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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Scher: Key Factors in the Georgia Flip

From “Can Democrats Hold Georgia? The party did everything right to win the state in 2020—and the Republicans did everything wrong” by Bill Scher at The Washington Monthly. Scher’s article brings into sharper focus the Georgia 2021 upset that gave Democrats their thin Senate “majority.” As Scher writes,

In the preface of his new book, Flipped, the political reporter Greg Bluestein of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that in 2020 Georgia helped Democrats win back the White House and the Senate “with a formula that could serve as a template for the party in once bright-red territories elsewhere.”

That formula seemed counterintuitive to many Democrats accustomed to chasing swing voters. “Georgia Democrats mostly abandoned attempts to pose as moderate ‘Republican-lite’ figures and jettisoned all-out efforts to convert conservative voters with poll-tested talking points,” Bluestein writes. “Instead, leaders energized the party’s core constituencies—including many who rarely cast ballots—with policies that just a few years prior would have seemed unthinkable.”

….according to Bluestein, “old-guard Democrats insisted” that to get sufficient white support, “Democrats needed to run even harder to the middle.” But it was with the squarely progressive Ossoff and Warnock that Democrats essentially hit the 30-30 mark, with exit poll data showing each getting 29 percent of the white vote and the Black share of the electorate reaching 30 percent.

But does all credit go to the progressive platform and the Democrats’ complementary efforts to juice turnout among their base? Bluestein writes that the Democrats’ “hard work” was buoyed by “extraordinary fortune,” foreshadowing his account of the Republican circular firing squad that shot down rural conservative turnout, part of the reason why the Black share of the electorate was so high….The difference between the Democratic and Republican stories is that for the past few years, the Democrats effectively resolved their internal disputes, while Republicans found new ways to stick the shiv in each other.

….Abrams passed on the Senate while Ossoff and Warnock stepped up. And once they advanced to the runoff, their campaigns synergistically worked together. They had similarly progressive platforms that avoided far-left pitfalls that could have spooked the middle—neither embraced, for example, “Medicare for All” or “Defund the Police.”

….The Republican get-out-the-vote effort was similarly “staggering,” Bluestein writes. It was just undercut by Trump’s attempts to delegitimize the 2020 presidential election and denigrate the state’s Republican election officials. Bluestein notes that many of the approximately 750,000 Georgians who voted in the November general election but not in the January runoffs were in conservative rural areas. Some of the biggest declines were in areas where Trump spouted his nonsense at post-November rallies: Dalton and Valdosta. The president’s scorched-earth attacks on Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his declarations that the election had been a sham were bound to diminish turnout drives for Perdue and Loeffler.

As impressed as Bluestein is by what the Democrats accomplished, he ends the book on an uncertain note, pointing out that 2020’s turnout spikes cannot “be counted on without a global pandemic” encouraging easy absentee voting “and the polarizing presence of Trump on the ballot in 2022.” He concludes that we can’t yet determine “whether the suburban shift that had turned Republican bastions into Democratic territory was firm or a fluke.”

While Bluestein stops short of drawing definitive conclusions, Flipped does provide a road map. One, demographics aren’t quite destiny, but you sure want them moving in your direction. Two, run candidates who can energize base voters without alienating swing voters. Three, build a turnout operation to channel that energy. Four, stay united while Republicans squabble.

Will such a formula allow Democrats to flip other red states with significant Black populations? Not easily. For example, as Perry Bacon Jr. detailed for FiveThirtyEight, North Carolina doesn’t have quite as many African American voters as Georgia, and its pool of white non-college voters is particularly conservative on racial and social issues, making the 30-30 goal tricky to reach. But Stacey Abrams and the Georgia Democratic Party didn’t wait for the state’s demographic math to fall into place before building the necessary GOTV infrastructure. Flipped makes clear that flipping can take time and effort— and a little bit of unhinged stupidity from your opponents.

Democrats do need a thorough understaning of the pivotal Georgia flip of 2020-21, and Scher’s take on Greg Bluestein’s book brings it into a clearer perspective.

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