Everything that needs to go right for Democrats to win the Georgia runoffs, explained

I’d love to believe they can do it, but with 2 horrendous Republican opponents with narrow leads, am hopeful but not optimistic. Georgia is just not that purple. They almost voted a rehire of Trump, and that tells you something. (15,000 more Biden votes). — F Shiels, editor

Democrats need to turn out a diverse base of voters to have a shot at winning.By Ella Nilsenella.nilsen@vox.com  Dec 7, 2020, 8:30am EST

To win two hotly contested Senate runoff races, Democrats in Georgia need a lot of things to go right.

Georgia voters haven’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in 20 years, and Democrats handily lost the Senate runoff in 2008. But ask Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, and they insist things are different now. For one thing, the two Georgia races will determine which party controls the Senate — and by extension — political power in Washington, DC. For another, their party’s presidential candidate just won the state for the first time in almost 30 years.

“Folks didn’t allow themselves to hope,” said Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, an organization that registered an estimated 500,000 Georgian voters of color and young people ahead of November 3. “Ultimately, you have to conceive of it first before we can build it; folks have to believe that it’s possible. I think that’s why there’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm frankly on both sides as we head to the runoff.”

The two Senate runoffs — featuring Sen. David Perdue (R) versus Ossoff in one race and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) versus Warnock in the other — will still be very hard for Democrats to win. Not as many low-interest voters will participateas in the November presidential election, so these runoffs are more about motivating the respective party bases than attempting to persuade swing voters.

People wait for Vice President Mike Pence at a rally in support of Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Savannah, Georgia, on December 4.
Senate candidate Jon Ossoff takes questions from the press during a December 3 campaign rally.

“Turnout is what matters,” Cook Political Report Senate editor Jessica Taylor said. Democrats and Republicans alike need to find their voters, and get them back out to the polls.

While the Republican Party’s base in Georgia is fairly homogeneous, Democrats must turn out a more diverse swath of voters to have a shot at winning the Senate. Black voters undoubtedly make up the majority of Georgia’s Democratic base, but the 2020 election showed a successful coalition is also built on Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) voters, Latino voters, and white suburban women.

“It’s not just one group you’re trying to get out,” said Georgia state Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat. “If any of those components really fall off, you lose — and that’s why it’s hard. It’s a much more difficult task for Democrats, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen.”

Another important factor to motivate the Democratic base could be that President Donald Trump himself is not going away quietly. Some Democrats feared their voters would fall into complacency after ousting Trump in November, but the president is continuing to refuse to concede to President-elect Joe Biden. Tensions between Trump and Republican state officials in Georgia are high, so much so that Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he and his family have received death threats for certifying the state’s results for Biden.

With record-setting turnout in the 2020 election nationwide and in Georgia, Trump proved that he could motivate Republicans and Democrats alike to go to the polls. Butwill that carry over to January 5?

“Trump is not on the ballot, but are we in a post-Trump era where our people are motivated to show up?” a Democratic pollster told Vox. “That is the big question.”

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Black voters make up the core of the Democratic Party’s base in Georgia. But the suburbs in Atlanta that are becoming a source of political strength for Democrats are even more diverse, with AAPI and Latino voters proving to be key parts of the Democratic coalition.

Data from Washington Post exit polls shows that voters of color and women were key to Biden winning the state in November. About 54 percent of women voted for Biden, compared to 55 percent of men who voted for Trump. The majority of white voters voted for Trump — 69 percent compared to 30 percent who voted for Biden. About 88 percent of Black voters cast their ballots for Biden, and about 81 percent of voters who identify as non-white also voted for the former vice president.

Still, a New York Times analysis of voting data suggested that white suburban voters in the metro Atlanta area were the ones who put Biden over the top in 2020. The analysis found that the relative share of Black turnout actually fell slightly in the 2020 presidential election compared to 2016. Raw Black voting numbers were up, but so were the numbers of white voters.

That’s no guarantee Ossoff and Warnock can replicate Biden’s success.

Even though Biden narrowly won Georgia in the presidential election, it won’t automatically translate to Democratic strength in the Senate races. Perdue ran slightly ahead of Trump by about 780 votes. Ossoff, on the other hand, ran close to 100,000 votes short of Biden. (It’s tough to make the same comparison with Loeffler and Warnock because they were running in a field of 20 candidates.)

These numbers mean that while Biden’s strength helped Democrats force a runoff, there were a number of voters who either just voted at the top of the ticket, or split their tickets between Biden for president and Republican candidates down the ballot.

“I don’t think voters appreciate the amount of ticket-splitting that went on,” Buzz Brockway, a Republican and former Georgia state House member, recently told Vox. “There was a section of voters who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Trump but voted for Republicans the rest of the ticket.”

So for all the talk of

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