Georgia Democrats are in a door-knocking, lit-dropping frenzy. Many of them are focused on turning out voters in the upper-middle-class neighborhoods of suburban Atlanta—the voters who helped flip the state to Joe Biden in November, and who are widely considered the key group for Democrats to reach. But not Ben Davidson. Ben Davidson is hitting the apartments.
The 34-year-old sales manager, one of the leaders of a local progressive group called Georgians for Registration and Increased Turnout, or GRIT, has spent virtually all his free hours since Election Day inside the diverse and mostly low-income apartment complexes dotting the southeast edge of Cobb County, a big suburb northwest of Atlanta. At each door, Davidson asks residents about COVID-19—whether they’ve still got a job, plenty of food, enough money for rent. He asks whether they’d like to get another $1,200 check from the government. They typically respond with something along the lines of “Hell yeah,” Davidson told me. So he tells them to vote for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on January 5. “If we want COVID relief, we have to get these guys in office,” he says to the residents.
Progressives such as Davidson have a theory for Democratic success that goes something like this: If candidates campaign on a populist economic agenda that appeals to all working-class Americans, they’ll see a boom in turnout. So far, that theory has not borne fruit, at least not on any mass scale. But the Georgia runoffs, which will determine Senate control, could be different. Democrats have something specific and concrete to offer voters that they didn’t have in elections past: When they win back the chamber, everyone gets a check. If groups like Davidson’s can boost turnout, they’ll have validated progressives’ theory—and demonstrated that Democrats can win suburban voters even without Donald Trump on the ballot.
The runoffs will likely be close, if the vote tallies from November are any indication. But Democrats face two major obstacles to victory: Trump, a singular catalyst for left-wing turnout, will be on the sidelines in this election, and the Democratic Senate candidates underperformed Biden in Georgia. One theory for this underperformance is that a lot of well-off, college-educated suburbanites who voted Biden for president backed Republicans down the rest of the ballot.