“Georgia’s On My Mind”—Congratulations, Rev. Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, and Stacey Abrams! 1/08/2021
Democrats often end up doing things the “hard way.” Most pundits predicted “Team Blue” would win the Senate in the 11/03/2020 elections. After all, Democrats had Biden heading the presidential ticket, going against a seemingly unpopular Donald who was ineptly handling the corona virus pandemic. Democrats had recruited a group of top caliber candidates contesting GOPers for 4-6 seats in the upper chamber. It didn’t work out that way. After the 11/03/2020 elections took place, Democrats ended up with just a net gain of one seat. Yes, Biden won the White House with an astronomical 81 million votes and a comfortable 306-232 Electoral College win. However, 74 million people blindly voted for GOPer Demagogue Donald and any Senate candidate with an “R” after his/her name. Democrats flipped two seats “Blue,” one in CO with former Gov. John Hickenlooper and the second in AZ with former naval aviator/astronaut Mark Kelly. However, the loss of Dem. Doug Jones in “ruby Red” AL left Democrats with 48 seats to the GOP’s 50, leaving VP Mike Pence in charge of breaking Senatorial tie votes and allowing Republicans to run that chamber and its committees. Democrats had only one other way to get a majority, an extremely hard and nearly impossible one. In Georgia, two seats were up for grabs in 11/2020. GOPer David Perdue was finishing his first six- year term and running for re-election. GOPer Kelly Loeffler had been appointed by GA Republican Governor Brian Kemp to replace ailing GOP Senator Johnny Isakson. In 11/2020, Loeffler was running in a special election to fill out Isakson’s term which would last until 2022 (Cohen & Cook, 2020 Political Almanac, Mitchell, 1/03/20, ajc.com).
Under GA law, if no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the general or first special election, a runoff vote between the two top finishers is scheduled, this time for 1/05/2021. In the general election, incumbent U.S. Senator Perdue finished with 49.73% of the vote to Democrat Jon Ossoff’s 47.95% (GA Sec. of State, “2020 General Election Results”). In the 11/03/2020 special election race, Dem. Reverend Raphael Warnock took 32.9% of the vote to Loeffler’s 25.9%. Another GOPer, Cong. Doug Collins took 20% of the vote (nytimes.com, 11/24/20). In both of these races, GOPers won more of the total votes cast. Warnock and Loeffler would compete in the 1/05/2020 runoff at the same time as Ossoff and Perdue faced each other. Democrats could retake control of the Senate ONLY by winning both seats then held by GOPers Perdue and Loeffler. By flipping those two seats, Democrats would have 50 seats and the GOP 50. Democratic VP Kamala Harris would become the legislative tie-breaker in the 117th Congress. Democrats would also dominate the committees and run the agenda. In GA, Democrats had not won any recent runoffs. Turnout radically dropped to 50% or less in runoffs because of lack of further interest in campaigns. Winning two, not the usual one Senate seat in a post-New Year’s runoff, would be the equivalent of climbing the political Himalayas.
However, to my surprise as well as that of many pundits, Democrats in GA, an often “Red”-leaning but sometimes swingy state, managed to hit the political Himalaya summit. Early on 1/06/2021, Rev. Warnock was declared the winner over Loeffler. Warnock won by a 1.6% margin, 50.8% v. 49.2%. By the late evening of 1/06/2021, Warnock had a 68,000 vote margin over appointed Loeffler. Ossoff was declared the winner over incumbent Perdue on the afternoon of 1/06/21 with an .8% margin, 50.4% v. 49.6%. By late the late evening of 1/06/2021, Ossoff had a 33,000 vote edge over incumbent GOPer Perdue (cnn.com, 1/06/21, nytimes.com, Herndon & Rojas, 1/07/21). With Warnock and Ossoff’s wins, Democrats proved that Biden’s 11/2020 election victory was not a one-time fluke. Biden was the first presidential candidate to win the Peach State since Bill Clinton in 1992. Biden won in GA by 11,779 votes (Brumback, AP, 12/07/20).
