Black and Latino Groups Eye High-Stakes Georgia Senate Runoffs Needing a Sweep for Democrats

The balance of power in the Senate and level of effectiveness of President-Elect Joe Biden's incoming administration depend on the outcome of two Senate runoffs in Georgia.

Black and Latino groups are mobilizing to try to win those two Senate seats in an incredibly challenging political environment.

Organizers who spoke with Newsweek acknowledge the challenge of winning two Senate seats while facing the full power of the Republican Party, but they say Joe Biden's Georgia win—the first time a Democrat did so in 28 years—was also an unlikely outcome.

"The fact that Georgia turned blue was due to unprecedented enthusiasm and turnout in Black communities," BlackPAC Executive Director Adrianne Shropshire told Newsweek.

Runoff elections in Georgia have historically worked against Democrats due to what the New York Times called a "vestige of segregationist efforts to dilute Black voting power," because African-Americans and other Democrats are less likely to turn out for them.

With none of the candidates receiving more than 50 percent of the vote, Democrat Jon Ossoff must make up a 90,000-vote disadvantage against Senator David Purdue on January 5, while Rev. Raphael Warnock must now face Senator Kelly Loeffler head-to- head, instead of in a three-way matchup that favored him on November 3.

Groups that work to mobilize voters of color know they have their work cut out for them, but are trying to expand the electorate in the short period of time they have left, while also ramping up get-out-the-vote efforts.

Mi Familia Vota, a national grassroots group is partnering with groups on the ground inlcuding the Latino Community Fund (LCF Georgia) and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) on voter registration and education. It is also launching a bilingual field and digital campaign aimed at 250,000 Latino voters in the state, Newsweek has learned.

The field program will include 40,000 door knocks, 650,000 phone calls, 50,000 mailers, and 1,000,000 text messages, along with radio and digital campaigns, the group said.

"The Latino community is facing the twin disasters of the COVID-19 pandemic and the failed leadership of Senate Republicans," Mi Familia Vota executive director Hector Sanchez Barba told Newsweek. "We know to achieve the bold policy priorities of the Latino community we must win back the Senate...That is why we are proud to be partnering with LCF Georgia and the Hispanic Federation to register and mobilize Latino voters for these critical special elections."

BlackPAC, which was active in Georgia for the general election, is redirecting its resources to get their canvassing team back to door-knocking, as well as launching new digital ads and direct mail efforts to reach the universe they always target: young, infrequent voters.

BlackPAC executive director Adrianne Shropshire told Newsweek that Senate control can be either a "significant impediment" or a "significant help" in advancing many of the issues Black voters have said are longtime priorities.

"Obama was not able to complete the agenda that Black voters hoped he would be able to," Shropshire said, "partly because there was a Senate and Senate Majority Leader that decided to be a hindrance to that agenda."

One delicate issue facing Democratic vote organizers in Georgia is the altered political playing field that the runoff represents.

Groups like Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight and The New Georgia Project, as well as others like GALEO, have been doing the work to mobilize their communities for years, and especially so in this cycle. They are wary of groups parachuting in at the last minute who are unfamiliar with the terrain. That dynamic is a reason groups are trying to invest in organizations already on the ground to avoid duplicating efforts.

BlackPAC has partnered with The New Georgia Project to try to register new voters before the deadline of December 7, including some who couldn't even vote on Election Day: 17 year-olds who will turn 18 by the January 5 special election.

Latino voters in Georgia, meanwhile, aren't normally talked about on the national stage, but they could make their presence felt in the Senate races. Biden won Latinos 62% to 37% for Trump, according to the exit polls, while a Latino Decisions pre-election day poll of voters put the support at 69% for Biden and 28% for Trump.

Jerry Gonzalez, the CEO of GALEO, who has worked with the Latino community in Georgia for years, told Newsweek he believes the Latino Decisions breakdown is more accurate because the issue of immigration is "near and dear to Latinos hearts" in Georgia.

Like other Latino leaders in the South who are close with their immigrant communities, Gonzalez said those voters more acutely feel the sting and fear around increased racism and discrimination, citing Donald Trump's rhetoric, and the horrific hate crime killing of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in El Paso, Texas, which he said was "felt powerfully here in Georgia because it could have been any of our communities."

Gonzalez, like others working in the state, knows the numbers: The universe of Latino voters in Georgia is 250,000, with 185,000 voting on November 3, which means there are voters left to mobilize with his phone calls, text messages, bilingual media efforts, and three rounds of mailers that could make a real difference come January.

"We foresaw a runoff," Gonzalez said. "What we did not foresee was that Georgia was going to be the center of the political universe."

jon osoff
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff gives an elbow tap to a supporter outside the Metropolitan Library polling location on November 3, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is running against incumbent Se. David Perdue (R-GA) and Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel. Georgia is the only state with two Senate seats on the November 3 ballot. Jessica McGowan/Getty