At the beginning of 2020, it seemed unlikely that Georgia would be the linchpin to the Democrats’ success in turning the U.S. Senate blue. Incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler, who had been appointed by the state’s Republican Governor to fill the seat of retiring Senator Johnny Isakson, was running to hold the seat for the final two years of his term. Georgians had not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate for two decades and no southern state had ever elected a Black Democrat to the Senate.
When GBAO began working with Reverend Raphael Warnock in the summer of 2020, the race was completely unsettled. Despite being the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the former pulpit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Warnock was still mostly unknown to the voting public. By introducing himself as a Georgian, a pastor, a man of strong moral conviction, and an advocate for making health care more affordable and for valuing the dignity of work, Reverend Warnock climbed steadily during the fall, rising from a distant 4th place to finish first in the 21-candidate, all-party jungle primary.
When no candidate reached a majority of the vote in November, the top two contenders moved on to a January 5th runoff. Reverend Warnock and Senator Loeffler were set for their head-to-head matchup, as were Democrat Jon Ossoff and Senator David Perdue. In Georgia, Democrats had previously fared poorly in run-off elections (which were instituted by conservative legislators to run in elections with depressed minority turnout), but with President Biden narrowly carrying the state and the fate of the U.S. Senate in the balance, interest was extremely high.
While we never lost sight of winning the small number of persuadable voters open to both candidates, GBAO’s research in the run-off included a heavy focus on mobilizing Georgians who had been overlooked in previous elections, including Latinos, AAPI voters, millennials, and Black voters without a robust voting history. We conducted extensive qualitative research with these audiences, facilitated by GBAO’s diverse, expert, in-house moderators. By focusing on increasing turnout among these critical blocs of the electorate, running multiple turnout projections with each poll, and highlighting the historic nature of Warnock’s candidacy and this special election, GBAO helped prepare the campaign for a number of different Election-Day scenarios, including the record-breaking turnout that led to both Ossoff and Warnock prevailing and handing control of the Senate to the Democrats.