Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock will win the Georgia Senate runoffs in January because they focus on policies geared toward working class Americans. You can find a counterpoint here, where David McIntosh, the president of Club for Growth Action, argues that Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue will win the runoffs because Georgia voters want to prevent the Democrats from having full control of the government.
The eyes of the nation will be fixed upon the Peach State in January. Just weeks before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th leader of our deeply divided republic, Georgia will tell us what the political landscape will look like for the next four years and beyond. I believe Georgians will make the Senate reflect the country, fiercely and closely bisected but with the arc of the moral universe bending toward the party of economic, racial and environmental justice and reconciliation.
Under normal circumstances, incumbent GOP candidates in the South could probably expect to coast and win run offs due to low turnout and decreased interest and engagement. This runoff is like none other. The baseless allegations of election fraud have resulted in infighting between GOP officials and kept the public interested. Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs are more energized than ever due to several factors this year, including the death of John Lewis and several visits from national figures like President Obama.
Donald Trump lost in Georgia despite having a passionate following in the state. Unelected Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue do not have a particularly passionate backing, which puts them in an even worse position. While Donald Trump has an incredible talent at connecting with working class rural white Americans despite being a Manhattan socialite, Loeffler and Perdue are disconnected from those demographics. Both are among the wealthiest members of the Senate. They were both briefed about COVID-19, and could at the very least infer about the impending economic doom that awaited many Americans. Instead of suffering through it like the hair salon owner in Augusta or the tow truck operator in Dalton, they sold off millions in stock.
In addition to their alleged insider trading fiasco, Perdue and Loeffler face strong opponents. Reverend Warnock was born into poverty in Savannah as one of twelve children and has prioritized the working class in his campaign, specifically rural Georgians and farming communities. He is the exact opposite of Loeffler, who is married to the Chairman of the NYSE and is friendly with Wall Street. Jon Ossoff is seemingly a tailor-made opponent for Perdue. While Perdue faces inquiries into his alleged insider trading, Ossoff is seen as a fighter of corruption. He refuses to accept corporate PAC money and is positioning himself as a young, energetic moderate.
Perdue and Loeffler also lack a strong message. David Perdue has told the citizens of Georgia that this race “has nothing to do with Kelly or me.” He has called Ossoff, who has condemned extremism on the left and right, a supporter of “radical socialism.” In other words, they have nothing to offer Georgia or the nation, but voters should fear their respective opponents. That is a losing message, ask Hillary Clinton. Perdue was so thoroughly shellacked by Jon Ossoff in a debate, that he has essentially gone into hiding, refusing to face his opponent. Rural Georgians outside of the Atlanta metropolitan area like Trump because they see him as bold and fearless. Perdue’s decision to hide from his Democratic challenger will be viewed as weakness and cowardice. Even hiding behind Trump during his rally won’t galvanize the Republican base.
Perdue and Loeffler had both tried using a racialized and ethnonationalist message to excite their base. This strategy is also doomed to fail. Senator Perdue’s campaign lengthened Ossoff’s nose in online attack ads in order to emphasize the latter’s Jewish heritage. He also intentionally mispronounced Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ first name. He tried to play the mispronunciation off as a genuine error despite the fact that the two have been colleagues in the Senate for several years now. Loeffler has come out against the movement for black lives in a state still dealing with the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. While the red parts of Georgia may be sympathetic to her opposition to the movement for black lives, the powerful and populous Atlanta metro will undoubtedly see her as someone who will continually avoid answers to the country’s racial justice issues. Her hostility toward a movement based upon recognizing the value of the lives within marginalized communities is in great contrast to the pastor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s church.
The area that Loeffler will lose on is more policy based. She supported a lawsuit aimed at the repeal of the ACA, which could leave 21 million Americans without healthcare during a health crisis. In addition, her rejection of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and embrace of controversial conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor-Greene may keep moderate Republicans away from voting booths on January 5. Now Trump is embroiled in a feud with Governor Brian Kemp, and Loeffler and Perdue are caught in the middle. Meanwhile, Loeffler’s attacks on Warnock are all misleading. He did not invite Fidel Castro to speak at a church where he was a youth pastor and had no authority to do so.
The momentum of this race is swinging toward Democrats. The nail in the coffin for the two Republican candidates could be Donald Trump himself. No one galvanized Democratic voters, not Kamala Harris, not Joe Biden, not even the Obamas, like Trump. Democratic voters want to rid themselves of the stench of Trump’s divisiveness and will turn out one last time. David Perdue won’t even defend himself on the debate stage. Perdue is chicken.
Jason Nichols is a lecturer in African American Studies at the University of Maryland and a prolific progressive commentator.