How did Democrats highly motivate their base to turnout in the runoff? For starters, Donald Trump “bigly” helped them. He continued with his narcissistic lies that he had won GA by a “y uu ge” margin and had been “robbed” by the GOP Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger and GOP Gov. Kemp despite their rightly claiming that the election was fairly conducted with no voter fraud. On a phone call, taped by Raffensperger, Trump begged, extorted, and threatened him with finding 11, 780 votes that had somehow been “stolen,” violations of state and federal law involving election interference. Donald had tried to reach Raffensperger 18 times to pressure him (cnn.com, Holmes, Acosta, & Collins, 1/04/21). Had this call occurred a few months before, Trump probably would have faced impeachment charges for an offense that made his meddling in Ukraine look tame. Many Trump supporters were disgusted with this behavior and declined to vote. Turnout in many Trump “Red” Ga areas such as southeast, northwest, and northeast GA was down, hurting GOP chances. Runoff turnout reached a remarkable 92% of 11/ 2020 general election levels in precincts carried by Biden, compared to 88% of general election levels in GA precincts carried by Trump. Democratic turnout was relatively stronger (nytimes.com, Cohn & Smart, 7/07/21). Democrats, IMHO, became even more infuriated by Trump’s extortion conduct and went out to vote. Trump’s narcissistic and paranoid rally the day before the runoff was all about “poor victim” him. He, once again, attacked Hillary and bragged of building the non-existent wall that Mexico would pay for. He argued GA officials “robbed” him of his victory and the election in 11/2020 was “rigged.” Saying that your state officials, Trump loyalists Gov. Kemp and Sec. of State Raffensperger, were crooked and that the election was unfair, but go vote anyway, is no way to get high voter turnout from GOPers. Such talk, again, easily prodded more Democrats to vote, if they had not already done so.
And besides the well-known and excellent candidates that the Democrats had in Rev. Warnock and Jon Ossoff, a thousand shout outs must be given to Stacey Abrams. African American Abrams, a graduate of Spleman College and Yale Law, is the former minority leader in the GA state House. She has spent a decade building a Democratic infrastructure in the state that enabled GA to go for Biden and give Democrats Warnock and Ossoff victory. Seven years ago, Abrams first initiated a group, the New Georgia Project. This voter registration group led a grassroots effort to reach and register potential new voters in churches, college campuses, and neighborhoods (nytimes.com, Epstein & Herndon, 9/06/21, Karimi, cnn.com, 1/06/21). After her narrow 55,000 vote loss to Brian Kemp in the 2018 GA governor’s race, a contest marred by allegations of GOP voter suppression, she launched Fair Fight, which funded and trained voter protection teams in 20 battleground states. Fair Fight targeted young and minority voters and educated them on election and voting rights. Abrams pushed voter registration and the New Georgia Project raised over 500,000 new voters. Abrams successfully raised turnout among the state’s Black, Latino, and Asian voters, key to Biden’s winning GA and the two “Blue” runoff victories. Abrams convinced Ossoff, Warnock, and other GA Democrats that they did not have to soft-pedal progressive ideas when campaigning even in Deep South GA. Abrams realized that GA’s demographics were changing. Black voters were returning to the state and many Latinos, Asians, and well-educated voters were arriving as well. Abrams laser targeted all these groups (See nytimes.com, Epstein & Herndon, Karimi). Trump, meanwhile, sneered at why “anyone would want to come back to GA,” insulting the state, hurting GOP Senators Perdue and Loeffler. Abrams successfully pushed national Democrats to pay attention to GA. Democrats in other states are rightfully looking at her successful tactics (Karimi, cnn.com).
Abrams and other GA Democrats made sure that Democratic voters, especially blacks in Atlanta, its suburbs, Savannah, and rural areas voted early in-person or by mail. In the 2021 Senatorial runoff, 3,145,672 Georgians voted early, or 40.6% of GA’s registered voters (electoralproject). The Democratic strongholds including Fulton (home to Atlanta) and DeKalb County in metro Atlanta posted high numbers. African Americans “voted their weight and then some,” said University of GA political scientist Charles S. Bullock III. African American and South Asian American VP-elect Kamala Harris campaigned on 1/03/2021 in Savannah a black majority city where Rev. Warnock was born. Biden campaigned in Atlanta on the same day Trump was in northern “Red” GA. He argued that with a Democratic Senate, Georgians and other Americans would get the $2,000 stimulus check blocked by GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (See nytimes.com 1/01/21, Herndon & Fausset). Democrats had one strong get-out-the vote ground game and attracted 60% of their voters by phone and mail (americanindependent.com, AP, 1/06/21). Biden gave millions to the candidates as did many grassroots donors. GOPers envied the Democrats’ runoff efforts. Democrats made sure that their voters understood that control of the Senate was at stake and that they must vote for Ossoff and Warnock as a team. They hit Perdue and Loeffler as wealthy out-of-touch millionaires more concerned with making crooked insider trading stock deals than helping Georgians fight COVID-19. Meet Democrats Warnock and Ossoff.
