What 2018 Taught Us: The Tried-and-True Path to Victory in Georgia

At 2:00 am, the morning after Election Night 2018, Stacey Abrams stepped into the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta. “Georgia is just within reach,” she told anxious supporters. “But we cannot seize it until all voices are heard.”

The election would remain in limbo for weeks, as watchdogs decried GOP-backed voter suppression laws and Democratic organizers hit the streets, fighting to ensure every provisional vote was counted. Abrams would ultimately fall short by a mere 54,723 votes — representing just 21 votes per precinct.

What happened over the next two years was an unprecedented reimagination of what was possible in Georgia, a state that had not cast its Electoral College votes for a Democrat since 1992. With the wind at their backs, defiant Democratic organizers and activists relentlessly transformed the politics of the Deep South:

  • Abrams founded Fair Fight, a political action committee which invoked grassroots power to fight voter suppression laws that had disenfranchised so many Black voters. Existing organizations like Georgia Stand Up and Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, many of them led by Black women, intensified their efforts to reach minority communities by going door-to-door.
  • A growing Asian-American electorate congregated in living rooms, mosques, and multilingual social media groups to register new voters. Latino and Latinx groups advanced similar voter registration programs, helping elect two Latino sheriffs in 2020.
  • In the suburbs, activists capitalized on anti-Trump sentiment to start groups like PaveItBlue, Johns Creek Progressives Network, and Liberal Moms of Roswell & Cobb, which phone-banked for Democratic candidates running in special elections.
  • On the campuses of Georgia’s historically Black universities, such as Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, young people canvassed dorm rooms and tabled at student fairs to drum up civic engagement.

One common thread links these various outreach efforts. They consist of what we call “direct voter contact” — simply put, voters discussed their needs, organizers listened to those communities, and neighbors shared real conversations about the issues that matter. Fellow Americans talked to one another, and in 2020, Georgia went blue.

The Opportunity

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won Georgia by a razor-thin margin of 12,000 votes. On January 5, Georgia voters will head to the polls again to fill two all-importantSenate seats and potentially flip the Senate.

In this crucial election, we have an opportunity to deploy the same tried-and-true playbook that Georgia activists left for us in the lead-up to November.

So far, nearly $470 million has been spent in Georgia on television, radio, and digital ads, most of it to prop up the Republican candidates. Overwhelmed Atlanta voters are frequently seeing back-to-back ads on TV.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even green-lit the creation of “Peachtree PAC”, which — despite a misleading name that suggests Georgia roots — is an arm of the Washington-based Senate Leadership Fund. The impromptu committee will be funneling $43 million into TV ads ahead of Election Day. The result of this spending is a weary Georgia electorate, exhausted by endless 15-second radio pitches and 30-second TV spots.

But progressives have an opportunity to cut through the noisy airwaves and deliver a message that resonates. We learned lessons from 2018 and 2020 — that same playbook is our best path to victory in the coming days. The outcome of this race depends on having meaningful, one-on-one conversations with Georgia voters.

The Game Plan

Our best bet in these Georgia runoffs is organizing, organizing, organizing. We must reach every last voter with authentic conversations that engage the urgent issues facing our country — in person, over the phone, and even by mail. With a public health crisis and economic recovery on the line, our goal must be to touch the hearts of likely Democratic voters, especially those who vote inconsistently.

Progressive Turnout Project is doing just that. We’ve launched:

  • The largest phone banking program in Georgia by a progressive organization. Thanks to volunteers and staff, our team has made over 6 million calls to Georgia voters. We’re sharing information about voting and connecting voters with election officials if need be.
  • A groundbreaking in-person relational organizing initiative. Our organizers are on the ground at early vote locations, empowering voters to encourage their friends and family to vote as well.
Three of our Vote Tripling staff at the polls. In this relational organizing program, voters are asked to text three friends before they leave their polling place, asking them to vote as well. Hearing that message from someone you know is more effective than any TV ad.
  • An expansive, volunteer-driven postcard program. Over 15,000 enthusiastic volunteers have sent hand-written postcards to Georgia voters, urging them to vote in this election. Right now, 4 million postcards are in the mail, en route to voters’ mailboxes.
  • A financial investment in organizing. In partnership with our affiliated organizations, we’ve raised over $1 million that will help the Georgia Democratic candidates hire, train, and deploy community organizers.

The progressive agenda and the future of our country depend on Georgia. The outcome of this election will be determined not by talking heads and poll-tested TV ads, but by real human connection. Let’s strive to have earnest, important conversations with every voter.

To do your part and join Progressive Turnout Project’s Georgia outreach efforts, join one of our Turnout2020 volunteer phone banks.