Georgia Has Been Blue for a Long Time
I moved to Athens, Georgia from New York City in 2013 and found myself, much to my own surprise, eager to get involved in local politics. It was hard not to. I’d never lived in a red state before — though I’d certainly grown up in the red area of a blue state—but the possibility of Georgia seemed limitless. There was radically shifting demographics, a growing locus of Black power and influence in Atlanta and its surrounding areas, and an increasing number of media and entertainment professionals, people like me, looking to build our careers outside the traditional hubs of New York and California in a place with great schools, reasonably priced real estate, a diverse and vibrant community and, yeah, lovely weather just about the whole year round. It felt like the Old South—the Georgia of Stone Mountain, of systemic voter suppression, of good ole boys making campaign advertisements featuring pointing shotguns at people—was receding and a new vanguard, a new Georgia, was being ushered in. It was thrilling. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
But there was setback after setback, from Jason Carter (Jimmy’s grandson) getting smoked in his race for governor in 2014 to Michelle Nunn’s (Sam’s daughter) loss to David Perdue for the Senate that same year to Jon Ossoff’s high-profile congressional run (and loss) in 2017 to, the worst cut of all, Stacey Abrams’ razor-thin, highly controversial loss to Brian Kemp for the governorship in 2018. (And those are just the ones I was here for.) There were longtime activists here who thought they’d never get there. There was a great quote from a Republican political consultant in Georgia that laid it out clearly: “Until Democrats win a statewide election, we’re not a purple state. We may be a purpling state. But until they win, this is a red state.” That sentiment was shared widely among people who had been invested in this a lot longer than I have. None of this mattered until we got the big win.
On Tuesday night, Georgia got the big win.
The ramifications of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff being elected to the United States Senate have staggering ramifications for the next four years—and likely the next few decades—of American life. They are also a firm and arguably definitive rebuke to President Donald Trump and the festering rot of Trumpism, a powerful case for both the restorative power of government and the fundamental appeal of basic human decency. All the celebrating you’re doing in places that aren’t Georgia, please keep doing it: It’s an incredible victory, and we should all be elated, or at the very least deeply relieved, that it happened.
The runoff results are a powerful case for both the restorative power of government and the fundamental appeal of basic human decency.
But I can’t help but want to keep the focus on the state I live in and love and on the statement it made Tuesday night—not about the makeup of the Senate, but the makeup of Georgia itself. All the tricks that are supposed to work for Georgia politicians, that have worked for them for decades — hopping in a pickup truck, wearing all denim, denouncing “socialism,” carrying around shotguns, being really freaking racist — they all fell short this time. Or, better to say: They just weren’t enough. They appealed to the same Georgia voters who have always been there, who are there in every state but are often associated with Georgia. Perdue and Loeffler did what you are supposed to do: They got out their Georgia voters.
The problem—the reason they lost—is that there are now more of us than there are of them. There always were, of course, but now, thanks in very large part to the efforts of Stacey Abrams and her fellow voting activists, more of us are voting now. Abrams’ signature insight, hard-won from years in the political trenches, was that the “red state” structure of Georgia politics was not because of inherent demographics, but because those in power had spent decades making sure the voices of the powerless were not heard. Abrams worked on voter registration, on fighting against the clearing of voter rolls, on lifting up the people who had so long been pushed aside. It was not just Abrams — Nsé Ofut of the New Georgia Project is often overlooked in her voter registration efforts as well as LaTosha Brown of Black Votes Matter — but she was the face of the movement. It was her work that helped lead to this point. Her central argument—that this is what Georgia has always been; we just had to get them to show their faces to the world — looks more true by the day. It has never looked more true than it does today. Now there is definitive proof.
There is still plenty of work to do. For all the (justifiable) praise that he has received for standing up to Trump’s dime-store fascism, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has openly endorsed potential laws that would restrict mail-in voting, citing the possibility of widespread fraud that he just finished telling us his office had found no evidence of. Current Gov. Brian Kemp has arguably built his entire career on voter suppression, and with good reason: As we now can see, that is how he and his party have stayed in power for all this time. The fight is far from over. Georgia might not be a red state anymore, but it’s very much in the interests of local power that it continues to look like one.
Those caveats aside, when Joe Biden wins your state, and then you win two Senate seats just two months later, it’s difficult to deny the blueness of Georgia. Particularly when, in two years, Abrams is almost certainly going to get a rematch against Kemp (if he can survive the Republican primary) in the governor’s race, one she barely lost in 2018 and is now perfectly positioned to win. There are currently 16 states with two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington). If Abrams can beat Kemp — and if Warnock can win the Senate seat, he has to run again in two years — Georgia will become the 17th. That’s not a red state. That’s not even a purple state. That’s a blue state. The dreams that so many Georgians have had their entire lives have at last come true. I’m so proud to live here I could burst.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.