In Georgia it is crunch time for political campaigns and organizers in the state’s high stakes Senate runoffs. The results will determine control of the chamber.
And these final days have been the culmination of unprecedented political spending: hundreds of millions of dollars on an inescapable barrage of political advertising and on voter contact efforts like door knocking, texting and calling. Both sides of the aisle say the situation is unprecedented.
The Trump Victory campaign had about 100 staffers on the ground in Georgia leading up to November. Now, through a joint effort between the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican National Committee and the Georgia Republican Party that number has increased tenfold. Plus thousands of volunteers.
On the ground, it’s intense for canvassers like Michael Joyce.
“I will say that this is unlike any deployment I’ve ever been a part of, just the sheer energy on the ground, the amount of people that are here, the hours that you’re putting into every single day,” he said. Joyce normally works for the Republican National Committee in Washington. He’s one of hundreds of Republican staffers from around the country on loan to Georgia for the runoffs.
He said he regularly encounters piles of campaign literature already on doorsteps as he visits hundreds of houses per day.
“There’s people throughout the entire state doing exactly what I’m doing, which is just knocking on doors for about eight, nine hours a day and then making phone calls into the evening,”’ Joyce said. “So people are bought in, they’re invested and they care about what happens here in Georgia.”
“We’ve been inundated,” said Larry Sollars, a Republican voter from Cumming, Ga. “All the ads on TV that you see, everything on the internet that you see is all about the election. We get probably four or five flyers a day on the election.”
For Democrats, this operation is extraordinary too. First of all, because it’s the first on the ground effort of the cycle.
Democrats largely abandoned door-knocking for virtual voter contacts because of the coronavirus before November. This time around, the extra resources have meant the two could happen at full scale simultaneously, said Taher Hasanali, deputy director of Asian American, Pacific Islander (AAPI) Coalitions at the Georgia Democratic Party.
Just in the last ten days, the Democrats report they have contacted more than 2.2 million voters in every county in Georgia, and knocked on doors in more than 100 counties.
“We’ve been able to focus a lot more on messaging on the ground and been able to do targeted messaging…whereas, during the general election, we were spread a little bit more trying to cover the whole state,” Hasanali said.
It’s also enabled the party to focus on voter groups like Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at an unprecedented scale, said Linh Nguyen, the Democrats’ AAPI Coalitions director.
“I think for the first time this year, especially in a southern state like Georgia, the Democratic Party…finally saw [that] we, the AAPI community, we could absolutely be the margin of victory.”
There were nearly 50,000 first-time AAPI voters just in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District in November, she said.
“Even though it’s the fastest-growing voter bloc nationally when people look at the raw numbers, they say, Asian Americans don’t come out to vote, so why should we target them,” Hasanali said. “But then it’s a self-fulfilling cycle if they don’t come out to vote because you don’t talk to them. And then you don’t talk to them because they don’t come out to vote.”
Even two years ago working on a campaign in Texas, Nguyen said, there wasn’t enough data to justify the investment in the group. But in Georgia today, she said, both that data is clear, and the resources have flowed in to back it up. “We built this infrastructure for years, and now this is the stuff that’s finally manifesting that we’ve been waiting for,” she said.
That investment for the Georgia Democratic Party looks like a voter protection hotline in seven different languages. And phone banking in 16 languages.
“It feels like we’re finally getting the attention we deserve,” said Anjali Enjeti, a Democratic Party volunteer who founded the Georgia chapter of They See Blue, which mobilizes Americans of South Asian descent. She said the work being done now is building on decades of organizing in Georgia.
“Especially, you know, Black communities that have been doing this for a very long time and have led the charge and have really come up with the strategy that we needed to get out the vote in communities that are typically ignored. And a lot of us are following their lead.”
Heath Garrett, a Georgia Republican strategist said that Republicans are a few years behind Democrats in terms of organizing disaffected voters. Republicans have dominated Georgia politics for two decades and have largely not had to mobilize a ground game.
“We just have not, over the last 8 years like Stacey Abrams has done, we’ve not gone and found them. We’ve not gotten them registered, and we’ve not motivated them to go vote. That started to happen in this runoff for us as Republicans,” he said. Garrett argues there are more disaffected Republican voters to go after than Democrats.
Abrams founded the New Georgia Project in 2013, which has focused on registering low propensity voters like people of color and young voters. In an operation independent of the Democratic Party, that group has reached out to more than a million Georgia voters in the runoffs alone.
Garrett agreed the scale of voter contact efforts in these runoffs is unprecedented.
Just on one Saturday, he said, “I turned on the television and the first 15 commercials that I saw in the middle of a football game were all political advertising. And then you went to the mailbox. And there were 15 mailers, and they were oversized, and one of them looked like a magazine. And then somebody knocked on my door the same day. And I got 43 texts,” he said.
“It’s never been like that in Georgia before. And I’m pretty sure not anywhere.”
Rick Dent is a Georgia media strategist who tracks political advertising. He estimates the campaigns have spent nearly $500 million on TV, radio and digital advertising just on the runoffs.
“And they’re using it to basically tell us two things about this race: that this race is the crooks versus the socialists. Georgia, that’s your choice,” he said.
It begs larger questions, he said, about how campaigns are operating now, with little restrictions or transparency requirements on fundraising. Dent points out that as across the country, we will likely never know exactly who spent what money to try to woo Georgia voters.
“We used to have Georgia campaigns, raising Georgia money to communicate and educate Georgia voters. Today, we have outside money coming in from we don’t know where it’s coming from trying to influence and educate Georgia voters. And I don’t think that’s really the kind of democracy we all really like.”
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