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Georgia Democrats brace for a 'tough fight ahead' in keeping the state blue in 2024

After Biden's breakthrough in the battleground state in 2020, activists fear a drop-off in enthusiasm ahead of a rematch with Trump.
U.S. President Joe Biden's campaign event in Atlanta
President Joe Biden at a campaign event at Pullman Yards in Atlanta on Saturday.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters file

ATLANTA — Georgia was the site of Democrats’ biggest breakthrough in the 2020 election, with Joe Biden becoming the party’s first presidential nominee to win the state in 28 years. 

But four years later, some of the organizers who helped orchestrate the history-making victory acknowledge Democrats face an uphill climb to keep the state blue as they prepare for a rematch with Donald Trump. 

“This is certainly not going to be a walk in the park,” said LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of the voting rights group Black Voters Matter. “I think that we certainly have a tough fight ahead of us.”

Brown is among the activists credited with helping turn out Black and younger voters, who helped carry Biden to victory in the state in 2020.

But she said the mood is much different among those voters this time around, as a sense of fatigue with the political process has set in.

“You get to the tipping point where people really want to see change, and I think the rate of change for things they want to see is not happening as fast as they want to see it,” Brown said.

“It’s sobering to deal with the reality of how slowly change actually happens,” she added. 

In 2020, Biden won Georgia by just 11,779 votes, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Two months after Biden’s victory, Georgia voters sent two more Democrats — Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff — to the U.S. Senate in runoff elections, flipping the state’s two seats and control of the Senate from the GOP.

At the time, Georgia was heralded as an example to other local Democratic parties of how to organize and turn out voters in traditionally red states. 

But four years later, early polls suggest Biden has lost significant ground in Georgia. A survey from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January showed him trailing Trump by 8 percentage points among registered voters in the state.

The poll also found that Biden’s approval rating was well underwater, including among independents. And 10% of Black voters said they didn't plan to vote in the presidential election.

A CBS News/YouGov poll released this week showed a slightly tighter race, with Trump leading Biden by 3 points among likely voters, within the margin of error.

Ahead of Georgia’s presidential primary election this week, Biden and Trump held competing rallies in the state, underscoring its importance for each campaign’s path to victory.

Georgia is also guaranteed to be in the spotlight for another reason: It is home to one of four criminal cases against Trump, who faces charges in Fulton County alleging he tried to overturn the results of the state’s 2020 presidential election.

And while Democrats acknowledge that the case could prove beneficial in their efforts to turn out voters in Georgia, some strategists point to several missed opportunities for the party to drum up enthusiasm. They include passing over Atlanta as the location for this summer’s Democratic National Convention, opting instead for Chicago.

But Kendra Cotton, CEO of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, an affiliate of the group founded by former gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, said enthusiasm isn’t the best marker to measure turnout.

Who cares whether folks are enthusiastic? What you care about is whether or not they’re going to actually get out to vote,” Cotton said. “Because what I can tell you is in the Southern region, rare are the elections where people are super enthusiastic about candidates, but we vote nonetheless.”

Both she and Brown said their approach will be to focus less on the candidate and more on empowering people to know their votes can change their circumstances. Cotton said it has been challenging to inform voters about the Biden administration’s accomplishments, and she urged Biden’s surrogates to tell more personal stories of people who have benefited from his policies.

“We know it’s going to take many more touches, door knocks, to talk to people to ensure that while they may not be as excited about voting for either candidate, they will be resolved, nonetheless, to show up and cast the ballot,” Cotton said.

Republicans say the lack of excitement for Biden has provided them with an opening to reclaim the state in November. 

Martha Zoller, a longtime Georgia Republican strategist, points to Georgia’s 2022 midterms as evidence that that goal is well within reach. Republicans won every nearly statewide race that year, with the notable exception of Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

Zoller, who cast an early primary ballot for Nikki Haley, who has dropped out of the presidential race, said the message Trump decides to tour with will be key in winning back the Republican voters who have soured on him — especially those in suburban Atlanta counties like Gwinnett and Cobb, which proved crucial to Biden’s victory.

“You’ve got to get back the people like me that you lost: a suburban woman who voted for Trump twice, gave money to him, but after Jan. 6 just really didn’t want any part of it anymore,” she said.

“The key really is going to be can he be positive enough? It’s tone. It’s looking forward and not backward,” she added. “There are good surrogates throughout the state that can take the message out. And if they can do that, then it’s going to be different, because it’s just 12,000 votes. That is an easy number to overcome, especially if this time the Democrats aren’t as excited about voting for Joe Biden.”

Democrats acknowledge Biden won Georgia under a unique set of circumstances in 2020, between the pandemic and the social unrest fueled by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.

But Fred Hicks, a political consultant in Georgia, said the party would ultimately unite around one cause: beating Trump.

“Donald Trump is the best tool that Democrats have in our arsenal to win 2024,” Hicks said. “As long as Donald Trump is on the ballot in Georgia, Democrats have a chance.”