Political pros say forget about the hundreds of millions spent on attack ads in Georgia’s runoff elections for U.S. Senate: the races won’t be won on the air but on the ground.
Democratic and Republican operatives have fanned out across the Peach State by car, bus and on foot trying to ensure their side turns out Jan. 5 or casts their ballots in early voting that opens Monday.
“In a runoff, turnout is the name of the game; you can’t take any voter for granted,” said Jessica Anderson, the executive director of the conservative Heritage Action, who is walking neighborhoods around Atlanta for Republicans.
“People are just going to tune out the ads at some point so that’s why you’re seeing unprecedented attention paid to the ground game.”
To keep their thin majority in the Senate, one of the two Republican incumbents — Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — must defeat their respective Democratic challengers of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. The high stakes in the races have fueled massive spending — $400 million already — and sparked a furious bid to register voters and get them to the polls.
Despite widespread voter registration drives that turned out record numbers for last month’s general election, both sides believe they have substantial new batches of voters they can find.
There is no deadline for when a Georgia voter may apply for an absentee ballot.
The Secretary of State’s Office could not provide an exact figure on how many absentee ballots have been requested. But activists on the left and right claim between 700,000 and 1 million requests have been made to date. The high end of the estimate would account for roughly 20% of the votes cast on Nov. 3.
Turnout in runoffs is almost always lower than in general elections, however, and it is unlikely Georgia will again see more than 5 million votes cast as it did in the general election when the presidential race topped the ballot.
Consequently, no bloc of voters is too small to escape the attention of the competing parties. In addition to door knocks, Georgians will be receiving text and social media messages to spur their support.
The results on Jan. 5 will shape the agenda of presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Two new Democratic senators would give the incoming administration freedom to move aggressively to undo much of President Trump’s legacy, while GOP control of the upper chamber will force Mr. Biden to court Republican allies in the Senate.
Republican forces divvied up the Georgia map. Ms. Anderson’s team of 1,300 people — 1,000 of the volunteers — are focused on five counties around Atlanta: Hull, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb. Other groups are in charge of more rural counties where the GOP traditionally holds a decisive advantage.
Population growth around Atlanta particularly, however, has cut into that GOP edge and some Democratic operatives are trying to maximize turnout there.
Mike Loyd, 36, a hip-hop artist and owner of Dope Coffee in Atlanta, is one of them. The veteran, who served in Afghanistan, said this seems to be the first election cycle “immersed in social media,” and after the Nov. 3 voting, he formed a Blue Georgia PAC that’s planning a live event on Dec. 22 and the release of a video, “White Paper Ballot” on Jan. 2 or 3.
“What we think we can do is create new pieces that will engage an unengaged audience,” Mr. Loyd said. “I’m not saying we can get 10,000 votes, but that’s our tactical plan on the ground. I think people, younger people from 16 to 25, are just coming alive politically now in the runoffs.”
Cathy Gentry, 54, a financial planner, is diving into a GOTV project for the first time. She joined fellow Georgians and out-of-state volunteers for a bus tour through the Peach State. Like political Merry Pranksters, Ms. Gentry and others with the Club For Growth, Keep America America Action Fund (KAAAF) will crisscross Georgia for 6 days.
“I just need to be involved this time; this is where my passion is,” said Ms. Gentry. “This is new to me, but I can’t wait to see people and motivate them.”
At least two things gnaw at Republican operative, however. One is what Ms. Anderson called “election fatigue” and the other is pessimism that GOP votes will get counted on Jan. 5.
“I saw some of that initially among my friends,” Ms. Gentry said. “But I think if we can keep people’s focus I’m optimistic we’ll get a pretty good turnout.”