HomePoliticsBiden flipped Georgia in 2020. This year could be different.

Biden flipped Georgia in 2020. This year could be different.

ATLANTA — The official purpose of Joe Biden‘s trip to Georgia in the final days of 2020 was aimed at rallying support for two Democratic Senate candidates facing a tight runoff. But the visit felt an awful lot like a victory lap.

“I have to say it feels pretty good,” Biden told a crowd in Atlanta, as he basked in the distinction of being the first Democrat to win Georgia in the presidential election in nearly three decades. The moment — along with Democrats’ victory in both Senate seats a few weeks later, which toppled control of the House — seemed to confirm the party’s resurgence in a state long dominated by Republicans.

This weekend, when Biden returns to Atlanta with ambitions to win the state again in a rematch with former President Donald Trump, he will face a very different climate.

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The optimism that soared among Georgia’s Democrats after his victory has been overtaken by frustration and concerns not only about his campaign prospects but also about the direction of the country.

At Morehouse College, the prestigious black institution where Biden will deliver the commencement address on Sunday, some students urged school officials to rescind the invitation, and some faculty members have said they plan to skip the event — a signal of dissatisfaction with the way the president has acted. of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In addition, recent polls have shown Trump with a lead in Georgia as support for Biden has declined among groups that played a major role in his 2020 success, including Black voters, other people of color and younger people.

“It’s definitely a void,” said Erick Allen, a Democrat running for a seat on the Board of Commissioners in Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, referring to a “shortage of energy and funds in Georgia.”

Without other critical statewide elections, or the turbulence of the early pandemic or racial justice protests energizing parts of the electorate in 2020, Allen said he’s concerned about the level of interest and investment in Georgia.

“We don’t have George Floyd, thank God,” Allen said. “We don’t have COVID, thank God. The last elections were in crisis. We died on the streets and we died in the hospital beds. We won’t have that energy.”

For Allen and other Biden supporters, those concerns have not turned to despair. Some have noted that Biden’s victory in Georgia was anything but assured this time four years ago. And voting rights groups like the New Georgia Project, which raised huge amounts of money during the last campaign, were also short of cash that spring.

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In fact, many believe that Georgia has the potential to once again play a major role in what will almost certainly be a tense and contentious election. Last week’s announcement that Atlanta will host the first of two televised debates between Biden and Trump only reinforced that idea.

“Georgia is still an important state,” said Yadira Sánchez, executive director of Poder Latinx, a progressive civic engagement organization active in Georgia and other states with growing Hispanic populations.

The Biden campaign already has a full staff on the ground in Georgia and has been on the air there for nine months. But Biden’s speech in Morehouse and the state’s primaries Tuesday mark the start of the general election season — an occasion that has prompted some to reexamine the roots of the victories Democrats have won in recent years.

Democrats had taken advantage of demographic shifts as the state’s population grew larger and more diverse, making significant gains among white, black, Asian American and Latino voters in Atlanta’s rapidly growing suburbs. There had also been years of prep work to register and mobilize new voters, especially young and poor voters of color who have traditionally been less likely to participate.

The evolution was evident during the 2018 gubernatorial race, when Stacey Abrams, a Democratic lawmaker, ran strongly against Brian Kemp, then the Republican secretary of state. Abrams lost by about 55,000 votes.

Two years later, that slow-moving transformation collided with a rapid succession of tumultuous national and global events that played out in particularly vivid ways in Georgia.

The coronavirus pandemic has widened the gap in access to healthcare, and new political rifts emerged over the government’s response. And the protests against racism and policing after Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis were especially intense in Atlanta. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, by white residents of a coastal Georgia suburb, and Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, by an Atlanta police officer escalated fear and anger. .

“We saw the beginning of a new era of civil rights,” said the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, a city of 60,000 just outside Atlanta where about 90% of the population is black. With the Black Lives Matter movement, he said, young people “found their voice, their footing, and took on a fight that they did not start, but that they inherited.”

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In the final weeks before the election, television and radio broadcasts were filled with political advertisements from across the spectrum, as candidates, parties and community groups had volunteers knocking on doors, making phone calls and sending messages via text messages and social media.

It all boosted turnout, and Biden defeated Trump, who won the most counties in Georgia, by nearly 12,000 votes.

The tight margins created new unrest as Trump and his allies tried to reverse his loss in Georgia through means that prosecutors deemed criminal, leading to racketeering charges.

But the result also inspired cheers, because the outcome — not just the Democratic victories, but also the level of participation — had once been difficult to fathom. “They chose to participate in making history,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald III, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. “We saw hope like we had never seen it before.”

After the election, Republican lawmakers passed sweeping legislation that imposed stricter requirements for absentee voting, limited the number of drop boxes for mail-in ballots and shortened the time between the election and the runoff.

Responding to Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 victory was stolen from him, supporters said the measures would strengthen the integrity of the election. But critics have condemned the new restrictions, which they say will disproportionately impact voters of color.

Some in the Republican Party still refuse to admit that Biden won fairly. Others argue that the outcome was merely an aberration.

Heading into November, Trump is benefiting from “the appalling failure of the current administration” and a backlash against the criminal cases against him that “seek to criminalize political disagreement,” Joshua McKoon, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, told reporters on Friday. .

Democrats are concerned that voters may not have the stamina to vote the same way they used to. “I think people understand the importance of the election, but there’s a certain — just fatigue,” said state Rep. Sam Park, a Democrat who represents Gwinnett County, in suburban Atlanta.

Activists and others said many Biden voters have become disillusioned in 2020. There is anger over Biden’s failure to confront Israel more forcefully over its actions in Gaza, and dissatisfaction over persistent issues such as high housing costs and student loan debt.

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Yet some Biden supporters argue that the president’s problem is not a lack of achievements but an inability to effectively explain them to voters. They point to low unemployment among Black people, the flood of federal funds being sent to communities for pandemic relief and infrastructure, and the administration’s efforts to cancel student loan debt.

“These things should not be secrets,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Georgia, which has hundreds of congregations in the state.

The Biden campaign plans to follow that advice and use high-profile Democrats — including Georgia’s U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff — to stoke the enthusiasm.

“I’m not saying this is easy,” said Quentin Fulks, Biden’s top deputy campaign manager and a Georgia native. “But I do think we have a formula that is conducive to accepting that message.”

Biden made sure to tout his record when he visited an Atlanta radio station’s morning show on Wednesday. He cited creating new jobs, investing in historically black colleges and universities, and capping the cost of insulin — a powerful issue in a state with high diabetes rates.

He also opposed Trump, who has made some progress with black voters but has no campaign infrastructure in the state. Biden accused Trump of stoking racial divisions and said Trump’s politics were “all about hate and retaliation.”

Georgia will be among the battleground states hit by a $14 million advertising blitz this month, according to a memo from Fulks.

Leslie Palomino voted for Biden four years ago, the first time she voted in a presidential election. At the time, she also knocked on doors in Gwinnett County, on streets not far from where she grew up. She even got the chance to introduce Kamala Harris during a campaign stop.

The energy was palpable. This also applied to the stakes.

Something similar could be possible this time too, she said.

Poder Latinx, where Palomino is the Georgia program coordinator, and similar organizations have begun to ramp up their activities. And a lot can happen between May and November, as 2020 has proven.

“I’m counting down the days,” Palomino said, referring to the 24 weeks until Election Day. “I know our people; we are resilient, and that is what gets me through.”

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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