Rev. Raphael Warnock (51) has been the senior pastor of Atlanta’s landmark Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005, the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father preached. Warnock officiated at civil rights’ hero Cong. John Lewis’ funeral in a very emotional/tear jerking service. Warnock grew up in Savannah public housing, the eleventh of twelve children to parents who were both black Pentecostal pastors (sav.com/news, 2/15/16, Lewis, R.). Warnock’s father, a WWII veteran, also ran a small car restoration business where he restored junk cars for resale (Jealous, B. & Shorters, T., 2/03/15, books.google.com). Warnock wanted to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps and attended King’s alma mater, Morehouse College, where he earned an undergraduate psychology degree. He received a Master of Divinity, Master of Philosophy, and Doctor of Philosophy from Union Theological Seminary, affiliated with NY’s Columbia University (Woods, A., newsone.com, 1/30/20). After serving in pulpits in NY and MD, Rev. Warnock became the fifth and youngest person to serve as Ebenezer’s pastor since its founding. Warnock stated he will continue to serve in that pulpit while a U.S. Senator (Dewan, S., 1/05/21).
Warnock became politically known as the leader of the campaign to expand Medicaid in GA under Obamacare. In 3/2014, Warnock led a sit-in at the GA State Capitol to push the legislature to accept the expansion of Medicaid. He was arrested along with other protest leaders (ajc.com, Davis, J., 3/18/14). From 6/2017-1/2020, Rev. Warnock, chaired the New Georgia Project, the voter registration group Stacey Abrams had founded (valdostatoday.com, 6/08/17). In 1/2020, Rev. Warnock decided to run in the 11/2020 special election for Loeffler’s seat. He was endorsed by Dem. Senators Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Stacey Abrams, former Presidents Barack Obama and Georgian Jimmy Carter also backed him. The whole WNBA team co-owned by Loeffler, the Atlanta Dream, wore shirts endorsing Warnock because Loeffler had made controversial and hostile comments about the Black Lives Matter movement (ajc.com, 9/29/20, politico.com, 1/30/20, facebook.com/Elizabeth Warren, abcnews.go.com, 9/25/20, nytimes.com, 8/04/20). In his closing campaign argument, Rev. Warnock argued that if both he and Jon Ossoff were elected, giving Democrats a Senate majority, they would approve the $2,000 stimulus that Mitch McConnell and his GOPers had blocked (nbcnews.com, 1/06/21). Warnock and Ossoff often campaigned together during the runoff race, pushing the theme that both of them must be elected. With his victory, Rev. Warnock made history. He will be GA’s first black Senator (latimes.com, Jarvie & Hook, 1/07/2021).
Rev. Warnock’s GA Democratic partner in the runoff victory, Jon Ossoff (33), also made history. Ossoff will be GA’s first Jewish Senator, as well as the first Jewish Senator elected from any Deep South state since Reconstruction (nytimes.com, Herndon & Rojas, 1/07/21, latimes.com, Jarvie & Hook, 1/07/21). Atlanta, GA native Thomas Jonathan (Jon) Ossoff’s mother is an immigrant from Australia. On his father’s side, his grandparents fled pogroms (organized massacres against Jews by Czarist Russia). Jon Ossoff understands the immigrant experience (jta.com, Cramer, 1/06/21). Ossoff’s wife is an OB/GYN resident at Emory University (Bethea, nyorker.com, 3/03/17). While in high school, Ossoff interned for GA Democratic Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis (“The New Yorker,” Bethea, 3/03/17). Ossoff received a 2009 Bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and in 2013 earned a Master’s from the London School of Economics (Hohmann, Wash. Post, 2/23/17, Murphy, “Daily Beast,” 2/27/17). For five years, Ossoff worked as a national security staffer and aide to GA Dem. Cong. Hank Johnson. During that time, Ossoff helped draft sanctions against Iran. Those sanctions initially forced Iran to dismantle its nuclear programs (“The Hill,” Weaver, 4/01/17). Since 2013, Ossoff has been managing partner and CEO of Insight TWI. Insight TWI makes investigative films for international news organizations that target corrupt officials, human traffickers, and organized crime. Ossoff was an executive producer for a BBC film that exposed ISIS atrocities in Iraq (“Independent,” 9/16/16).
