Why is that? Because we have two contested US Senate runoffs on January 5. The Republican incumbents, first-term Sen. David Perdue and recently-appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, are being challenged, respectively, by Jon Ossoff, a 33-year old owner of a small investigative media firm, and Rev. Raphael Warnock, 51, and senior pastor of Martin Luther King Junior’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.
And the stakes could not be higher. Democrats are vying for control of the Senate and their ability to control the legislative agenda of a Joe Biden administration. As Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer recently stated
to a cheering New York crowd, “Now we take Georgia, then we change America!”
The Democrats strategy, however, is questionable at best. Though both Ossoff and Warnock are formidable and well-funded, their progressive roots and the Georgia Democratic Party’s more recent sharp left turn will make it difficult to prevail in a state that may be emerging purple but is definitely not deep blue.
Before assessing the Democrats’ chances, however, first a bit of background about Georgia’s modern political history. With few exceptions, Georgia has elected governors who mixed right of center political leanings with real world pragmatism. These have included Democrats like Zell Miller
, who pushed
tough on crime sentencing laws and also created the HOPE Scholarship for Georgians to attend state colleges tuition free, as well as recent Republicans like Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal, who cut spending
to balance the budget, but also boosted the state’s entertainment industry and international trade, and advanced criminal justice reform. In the US Senate, Georgia has elected respected problem solvers like Democrat Sam Nunn and Republican Johnny Isakson, each of whom enjoyed strong relationships on both sides of the political aisle.
After Republicans took firm control in Georgia in the early-2000s, Georgia Democrats’ strategy was to try and rebuild their old coalition with well known names from their once dominant past. In 2014, for instance, they ran Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, in the gubernatorial race, and Michelle Nunn, the daughter of Sam Nunn, in a US Senate race.
While these efforts came up short, Republicans’ margins at the ballot box did begin to narrow. In 2014, Deal, running for reelection, and Perdue, running in his first senate race, both won — but with only just under 53%
of the vote. The same trend occurred on the presidential level, with President Donald Trump carrying the state with only 51%
in 2016, and that’s in contrast to George W. Bush’s performance in 2004 at 58%
In 2018, Georgia Democrats, tired of feeling like Charlie Brown and the football
, welcomed the stage-left entry of Stacey Abrams
, a former State House Democratic leader, into the race for governor. A tough-as-nails progressive candidate and strategist, Abrams had argued
for years that rather than trying to coax moderates and conservatives back into the Democratic camp, the path for the party in Georgia was to stake out a clear liberal agenda and energize minority demographic groups to register and vote. In Abrams’ opinion, these groups had been underrepresented and neglected in the past. In the 2018 governor’s race, she ran a spirited campaign
, losing by less than 55,000 votes out of some 3.9 million votes cast.
Due to the national star status recognition Abrams received afterward (she delivered
the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union in 2019), and the continuation of her voter registration efforts through her organization Fair Fight, she set the progressive tone for Georgia Democrats this election cycle.
In the Democratic primary to take on Perdue, Democrats and their deep-pocket donors cast aside more establishment-centered candidates, like former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, in favor of the upstart Ossoff, who enjoyed the solid backing
of the late civil rights icon Congressman John…
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