Democrats face a turnout test in Georgia's Senate runoffs

ATLANTA (AP) - In the first week of the early voting for the Georgia Senate runoff election, Casie Yoder parked at a Cobb County polling station and loaded miniature hand sanitizer bottles, knitted hats, hand warmers and face masks into a collapsible cart.
Their goal: to help voters stay in line in freezing temperatures and cast their ballots in two high-stakes draw competitions that will determine which political party will control the Senate next year. The runoff elections will also see if the Democrats can reunite the diverse coalition that drove President-elect Joe Biden to victory in Georgia in November and cemented the state's status as a political battlefield.
"We have never had an election like this in December," said Yoder, the Georgian captain of the Frontline, an impartial electoral justice project run by the Black Lives Movement and other partner organizations.
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For the Democrats to take control of the Senate, Georgia’s black communities, as well as the state’s smaller Hispanic and Asian communities, will likely have to vote with a historic lead in the January 5 runoff. There is hope that the candidacy of Rev. Raphael Warnock, the black senior pastor of the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, could help cast the black votes for both him and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff Promote Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
An Associated Press VoteCast poll of Georgian voters in November found that 22% of white voters chose Warnock and 28% Ossoff, compared with 90% of black voters who voted Ossoff and 73% who voted Warnock. Democrats also have the option to win the 15% of black voters who voted for Matt Lieberman, another Democratic candidate who faced Warnock in last month's race.
There are signs that voter turnout in Georgia may indeed be high. As of Wednesday, early voting data released by the Georgian Foreign Minister shows that nearly 1.9 million voters have cast in-person or postal ballot papers since voting opened last week. That is almost half of the total early votes cast in the November general election. There are less than two weeks until the Senate's runoff election is completed.
Around 75,000 people in Georgia have also registered to vote before the runoff election. Less than half of the respondents identify themselves as white.
"The old way of thinking that white voters will rule nationwide elections in the deep South is rapidly disappearing," said Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way, a progressive advocacy group that promotes citizen participation.
Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Georgians are making up more and more segments of the state's registered electoral roll. According to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center, Schwarz's registered voters increased by about 130,000 between the 2016 presidential election and the competition last month. This was the largest increase of any major racial and ethnic group in the state. Although the population of Hispanic America and Asia has been far fewer each year for the past three presidential cycles, they have increased their enrollments each year, Pew analysis shows.
American labor movement icon and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta said the growing number of Hispanic voters, especially among younger voters, had already changed organizing strategies for races like the Georgia runoff.
For weeks, several black and multiracial groups have been campaigning for social justice, many of which are resource efficient, around communities and radio waves in Georgia to get the required turnout. They make phone calls, text, knock on the door and cross the state in tour buses and private vehicles to reach Black and Hispanic Georgians. Many of them said that they will keep in touch during the holidays and put their own Christmas and New Year traditions on hold.
Last weekend, Grammy, Oscar, and Emmy-winning hip-hop artist and activist Common was among the celebrities who made several stops across Georgia, including a rally for Warnock and Ossoff.
The Jealous organization launched a six-figure purchase of radio advertising last week with the goal of reaching more than a million voters in Black Georgia - and especially black men who didn't vote with the same profit margins as black women, he said. Similarly, the recently formed Black Lives Matter PAC began airing its first television commercial this week, targeting Georgian voters on major broadcast subsidiaries and a handful of cable channels.
The ad shows a black man jogging who appears to be negotiating obstacles that may have disenfranchised him. It commemorates Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man who was killed by white men in the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia last February, and whose death helped drive this year's national reckoning on systemic racism.
Rev. James Woodall, the NAACP president of Georgia, said he values ​​the resources flowing in from outside the state. However, he believes the victory would be due to local voter turnout efforts.
"Georgians organize Georgians," said Woodall.
In a statement to the AP, Abigail Sigler, spokeswoman for the Georgia Republican Party, said the party was "working tirelessly to ensure that all Georgians understand that they have a clear choice."
Republicans have focused their efforts on whiter, more rural parts of the state and smaller, more conservative cities, including Valdosta, where Trump held a rally earlier this month. Trump managed to increase voter turnout in similar areas across the country in the 2020 elections, although it was insufficient to offset Biden's advantages in minority voters and in large urban centers.
The Working Families Party, a national progressive political movement that Warnock supported, sent more than a dozen organizers and several other volunteers to Georgia. A group of them have settled in a garage in a Lawrenceville subdivision. Last Wednesday, some of them advertised several neighborhoods that differed on a socio-economic level.
"You can see the differences in less affluent areas," said Robert Campbell, a 29-year-old volunteer with the Chicago-based, non-partisan group Social Change, which helps the Working Families Party publicize voters.
"You wonder when was the last time a politician came out of here and knocked on the door? Every time you look out the door they are reminded of their conditions. No wonder they are rarely voters," Campbell said .
Stephanie Lopez-Burgos, a Working Families Party field director for the Gwinnett area, led a group of recruiters in a wealthier neighborhood of Lawrenceville. Almost every house along an immaculately manicured cul-de-sac was decorated with Christmas decorations.
"Do you have a plan to vote in the runoff elections?" Another recruiter, Graco Hernandez Valenezuela, asked Tyrone Vereen, a 62-year-old black retired police officer, who answered the door.
Vereen, who had sent in his ballot a week earlier, said the events of last year had convinced him it was "time for a change".
At another house in the same neighborhood, 18-year-old Delano Jordan opened the door and informed advertisers that he would be voting for the first time on January 5th.
Jordan, an aspiring attorney who currently earns $ 11 an hour in a sports shop, said he will support candidates who prefer to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15. Both Ossoff and Warnock have stated that they support a "liveable wage".
"It's going to be tough, but people need the change," said Jordan.
____ ____
Washington election reporter Emily Swanson contributed to this report. Morrison is a member of AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter:
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