Ossoff became well-known in GA politics when he ran for an open seat in the GA 6th Cong. District after GOPer Tom Price left to join Trump’s Cabinet. In this heavily GOP district, Ossoff nearly won the 4/18/2017 special election primary outright. He took 48.1% of the vote to second place finisher GOPer Karen Handel. Handel received 19.8% of the vote. However, in the 6/20/2017 runoff, reactionary anti-Planned Parenthood GOP candidate Karen Handel won 51.78%-48.22%. A huge influx of GOP money helped Handel. The fragmented GOP field which had taken 51.2% of the vote consolidated behind runner-up Handel. Ossoff was hurt by charges that he lived outside the district with his doctor wife. He also did not strongly push a progressive message in the runoff which “turned off” some Democrats (See nymag.com, 4/19/17, “Election Night Reporting,” results.enr.clarityelections.com). In 2018, Handel lost to black Democrat Lucy McBath. McBath went on to defeat Handel with even more votes in a 2020 rematch (See Cohen & Cook 2020 Almanac, 2017 117th Congress Early Guide).
When Ossoff ran against Perdue in 2020, he followed Stacey Abrams’ advice and stood strongly for progressive positions (See ajc.com, 11/30/20, Hallerman, T.) He is pro-choice and believes that COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and treatment should be free. He is for heath care reform, the legalization of marijuana, and believes that climate change threatens our environment. He supports passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (ajc.com, 5/21/17, TikTok, Ossoff on Marijuana Legalization, Tumulty, wash.post.com, 6/10/17, twitter.com/ossoff/ 11/16/20). Ossoff is not afraid to stand up to bigotry. In a debate, he went after Perdue for “lengthening his nose in attack ads to remind everybody that he is Jewish (jta.org, Cramer, 1/06/21).”
On 1/06/2021, Trump shamelessly egged on his followers on to attack the Capitol with an incendiary and paranoid speech claiming he had been robbed of electoral victory. In GA, however, on that very same day, Ossoff and Rev. Warnock were declared runoff victors. The GA electoral election shows Dr. King’s “arc of justice” moving forward. GA has a long history of Jim Crow anti-Black segregation, a legacy Blacks still struggle with. Lester Maddox, who chased blacks from his restaurant with ax handles, was elected Governor because of those shameful actions. That Warnock comes from Dr. King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church could not be more a more fitting memorial to what Dr. King stood for. As for the Jews in GA, a growing community, Ossoff’s election shows that they have come a long way since the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank. Jewish Frank, originally a New Yorker who ran a pencil factory in Atlanta, was falsely convicted of murdering one of his employees, a young girl Mary Phagan, in a region then full of anti-Semitism. When the Governor commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, a group of “respectable establishment” Georgians took Frank from his jail and hung him. In 1986, Frank was given a posthumous pardon after an 85-year old man confessed to seeing another man carrying Phagan’s body soon after the murder. The Frank lynching triggered the birth of the revived anti-Black, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic KKK, as well as the creation of the ADL, the Jewish-founded Anti-Defamation League. The ADL continues to fight the KKK and other extremist groups (Simons, “Jewish Times,” 1988, Tigay, “The Jewish Traveler,” 1994). In 1969, Sam Massell was elected Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor (Tigay). Ossoff has clearly built on that success. Once again, congratulations Georgia, Democrats, Jon Ossoff, and Rev. Raphael Warnock! With our trifecta, the White House, House, and Senate, Democrats can now start reversing the awful Trump years and helping the American people.