Georgia’s short runoff election turnaround to spark frenzied ground game to capture U.S. Senate prize

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by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
November 10, 2022

Herschel Walker and Sen. Raphael Warnock may be enjoying a break from their hectic campaign schedules for now, but they will soon be back on the roads and the airwaves hoping to convince Georgians to vote for them in the Dec. 6 runoff election.

So will the grassroots organizations that aim to help them. On Wednesday, a group of leaders of progressive organizations outlined their plans for the coming political blitz.

“What we’re doing for the remainder of the week is we’re going to give Georgians a little bit of a break,” said New Georgia Project Action Fund CEO Kendra Cotton. “And we’re probably going to take a little bit of a break. But we plan to start our runoff field program on Monday. We’re implementing a layered approach on doors, phones, texts and other outreach to retouch people we’ve already engaged this year, especially in high density areas.”


Cotton said people her group reached out to during the early vote were at least three times more likely to cast a ballot.

“So we feel quite confident that when we reach out to those voters again, they’re going to show up again,” she said.

This runoff will be all about getting loyal voters back to the polls, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.

“The biggest challenge, and this will be true for both Democrats and Republicans as they move forward into this runoff, is to get the people who voted for your person in November to come back and vote again in the second round,” he said.

“If the situation would be one in which either Warnock or Walker could get exactly the same number of votes in December as they got yesterday, they probably would win because of the drop-off that’s likely to occur,” he added. “So it’s easier to mobilize people who are already on your side or prospectively would be on your side than try to have any converts.”

During the last runoff election that put Warnock into office, the general election was Nov. 3, 2020, and the runoff was Jan. 5, 2021. This time, the window will shrink from nine weeks to four, which will put pressure on both sides’ get-out-the-vote strategies.

“The Secretary of State’s website says early voting will begin as soon as possible,” Cotton said. “So while we wait for that update, we anticipate early voting to be Nov. 28 through Dec. 2. But once we confirm, we will make sure that all of our voter resources are fully up to date so that Georgians know when they need to show up and show out in the polls one more time. Because of the short timeframe, we’ll be encouraging folks to get out and vote in person if they’re able over absentee balloting.”

Getting people to the polls is the most visible part of the action, but a whole lot also goes on behind the scenes, said Care in Action Executive Director Hillary Holley.

“When we get the voter files, we’re going to get so curious,” she said. “And Georgia’s coalition is the best at it, and we’re going to come together and actually look at each voter, we’re going to dissect, you know, what were white voters thinking in this area of the state? What were Black male voters thinking in this area of the state? What were AAPI voters thinking over here? Because it’s all different.”

“We work collectively across the board,” she added. “And I know, because we’ve seen it before, that because of this coalition work, we are able to build bridges in really beautiful ways to get over the finish line, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do with this U.S. Senate runoff.”

Conventional wisdom says that Republicans are more likely to show back up in runoffs, but Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood of the Asian American Advocacy Fund says that’s based on outdated data.

“Our organizations were not around when some of these other runoff elections happened,” she said. “But we showed up in 2020 and then the 2021 runoffs, and we will continue to do that this December. We have been planning for this runoff for a couple of weeks now and have an incredible ground game prepared and ready to go soon as possible. We hope to knock just as many doors as we did in the general election in this short time period.”

Mahmood said much of the focus will likely be on densely populated metro Atlanta counties like Gwinnett and Cobb and north Fulton, and voters across the entire state can expect to be contacted by mail, phone or digital ads.

“I think the really key difference for us this time around is to focus in on any in-person early voting opportunities because we know that our communities do show up early,” she said. “And we know that absentee voting cannot be the main option to turn out this time around, so we’re looking forward to seeing how these early voting dates pan out and to really plan targeted outreach so that we can get our communities out as early as possible and not let anyone wait till Dec. 6 to cast a ballot.”

Cotton said she hopes establishment political groups will get on the same page.

“This cycle, we covered more ground than we probably should have because candidate campaigns, the major political parties and more traditional organizations continually, continually underinvest in taking the time to engage in our communities, particularly in Black and brown voters and young people, and they certainly don’t do it in between these election cycles.”

Cotton said this problem is not unique to any campaign but happens across the country.

“Where all candidate campaigns could and should have done more is the ground game,” she said. “Instead of spending millions and millions of dollars on political ads and celebrity appearances, the candidate campaigns should have and could have put more resources and energy into a field operation that engages people around the state in face-to-face conversations, the most proven turnout tactic.”

Right-wing groups are also pledging to up their ground game for the runoff.

On Wednesday, anti-abortion organizations Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and its partner Women Speak Out PAC announced they will spend at least $1 million in the runoff and send members to speak with potential Georgia voters.

“Our field team has visited over 456,000 homes in Georgia to expose Raphael Warnock’s pro-abortion extremism and support Herschel Walker,” said SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement. “We are proud to back Herschel and will work tirelessly to secure his victory in the runoff.”

The groups said they had contacted over 754,000 Georgia voters through door-knocking, mail, digital ads, phone calls and text messages to educate them on the candidates positions on abortion. In October, Women Speak Out PAC launched a $1M television ad buy labeling Warnock and Stacey Abrams as extremists on the matter.

“Our ground team will continue to visit voters at their homes to expose Warnock’s extremism and urge them to elect Walker as their champion in the U.S. Senate,” Dannenfelser said.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.