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George on Georgia – Don’t Blame DeKalb

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George on Georgia – Don’t Blame DeKalb

George Chidi. Photo by Dean Hesse

Editor’s note: George Chidi now publishes a Substack newsletter called “The Atlanta Objective.” If you want to support him directly, sign up for a paying subscription to his newsletter by clicking here.

I thought it illuminating when Senator Raphael Warnock was knocking on doors just south of Redan Road on the Sunday before the election. In dozens of South DeKalb precincts, Walker didn’t clear triple digits. But the Democratic strategy relied on turning out reliably Democratic voters, and visibility helps.

But Democrats in DeKalb and around Georgia have started trying to figure out why Stacey Abrams couldn’t cross the finish line first after a year of Pomp and Circumstance playing in her wake.

Let’s start with this. It wasn’t us.

About 59 percent of DeKalb voters cast ballots this year, compared to 57 percent of voters statewide. DeKalb’s 300,000 voters were about 7.5 percent of the statewide total and gave Abrams 13.3 percent of her vote total. About 81 percent of DeKalb voters chose Abrams, second-highest in the metro area behind Clayton’s 86 percent. A larger portion of Abrams votes came from DeKalb than Biden’s portion in 2020.

According to the Secretary of State’s count, 926,659 votes – 51.2 percent of Abrams’ vote – came from the five core Atlanta counties (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett), representing 35.7 percent of the statewide votes.

That’s a lot of numbers. Let me put it this way. If metro Atlanta was going to carry Abrams, it would have had to produce another 300,000 or so votes for her, net. To get there, Democrats would have somehow had to get the same number of people to vote in the metro area as voted in the presidential election, without triggering the rest of the state to do the same.

A turnout machine that only runs in metro Atlanta isn’t enough. Democrats will have a problem until they’re losing Walker County in northwest Georgia 3-to-1 instead of 5-to-1 and Pierce County in southeast Georgia 5-to-1 instead of 11-to-1. Some of that is infrastructure – having people working locally with the resources they need. Some of that will require a better message and better messengers. Every statewide candidate for Democrats was grown in the metro Atlanta hothouse.

Locally, little has changed after this election. The only Republicans elected anywhere in DeKalb are a few city officials in north DeKalb. Every fight for every office remains an intramural affair.

“In North DeKalb, a former GOP stronghold, we defeated all of their candidates,” John Jackson said at a party meeting tonight. “All that money they spent to beat Sally Harrell didn’t work. … They weren’t ready for all of us grassroots warriors blunting their dark money.”

Jackson, chairman of the DeKalb Democratic Committee, is stepping down in three weeks. DeKalb’s Democratic committee will elect a new executive board after the runoff.

Jackson deserves credit for local organization and Democratic results in 2020. DeKalb delivered about 57,000 more votes to Biden in 2020 than it did to Clinton in 2016. When accounting for the overall surge in turnout across the state – which DeKalb underperformed a bit – the partisan balance in the county actually overperformed by a bit more. The extra 6,000 or so votes over par was worth about half of Biden’s margin over Trump.

Part of that has been learning how to raise money without raising questions. Jackson’s a financial manager and the committee has pinched pennies while putting as much of that money as possible in the hands of canvassers and phone bankers and not on frivolous nonsense or (as had been a problem in the pre-Trump years) naked graft or waste.

It’s a different game this time, he said. It may not come down to Warnock winning in Georgia to keep the Senate, he said. But the stakes remain high. “I believe this isn’t about getting the majority. It will be about expanding the majority,” We’re going to have a 51-49 majority when we elect Sen. Warnock.”

Jackson and the committee have one job left, figuring out again how to coordinate all the people from the rest of the country who are about to descend upon DeKalb County to help. A shortened runoff means there’s no time to put together a formal PAC this time, as the county’s Democrats did during the 2020 runoff, Jackson said. They’re waiting for guidance from the state party. “We’re going to do everything we can to support Sen. Warnock. But what we don’t want is the U.S. Attorney knocking on our door.”

“Georgia is not a red state,” Jackson said. “It was just a blue state that hadn’t woken up yet.”

– George Chidi is a political columnist, public policy advocate and a veteran. He also writes for The Intercept.

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