The Big Blue Runoff – Georgia 2020

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

By now, you’ve heard the news. Democratic organizers and the people of Georgia have turned the state into a full battleground that Biden currently seems likely to win. And Georgia has not one, but two Senate races. If Democrats win both these races, the Senate will be 50/50, and the tie-breaking vote will likely be Kamala Harris in the Vice-President’s presiding role over the Senate.

People from outside of Georgia have asked me for information on ways they can help, and so I wanted to put a few different ways to help into one place so that people can easily share it. What are some ways you can help?

TL;DR – Show Them The Money

Here are direct links to action if you don’t feel like reading my whole analysis.

Volunteer with the Georgia Democratic Party

Donate to Warnock For Senate
Donate To Ossoff For Senate
Donate to the DPG
Donate to DeKalb Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Fulton Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Gwinnett Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Cobb Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Henry Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Douglas Democrats (ATL)

Candidates

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both have put together formidable campaign organizations, and donations to candidates are always appreciated and well received. What do candidate donations go to? Well, one way to think of it is that you’re funding a startup that has one product — a candidate — and one mission — get that candidate into office (or keep them there). There are professionals that know how to run aspects of the marketing campaign, manage the field organization, or keep up with the finances, and those people have to be paid. There is literature to print, ads to run, signs to post. Candidates do not get to use the money for living expenses or anything not directly related to getting their message out.

You can donate up to the Federal limits (currently $2,800) as an individual to a Senate campaign.

Donate to Warnock For Senate
Donate To Ossoff For Senate

Voters and Dates

If you will be 18 years old on Election Day, January 5, 2021, you can register to vote until December 7. If you missed this election, you can still vote in the runoff. If you are not registered to vote, you can register to vote and vote in this runoff. There’s no such thing as too late.

Here are the key dates:

December 7 – Voter Registration Deadline
December 14 – Early Voting opens in Georgia
January 5 – Election Day

County and State Parties

Every state in the Union, including Georgia, has a State Democratic Party. The parties organize volunteers, set the policy platform that the Democrats in that state will advocate for, and get the word out about endorsed candidates. In Georgia, each county has a state party committee which operates as an entire organization with executive leadership, subcommittees, and voting members, that we colloquially refer to as “the county party”.

It’s not commonly understood why the party will endorse some candidates and not others, particularly in races like the one Warnock just went through. The party’s objective is to elect Democrats who support the party’s platform to office and keep them in office. As such, the party must take a neutral stance on any race where there are multiple qualified and declared Democrats. There was several in Warnock’s race due to its nature as a special election. Ossoff went through a traditional primary process and so emerged as the single qualified Democrat, which allowed the party to act on his behalf. While you may see encouragement to vote for a Democrat in a multi-player race, the party was not free to endorse Warnock until he emerged as the leading Democrat and thus the only Democrat entering the runoff.

The county party is where the action is if you are interested in volunteering. I’m going to link several party pages, and each one will have both Donate links and Volunteer links. Unlike the campaigns themselves, the state and county parties have no limits on the donations they can receive. You can give $1,000 or $10,000, or more. What do the parties use that money for? Two words: ground game.

I’m a post seat holder chair (which is a fancy way to say I’m a voting member of my County Committee and am responsible for organizing efforts in my state house district) in DeKalb, a suburban county that contains the eastern bit of the city of Atlanta and several communities of various socioeconomic strata.

I can tell you, when DeKalb Democrats get a dollar, they stretch it. We can create flyers and marketing materials for candidates to help their dollars go further, use our extensive field organization and volunteer base to canvass, phone bank, text bank, or do lit drops door to door. The precinct captains and volunteers can use their deep and personal relationships to get turnout going on an intimate, one-to-one basis. What’s more, county and state party members serve as poll workers, poll observers, and even work to count and judge ballots alongside Republican and non-partisan counters.

You can and should donate to the state party. Donations to the state party support county efforts and statewide initiatives such as voter protection. County donations are used directly in the districts the county covers.

Democratic Party of Georgia
Donate to the DPG

County Links

Here are links to county sites for the Atlanta metro area, where more than half of Georgia’s population lives.


DeKalb County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 759,297

Biden % in 2020 Election: 83.1%

Donate to DeKalb Democrats

Clayton County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 292,256

Biden % in 2020 Election: 85.0%

Fulton County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 1,063,937

Biden % in 2020 Election: 72.6%

Donate to Fulton Democrats

Gwinnett County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 936,250

Biden % in 2020 Election: 58.4%

Donate to Gwinnett Democrats

Cobb County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 760,141

Biden % in 2020 Election: 56.3%

Donate to Cobb Democrats

Henry County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 234,561

Biden % in 2020 Election: 59.7%

Donate to Henry Democrats

Douglas County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 146,343
Biden % in 2020 Election: 62.0%

Donate to Douglas Democrats


Mobilize

Many activities are also organized through Mobilize, a site that organizers use to publish volunteer opportunities. All the phone banks that the Democratic Party of Georgia and the counties will be putting on will be listed here. You can use the filter button to put in a Georgia ZIP code and find opportunities to phonebank, text bank, or if you live close enough, to get into the field.

