that point. The intra-party GOP fight added another layer to a complicated election.

Perdue has a tightrope to walk as well: The Republican senator won more votes in Georgia than Trump. Bullock, the Georgia politics professor, says that dynamic reinforces what many suspected: “There is a share of Republican voters who will not vote for Donald Trump.” 

Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host in Georgia, says he thinks some of the suburban Republican voters who didn’t vote for Trump probably didn’t drift left: “They just drifted away from Trump.”

That raises a big campaign question: Will Republicans ask the president to come to Georgia before January? A few days ahead of the certification of Georgia’s vote, Trump was still contesting the results of the presidential election. Vice President Mike Pence was planning a trip to Atlanta, but it wasn’t clear how Trump would spend the next few weeks after a volatile election season. 

Meanwhile, Georgia Democrats were savoring what looked like a Democratic win in the presidential election in a traditionally red state. While the prospect of Georgia turning blue is historic, it isn’t unprecedented: Democratic President Bill Clinton won the state in 1992, and Democrats have been steadily winning races in the state over the last few years. 

The politics are changing, Bullock says: “It wasn’t so much a matter of if, as when.”  

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie is national editor of WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously worked for the Charlotte World. Jamie has covered politics, disasters, religion, and more for WORLD. She resides in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

Comments

You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • TIM MILLER
    Posted: Fri, 11/20/2020 09:19 am

    Another question: How will the interparty civil war that Trump has started in Georgia play to those suburban voters? The GOP Senate candidates have taken his side, and accused the secretary of state of malfeasance. Trump's scheme team of lawyers is suggesting the Georgia governor may have gotten payoffs to swing the state Biden's way. Putting aside the question of truth (as it's pretty clear which side Trump's lawyers are on), what impact will this have on the race for Senate?

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Mon, 11/23/2020 06:08 pm

    The Democrats have started this confusion with their vast voter fraud campaign. They denying Republican and independent poll watchers the right to watch the vote counting process. They are piling in all kinds of illegal votes making a sham of our system.  You are a propagandist for the Democrats! 

  • TIM MILLER
    Posted: Mon, 11/30/2020 01:04 pm

    Not fair, Cyborg3. I'm not a Democrat, and think their vision for America is dangerous. But I don't think the best way to combat that is to cry, "fraud," if the claim is not true.

  • TIM MILLER
    Posted: Mon, 11/30/2020 01:04 pm

    Not fair, Cyborg3. I'm not a Democrat, and think their vision for America is dangerous. But I don't think the best way to combat that is to cry, "fraud," if the claim is not true.

  • Georganne
    Posted: Fri, 11/20/2020 09:40 am

    I have grave concerns about the integrity of elections in the United States, and this includes Georgia. If I can be convinced that these upcoming Senatorial elections will be secure and honest, I can easily accept the outcome, no matter what it is, but I am not convinced these elections will be either secure or honest.

    It starts at the precinct level with the voter rolls.  Do the voter rolls contain registered voters who actually live in the precinct and only those voters?  That is not too much to ask, but it took us fourteen years to get our adult daughter's name removed from the voter rolls here in Maryland after she moved out of state, married, and changed her last name. I sense that this problem is not unique to Maryland, and wonder if Georgia has the same problem.

    Are requests for mail-in ballots or the actual ballots sent to everyone who still happens to be on the voter rolls, including those who have died and moved out of the area?  If they are, this is an invitation to fraud.  I don't know the situation in Georgia, but would like to know.

    What is the date that the mail-in ballots must be post marked and received in order to be counted?   Does Georgia require a clear post mark date on the mail-in ballot?  Does Georgia require a signature on the mail-in ballot to match the signature on the voter rolls?

    Are all the voting machines secure? There are questions about the Dominion voting machines that were raised by some entities even pror to the election. Does Georgia use Dominion voting machines?  Are the voting machines that are used secure from malicious tampering?

    Do the voting laws apply equally to all voters--mail in voters and in person voters?  In some areas it has been alleged that in-person voters have strict requirements for their signature to match the signature on the voter rolls while the signature matches for mail-in voters are less stringent.

    Can there be a representative from both the Republican party and the Democratic party present to see and count each ballot?  I'm not talking about someone in the room 6 feet away who can't see the ballot.  I'm talking about pairs of people working together through all the counting and certification of votes.

    I don't think any of these conditions are too much to ask.  Many of my friends and aquaintances are losing faith in the integrity of our elections.  We need some answers.  If World can investigage and find the answers to any of the questions I have raised, it would be greatly appreciated.  As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust, but verify." 

    Georganne Friedrich

  • TIM MILLER
    Posted: Fri, 11/20/2020 02:16 pm

    Georganne,

    First, the Dominion issue is largely made up. Dominion is used in red states as well as blue states; in Michigan and Georgia, they have compared the computer tabulation to the actual tallies, and it has proven accurate. There is no evidence that Dominion was used to steal votes.

    Second, only 9 states mail ballots to every voter. 

    Vermont

    Nevada

    District of Columbia

    California

    New Jersey

    Colorado

    Hawaii

    Utah

    Washington

    Oregon
     

    As you can see, only one is considered a battleground state. Georgia is not on the list.

  • Georganne
    Posted: Fri, 11/20/2020 03:40 pm

    Tim, If Dominion Voting Systems has nothing to hide, why did they back out from testifying before a Pennsylvania House Committee this morning?  I admit, I don't know this answer, but it would be good to find out.

