Republican Jeremy Bradford has gone from being executive director of the Tarrant County GOP to knocking on doors in Georgia — now ground zero for American politics — as an unassuming volunteer.
And he loves it.
“As the executive director of the party, I have a leadership role,” Bradford said. “Here, I’m just helping. I’m another pair of boots on the ground knocking doors, which is great.”
Sri Preston Kulkarni, the Democratic nominee for the 22nd Congressional District in the Houston area, is also in Georgia. He’s helping mobilize communities of color.
“Georgia is basically where we want to be in four years,” Kulkarni said of the contrast between the Lone Star and Peach states. “If you look at the presidential differential this year, we’re basically where Georgia was four years ago. We’re both moving in the same direction for a lot of the same reasons.”
Dallas’ Brittany White is not in Georgia representing a political party. She’s helping put together a voter turnout program for the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan group founded by former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams that registers and mobilizes voters, tapping into the voting strength of the formerly incarcerated.
“What is important is to build a network of formerly incarcerated people who feel empowered in their vote,” said White, decarceration manager for a group called Live Free. “That is highlighted in this moment, but it is beyond the runoff to the fact that this is an electoral base that we hope to grow and continuously engage in future elections as well.”
After a hard-fought, historic Texas election, Democrats and Republicans are sending their ground forces to Georgia, site of a spirited fight for control of the U.S. Senate.
In a new battleground state, hundreds of people from both parties have joined with numerous activist groups to influence two Senate runoffs. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are challenging Republican Senate incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
If Republicans win one of the two contests, they will maintain control of the Senate. But if Democrats win both seats, both parties will have 50 Senate members, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, being a tiebreaking vote. The vice president is president of the Senate, so Democrats would have slim control of the chamber if Ossoff and Warnock are victorious.
Over 2.5 million ballots have already been cast for Tuesday’s runoffs, and the high participation rate is unusual for a January election.
But this has not been a typical election season.
Until former Vice President Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the Peach State in November’s election, Republicans had long controlled the politics there. Winning the Senate contests would help Republicans rebound from Trump’s defeat there and keep them in control of the Georgia Senate delegation.
In Texas, Trump beat Biden by about 5 percentage points, and the GOP held control of the Texas Legislature, while Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was reelected.
The Lone Star State, however, has become more competitive.
“It used to be when Texas was redder, I would help set up strike force teams throughout the United States and we would go into all the battleground areas,” said GOP organizer Rhonda Lacy. “This time with my group, the American Strike Force, I chose to stay in Texas and I had 15 teams in Texas and we had people from Louisiana and Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska who came in and helped us.”
But after the successful Texas election, Lacy is staking her strike forces to Georgia.
“You know we did pretty well here in Texas,” Lacy said. “Now a lot of those same people are going to Georgia to help them too.”
Meanwhile, Democrats see Georgia as an inspiration, given that it used to be a solid Republican state that has now become a true presidential battleground. Texas Democrats had boasted that the Lone Star State was the largest battleground in the country, but their hopes of flipping the state were dashed when Trump beat Biden in Texas, along with other GOP victories.
“State parties help each other out,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s also important that we help out because everything is at stake here.”
Even before the Georgia runoffs, Texas Democrats had fundraising agreements with Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona Democrats, Garcia said. Texas Democrats recently helped their Georgia counterparts stage virtual fundraisers that included a table reading by the cast of the HBO show Veep. There was also a reunion of the cast of the movie Elf that helped Georgia Democrats raise money.
“They are our friends and we want to help,” Garcia said.
Texas surrogates from both parties have landed in Georgia.
On Dec. 19, Sen. Ted Cruz was on a “Save America” bus tour through Georgia.
“The people of Georgia believe in common-sense conservative values,” Cruz said in Savannah. “People of Georgia want lower taxes, less regulations and a lot more jobs. They don’t want to see socialism come to this country.”
Cruz also continued to push Trump’s theme that voter fraud was a problem in Georgia elections, though allegations of major voter fraud have been unfounded.
“It is time to end voter fraud. It is time to expose voter fraud,” Cruz said. “It is time to take anyone who was involved in voter fraud and prosecute them and put them in jail.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, has also visited the state. He has launched a “Georgia Reloaded” effort to pump in money for the GOP runoff candidates. It’s similar, especially in advertising, to his effort to raise money for Texas Republican congressional candidates.
High-profile Democrats have also toured Georgia, including former San Antonio mayor, housing secretary and 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro.
“If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris don’t have strong partners in the United States Senate, then nothing is going to get done to improve the lives of people here in Georgia who are hard-working and especially our young people,” Castro said in December while campaigning with Warnock.
While current and former elected officials grab the headlines as surrogates, volunteers are putting in the hard work.
Thousands from all over the country have converged on Georgia, tirelessly knocking on doors and making telephone calls.
“It will be great to be with our Republican brothers and sisters there,” Lacy said. “Our volunteers sometimes work from 6 or 7 in the morning until midnight.”
Bradford agreed, saying it’s important that the Republican candidates win the runoffs.
“Gridlock in Washington is not a bad thing, especially when you have a Democrat House and a Democrat president or president-elect coming in,” he said. “Being able to contribute the very little I can to the efforts is really cool to be a part of, and I’m hoping that both of these senators will be reelected.”
Kulkarni said the Georgia elections are important to bring sensible leadership to the Senate.
“We have to stand up for our democracy,” he said. “We have to stand up for the health of our country, we have to stand up for our jobs and we have to stand up for justice.”
Kulkarni has been active in mobilizing minority residents.
“Communities of color obviously had a huge impact on winning the election here in November and so getting that turnout as high as possible is important,” he said “You have to get out each one of these communities. … I was out knocking doors today and there was a house that speaks Chinese. … I’ve knocked on a lot of Korean doors. It’s a turnout game right now, and it really depends on having the right base of volunteers actively engaged and involved.”
The Georgia runoffs are also providing opportunities for activists to mobilize voters on the basis of issues, not political parties.
White, the Dallas resident who advocates for formerly incarcerated people, said the goal is to inform those voters of their rights and have them tap into their electoral power.
“The narrative that we’re up against is that there are many people here in Georgia and across the country who believe that once convicted of a felony or a criminal charge, there is a national universal ban on their voting rights,” she said. “People are not informed that their voting rights live at the state level … here in Georgia, as long as you’re off supervised probation or parole, as long as you’re off papers, you can vote.”
White said the Georgia runoffs are important because senators will have a voice in issues related to criminal justice reform, including whether to decriminalize marijuana.
“The way that we’re framing it is that whoever has control of the Senate is going to be able to determine the policy, and then we put that policy in context of the self-interest of many formerly incarcerated people,” White said. “We are really beginning to empower people by the fact that we are formerly incarcerated ourselves and stripping off the shame that is associated with that identity. … That does not take away from the fact that you have God-given humanity and dignity and you’re also an expert and you have electoral power and we want to work with you on how you exercise that.”