I encourage you to donate to the candidates and if you have more money or time you wish to give, please give it to the counties. I know DeKalb firsthand and I know my county will steward your resources well and turn out more Democrats for the coming runoff.

2017 Georgia Sixth District Election – A Post-Primary Analysis

The Congressional primary for US House District GA-06 was held yesterday. As expected, the election went to a runoff. I have some thoughts on how the race shook out, having followed it closely since I decided not to run on January 5. My thoughts are my own and don’t represent any party or organization of which I’m a member. I’m also no Nate Silver. But let’s talk about it anyway.

Jon Ossoff, the golden boy of the left who rose from his Congressional staffer background with a blessing from John Lewis and a lot of grassroots fundraising, garnered 48.1% of the vote, at 92,390 votes. Karen Handel, former Secretary of State and perennial statewide candidate, rose to the top of a bruising field of 4 credible Republican contenders to get 19.8% of the vote, at 37,993. The other 16 candidates picked up the remaining 32%, with almost all of that going to Bob Gray, a local businessman, Dan Moody, a former state senator, and Judson Hill, a sitting state senator who vacated his seat to run. Since no one got 50% plus 1, the election goes to a runoff on June 20. What do the rest of the numbers tell us?

Missing Voters

I’ll lead with the data which for me was the most disappointing. If we look at the 2016 Presidential Election results in the district, Tom Price, the incumbent, got 201,088 votes. Rodney Stooksbury, a candidate that ran no campaign, had no website, and did not even have a picture, managed to garner 124,917 votes. It’s unsurprising such a candidate didn’t break 40%. What is surprising though is that with all of the energy put into this current race by Democrats, turnout across all 5 Dems added up to a mere 93,911 votes. This is a gap of 31,006 votes. Since we can assume that no one showed up specifically to vote for Stooksbury, that means a quarter of the people that bothered to show up to vote for Hillary Clinton couldn’t be bothered to show up to vote for any Democrat.

I predicted when this election was going on that the district could be won if all the Hillary voters simply showed up again and voted for any Democrat they preferred. With the same proportions, Ossoff would have had a handy victory. So why would so many people stay home?

It’s Hard Out Here for an Independent

There were two candidates who did not make a party declaration: Alexander Hernandez, a local film industry worker, and Andre Pollard, a computer programmer. Between them they managed to garner a whopping 176 votes out of nearly 200,000. If we look at their fundraising totals, we see that Hernandez spent $49.12 per vote and Pollard spent a whopping $95.45 per vote. This sounds bad until we realize that some of the leading candidates had even worse numbers, which I’ll get into in a minute. As I discussed in my article about what I learned in my exploration for a Congressional run, the money is a big deal, because it’s your voice. Hernandez and Pollard weren’t able to lean on a party and para-party infrastructure to speak for them or against their enemies, so they had to rely on their personal relationships. And like most regular people, they didn’t know a lot of rich people, certainly not ones that liked them enough to invest in their victory.

Speaking of which, a political consultant I spoke with during my preparation grilled me and asked, “what’s your path to victory?” He meant, who in the district will support you besides your mom and your neighbor? What demographic segment is looking for you to run and will come out and vote for you, then tell their friends to do the same? What coalition can you build to pull together enough votes to be a credible threat? If you don’t know the answers to those and a bunch of other questions, then don’t bother running; you’re wasting your energy and your own or your friends’ money. You’d be better off finding a candidate that will advance the policy nearest to your heart and volunteering to support them.

Really quickly, I’m not saying “don’t run! Let the two big parties do it!” I heartily encourage anyone who feels the call to run for office. I do think you should run with a goal of winning though; the taste of campaigning that I got showed me that it’s a difficult, thankless grind that isn’t worth doing for your ego or pride alone. So if you are truly neither Democrat-leaning nor Republican-leaning, figure out your path to victory before you run, or figure out how you’re going to make your third party stronger locally.

