Driving around the Sixth Congressional District, you feel like you could be anywhere in America, and that was kind of the point.
For all the post-election talk of the misunderstood, left-behind rural voter, or the urban liberal bubble, the most contested voters of 2016 were in the territory in between the coalfield and the ivory tower. This is the America of strip malls and big-box stores, sushi buffets and light-rail park-and-rides, a landscape dotted with charter schools and pet hospitals and retirement villages along endless straight, flat, six-lane roads.
It was voters like these on whom Clinton’s campaign spent most of its advertising budget, only to have many of them conclude that Trump, for all his indecorousness, represented less of a threat to their way of life. According to exit polls, about half of the American electorate came from suburban areas in 2016, and Trump, despite losing the popular vote overall, won them by a slightly larger margin (4 points) than Romney had in 2012 (2 points).
Ossoff’s army of passionate volunteers—more than 12,000, according to the campaign—were convinced their neighbors had had second thoughts over the past eight months. On the eve of the election, a contingent of those volunteers occupied most of a strip-mall taqueria in Roswell to fuel up for a last night of canvassing.
When she woke up on November 9 and saw Trump had won, Jessica Zeigler recalled, she felt sick to her stomach. Zeigler, a 32-year-old mother of three who works for a medical-device company, couldn’t bring herself to tell her 7-year-old son who had won when he asked. After some weeks of feeling lost, she discovered a secret liberal moms’ group on Facebook—her first foray into activism, and an emboldening hint that she was not alone.
“I just decided, this cannot be where my kids grow up, this cannot be what is happening around them,” she told me over a plate of shrimp tacos. “Sometimes it takes feeling personally attacked to get people to be active.”
The mothers organized into a constellation of new organizations—dozens of chapters of the national Indivisible movement; a new local group called Pave It Blue—and drew hundreds of the similarly galvanized to their meetings. Many spoke about their activism in therapeutic terms: something they could do to process and exorcise their feelings of anger, powerlessness, and fear. They made new friends and learned local politics.
Most of all, they flocked to the underdog campaign of Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional staffer and documentary filmmaker whose campaign was initially blindsided by the groundswell. By the end, volunteers like Zeigler were sometimes giving the campaign direction, rather than the other way around—she developed a young-voter outreach plan that Ossoff’s staff adopted and funded. (Such outreach frequently involved knocking on the doors of these young adults’ Republican parents, who called the police on more than one occasion.)