    Georganne

     

  • TIM MILLER
    Posted: Fri, 11/20/2020 04:33 pm

    Georganne, I'm interested in finding that out myself.

    But, so far, the numbers have checked out. I don't see that there's any evidence/proof/etc. that Dominion rigged this election. 

    But, I am curious why they skipped that hearing.

  • Georganne
    Posted: Sun, 11/22/2020 09:18 am

    Tim, one more thing.  You said "... only 9 states mail ballots to every voter."  That is probably true, but many more states, including my state of Maryland, send applications for mail in ballots to every voter. 

    We managed to get our daughter's name off the voter roll list just prior to this election.  But  if an application for a mail in ballot addressed to our daughter had been mailed to our house, it would have been very easy for me to fill it out, sign her name (because I know what her signature looks like) and mail it in.  We then would have received a ballot for her, and I could have filled it out and mailed it in, and no one would have known the difference. 

    It would have been much more difficult for me to vote in person posing as my daughter, because in Maryland, voters have to give their birthdate.  I am 33 years older than my daughter, and it would have been obvious that I am not her.  This is just another way that mail in ballots open the door to fraud. 

    I never would have used that tactic to vote twice, because I know it is not ethical, but it could be tempting to some people, and it is not secure.

  • My Two Cents
    Posted: Sun, 11/22/2020 07:51 pm

    This is an interesting discussion. Georganne asks some great questions. I don't know if every state makes a distinction between "mail in" ballots and "absentee" ballots. I do think automatically sending ballots to everyone on the list is wrong due to death, moving, or any number of reasons. However, I voted absentee many times; four years living out of state to attend college, and seven years in the military. I had to request a ballot, and that was back before "on line" was part of our vernacular. I had to phone long distance rates, or send a letter requesting a ballot. 

    Now I live in Texas. The only people eligible for mail in/absentee ballots are over the age of 65, infirm (I don't know if you need a doctor's note),  (ahem) incarcerated but otherwise eligible to vote, and out of county on election day. My husband turned 65 this year. He requested a ballot and had to supply a reason, provide his DL number (valid photo ID is required in person), and it was signed, sealed in one envelope, signed across the seal, put in another envelope and mailed. I decided that I had no way of knowing if I would be out of town on election day or not. There is early voting, but who knows but I may be quarantined or whatnot. I set out to request an absentee ballot for a possible "emergency trip". Well, in order to do that I had to provide an OUT OF COUNTY address for them to send the ballot. If I am driving, attending a business trip, how on earth could I provide an out of county address? I had no choice but to mask up and stand in line for 2.5 hours to vote early. Again, I didn't want to wait for election day in case something happened in the meantime that would prevent me from voting. Texas was listed as one of the most difficult states to vote in, regarding accessibility, ease of registering, ease of mail in voting, etc. 

    With so many methods of voting these days, it's not surprising there is an increase in human error (but not malicious). Absolutely, streamline the process of voting and counting  votes. I'm not sure why they can't count early voting early, but not release results. Then count election day ballots after polls close. 

     

     

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Mon, 11/23/2020 10:59 am

    I don’t know why Jamie pretends there is no voter fraud going on in Georgia. It seems to me this is a critical part of the election. If Atlanta is allowed to stuff the ballot box with fake mail-in ballots then the same outcome will be seen again. The outrage against the governor is his complete ineptitude in fighting the voter fraud. Below is part of Giuliani’s press conference statement on the voter fraud.

     

    Rudy Giuliani: (31:05)

    One of the reasons why the two Republicans did not certify in Wayne, Michigan, Wayne County, Michigan is because the overvote was so high. Monstrously high in about two-thirds of the precincts in the city of Detroit. Which means magically two and three times the number of registered voters turned out to vote. In fact we have precincts in which two times the number of people who live there, including children, voted. That’s absurd. The frustration of this is, what I’m describing to you is a massive fraud. It isn’t a little teeny one. It isn’t 100 votes switched here or there. Georgia. We’re about to file a major lawsuit in Georgia. That’ll be filed probably tomorrow. I don’t need to go through it. Virtually the same things I’ve told you before. In the City of Atlanta, Republicans were not allowed to watch the absentee mail-in ballot process. Inspections completely cast aside and we have numerous double voters, we have numerous out-of-state voters, and we have specific evidence of intimidation and changes of vote. That will all be in the lawsuit that comes out tomorrow.

     

    I hope Jamie would discuss all relevant issues about the election in her future articles.

     

     

  • TIM MILLER
    Posted: Mon, 11/23/2020 04:20 pm
  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Tue, 11/24/2020 05:20 am

    Tim, your article is propaganda. Yes if you compile the total numbers for Detroit then there isn't more voters than those registered to vote or more ballots than people living in the city. If however you look at the individual precincts then there are a bunch of anomalies observed.  Probably the most glaring anomaly is the early morning dump of absentee ballots totaling about 173,000 all coming from precincts with NO registered voters where 97% of the vote went for Biden.  How does one explain this gross anomaly? 

  • TIM MILLER
    Posted: Tue, 11/24/2020 09:57 am

    Cyborg3, serious question. I haven't seen anywhere the allegation that there were precincts in Detroit that have no registered voters. Where did you see or hear that? I want to check it out.