The Money

I mentioned earlier how the independent candidates spent a crazy amount per vote, right? Let’s take a look at how the other candidates spent:

Name Party Votes Spend Spend Per Vote Percentage
Jon Ossoff Dem. 92,390 $6,183,941 $66.93 48.10%
Karen Handel Rep. 37,993 $279,767 $7.36 19.78%
Bob Gray Rep. 20,755 $321,028 $15.47 10.81%
Dan Moody Rep. 16,994 $1,865,030 $109.75 8.85%
Judson Hill Rep. 16,848 $359,210 $21.32 8.77%
Kurt Wilson Rep. 1,812 $199,149 $109.91 0.94%
David Abroms Rep. 1,637 $155,412 $94.94 0.85%
Ragin Edwards Dem. 502 N/R 0.26%
Ron Slotin Dem. 488 $70,522 $144.51 0.25%
Bruce Levell Rep. 455 N/R 0.24%
Mohammad Ali Bhuiyan Rep. 414 $26,068 $62.97 0.22%
Keith Grawert Rep. 414 $34,106 $82.38 0.22%
Amy Kremer Rep. 349 $15,233 $43.65 0.18%
William Llop Rep. 326 N/R 0.17%
Rebecca Quigg Dem. 304 N/R 0.16%
Richard Keatley Dem. 227 $9,349 $41.19 0.12%
Alexander Hernandez Ind. 121 $5,944 $49.12 0.06%
Andre Pollard Ind. 55 $5,250 $95.45 0.03%

(Thanks to Ballotpedia and the NYT for the data.)

We see from the chart that the most efficient candidate was Karen Handel, at a mere $7.36 per vote, while the least efficient was Ron Slotin, the number two Democrat in the race, at $144.71 per vote. Across the election, a total of $49.61 per vote was spent on average.

What does this measure of efficiency tell us? First, it’s a reminder of how expensive marketing campaigns are. As I’ve said in the past, an election is a marketing campaign for a product that nobody wants. With all of that spending, they were only able to turn out a little under 200,000 of the about 500,000 eligible voters in the district. The turnout also represents a bit less than 60% of the turnout of the presidential election. Voter apathy is still high.

Second, it shows how much name recognition matters. Everyone knows the name Karen Handel, even if they don’t all know what she’s done. She’s been in public life for a long time, and even though her reputation isn’t pristine, she still was able to pull a significant number of votes simply because people knew who she was.

Third, it shows the advantage of incumbency. Judson Hill managed to get almost exactly the same numbers as Dan Moody with about a fifth of the spending. Both served in the State Senate in Georgia, but Hill as an incumbent was able to draw on his voter base in his Senate district to turn out solid numbers without having to spend nearly as much. He still wasn’t able to pull in the rest of the Congressional district, but with better fundraising, the story may have been different.

One additional note: A reader pointed out to me that there was a lot of PAC money spent on attack ads on Ossoff. When considering this, Republican efficiency numbers look a bit less impressive, as any anti-Ossoff ad helped one of the top 4 Republicans a bit. At least $2.2 million was spent on attack ads, and of course Democratic PACs and groups ran general GOTV efforts as well. All that adds up to even more money in an already budget-busting race, with lots more to come now that the core party spending can be unleashed on each side.

Fall in Love, or Fall in Line?

One of my neighbors, a thoughtful and regular voter, but not particularly politically oriented, was a bit disappointed by Ossoff when they saw him speak. They felt he was wooden and inexperienced. They did vote for him in the end, but they weren’t excited about it. I imagine a number of people felt the same way, but decided not to bother to vote.

I read somewhere recently in a thread on a progressive Facebook group a thought which I will paraphrase. The writer noted that Republicans tend to look for a reason to vote for a candidate, while Democrats tend to look for a reason not to vote for a candidate. While I am a firm believer in voting one’s conscience, I do think that Democrats in particular will have to exercise more pragmatism in general or open elections, and save their fire for party primaries where they can express more specific preferences among a slate of candidates who are all likely to advance mostly agreeable policy. The best is the enemy of the good, and waiting for a candidate with the perfect combination of skill to fend off Republican attacks, gravitas, charisma, and policy may leave us all waiting for a long time.

People who want to see more populist progressivism of the Sanders variety will also need to start showing up at their county Democratic Party meetings. I’m now a post holder for my state house district (something like an at-large precinct captain) [Ed. note: post holders’ duties include but are not limited to field operations and they are voting members of the county organization], and the slots were literally all open when I showed up to my first county party meeting in January. That was when I learned there is literally nothing in the way of me advancing an agenda I believe in that fits anywhere within the party’s big tent. People who grouse about corruption or anointed candidates or the like should take their complaints to the county party. You might discover that there’s a job for you to do to fix it.

Parting Thoughts

  • You can vote in the runoff even if you didn’t vote in the primary, so get out there June 20.
  • If you lean left, don’t grouse over your candidate losing or nitpick Ossoff, just vote for him and then hold him accountable as a constituent.
  • If you lean right, take a look at Handel’s willingness to be independent of Trump, the way that any member of Congress should exercise some independence from the Executive. Make sure she’s putting your district and not the party or the whims of the President first.
  • Regardless, figure out who among your friends didn’t vote. Ask them why. Don’t browbeat them, but try to figure out what would engage them. We get this ridiculous spending under control by caring enough to give some thought and effort to the one thing that can’t be bought — our votes.