As the nation eyes Georgia with its pair of upcoming US Senate runoffs, a victory for Democrats could hinge on the same Black women who helped flip the state blue in the presidential election.
Leadership from Stacey Abrams, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, LaTosha Brown, Nse Ufot and a reliable force of Black female voters who overwhelming voted for President-elect Joe Biden will remain critical to Democrats’ chances of gaining control of the US Senate on January 5.
The runoff includes a race between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and a matchup with GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff.
Black female leaders and organizers say years of voter registration drives at churches and community events, and knocking on doors in Black and Latino neighborhoods paid off when Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris won Georgia.
And they believe they can do it again.
In the next six weeks, Black women said they will use those same strategies in addition to reaching voters who sat out of the general election to help Warnock and Ossoff win their races.
“We’ve done it before and we will do it again,” said Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan voter registration group founded by Abrams in 2014. “Never before in my lifetime have Georgia voters been more important to the state of this nation.”
An estimated 5 million Georgians voted in the presidential election, including 1.2 million Black voters, according to the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.
According to exit polls, 92% of Black women in the Peach State voted for Biden.
But Warnock and Ossoff could face an uphill battle given Republican voters in Georgia historically turn out in higher numbers for runoff elections, political analysts say. Their Republican challengers are also outspending them by about $109.5 million to $88.2 million as of Friday.
Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, said Democrats need to leverage their success in the presidential election to galvanize voters in the Senate runoffs. Part of that strategy requires leaning on Black female leaders and organizers to urge low propensity voters to vote, Gillespie said.
“It’s really simple, it’s just making sure that you actually ask people to turn out to vote,” Gillespie said. “They just have to till the same soil that they’ve been tilling for the last decade with hopes that they can reverse the trend of Republicans doing extremely well in elections.”
Black female organizers received much of the credit for Biden’s win in traditionally red Georgia with their grassroots efforts in registering new voters in communities of color and fighting voter suppression with voter education.
The path to turning blue
Abrams, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018, has been lauded for registering some 800,000 new voters in recent years and challenging the state’s election system that allowed voter purges and long lines at predominately Black precincts.
Abrams and other Black women have recognized Georgia’s increasing diversity and saw a path to turning the state blue.
The state’s share of eligible Black voters grew by 5% between 2000 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. The share of eligible Latino voters grew 3% during that same period. Meanwhile, the state lost 10% of eligible White voters.
On Thursday, Abrams appeared on the Verzuz music battle between rappers Jeezy and Gucci Mane, watched by at least 1.8 million people, to encourage viewers to vote in the Georgia runoff elections.
“Right now, we can at least make sure that everyone shows up to vote so we have two senators (Warnock and Ossoff) to make sure we have Covid response and we’ve got stimulus money coming back to Georgia.”
Ufot said she has spent the last six years knocking on doors, hosting events and sending out mass text messages to urge young people and people of color to register and participate in elections. The New Georgia Project succeeded in registering 500,000 new voters during that period, she said.
Ufot is also encouraging voters to vote by mail and is prepared to challenge any voter suppression efforts.
“We are going into this eyes wide open,” she said.
Brown, who co-founded the Atlanta-based Black Voters Matter, has also spent years educating Black voters in Georgia and other southern states about the importance of voting.
Brown said the volume of voter turnout, particularly among Black women, in the presidential election was the result of multiple campaigns led by Black women and multiracial coalitions.
“I think that Black women were very focused and very determined,” Brown told CNN. “We were going to do everything within our power to really be able to pull our community along. And really, we showed up not just as voters, but as political strategists.”
The credit is long overdue
Georgia Democratic State Sen. Nikema Williams, who was elected to succeed the late US Rep. John Lewis in the 5th Congressional district, said the credit given to Black women for delivering elections to Democrats is long overdue.
“Black women didn’t just start playing a critical role in Democrats winning elections,” Williams said. “Black women have always been the backbone of the Democratic party but what we are seeing now is people digging into the data and recognizing us for what we have been doing.”
Williams said she expects to see a continuation of efforts led by Black women ahead of the presidential election including voter registration events, speaking at sorority meetings and historically black colleges and universities, and talking to voters about what is at stake in the election. Black women, she said, must also reach out to voters who didn’t vote in November to convince them that Biden’s victory proves their vote counts, Williams said.
Viola Hardy, a Black woman from Marietta, said she is inspired by the work Black women have done to turn out voters in Georgia.
Hardy said she has been posting to social media, making phone calls and sending emails to urge her friends, family members and neighbors to vote in the upcoming runoff.
Without control of the Senate, Hardy said it will be difficult for Biden and Harris to address the issues that impact Black women such as abortion rights and equal pay.
“I am asking people to do the same thing they did in the general election which is get out and vote,” said Hardy, a 48-year-old old realtor. “We have our first Black female vice president. If nothing else, let’s show her that we have a voice and that we are speaking up loud and proud so that she can be able to leave a great legacy.”