The day after the runoff election that would eventually send now-senators Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock to Congress was a whirlwind. I had been phone banking for weeks in support of their campaigns, and went to bed the night of Jan. 5 feeling a somewhat unusual sentiment for this past year: hope. There was a palpable energy coming from Ossoff, Warnock, organizers like Stacey Abrams and Latosha Brown and the citizens of Georgia that outweighed the historical truths of the state, its history of voter suppression and the Republican representation that has defined it for decades.
Then, the attack on the Capitol happened. Amidst frantic coverage of the siege and interviews with congress members and journalists who called in from a “secure location,” decision desks called the final results: both Ossoff and Warnock would be heading to the Senate. So much has happened since then and the two Georgians are now officially legislating in the hallowed halls of the Capitol.
For many, any more analysis or conversation related to the 2020 election is migraine-inducing. However, not discussing the Georgia results in relation to North Carolina feels like a missed opportunity. The 2022 midterms are next year, after all. So, here goes it: a political science student’s unprofessional and unsolicited take on what North Carolina Democrats can learn from the Georgia runoffs.
As we all know, Democrats lost big in North Carolina during the 2020 election. Yes, Governor Roy Cooper was able to hold onto his seat. Similarly, democratic incumbents Attorney General Josh Stein, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and State Auditor Beth Wood held onto their posts. That said, Donald Trump won the state, Thom Tillis held his Senate seat by a relatively comfortable margin of 2% despite a formidable challenge in Cal Cunningham and all other state-wide offices were won by Republicans. Given that Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008, it wouldn’t be too far fetched in thinking that our state would end up like Virginia — undeniably “blue.” This is obviously not the case and rather than dwell on why, Georgia can teach us a few lessons.
First, Democrats must organize. The best explanation for why President Joe Biden, Warnock and Ossoff won can be narrowed down to the hard work, grit and determination of those on the ground. Whether it be field organizers or volunteers, the behind-the-scenes work that went into ensuring that all Georgians were equipped with the knowledge and tools to successfully vote — not only on Nov. 3, but Jan. 5 — cannot be ignored. Abrams built up an organizing infrastructure that must be mirrored in North Carolina (not to mention the other 48 states). But let it be said that this also did not happen in the span of two months, so Democrats must start investing in and building up organizing opportunities across North Carolina now.
Second, demographics are important, but should not be all-defining. In looking at the data from the Jan. 5 runoff, turnout in majority-Black rural areas of Georgia was much closer to election day turnout than it was in majority-white rural areas. Although North Carolina has less-dense urban areas and a smaller Black population, it is necessary to produce a strategy that fully harnesses and elevates Democratic strongholds in the state. That said, I do maintain that politics does not need to be this reductive: Democrats can and should campaign in the most rural, white neighborhoods of North Carolina if they seek to represent all North Carolinians.
Lastly, Ossoff and Warnock absolutely obliterated their opponents when it came to messaging. When Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler made ads highlighting their innocence and “total exoneration,” it wasn’t like Ossoff and Warnock had high bars to clear. Despite this, they were both extremely disciplined during stump speeches, campaign events and interviews: jobs, justice and healthcare. Over and over again, they hammered their perspective into voters and created clear and tangible reasons as to why they should win their support.
The outcome of the Georgia elections were definitely magical, but that does not mean it needs to be a unique, one-off historical event. Rather, Democrats can harness this knowledge and apply the lessons to our own state. Former State Senator Erica Smith and current State Senator Jeff Jackson have already announced their candidacy for the 2022 midterms. There is no “right time” or “perfect moment” to start building an infrastructure for change — North Carolinians must get to work now.