The Final Hours of the Georgia Runoffs Are the Longest Ones of All
You know how you felt the Friday after Election Day, when you couldn’t believe this was still going on? That the endless election season had somehow extended well past when we were all supposed to move on with our lives? Now imagine the fevered pitch of the election never relented. That it only escalated in intensity after the election. Then imagine that suddenly your neighborhood, your friends, your schools, your little corner of the world became the focus of the entire planet.
It all comes down to you, you’re constantly told. Only you can save us from this socialist/Klansman/terrorist/racist/Mitch McConnell. It invades your entire life. You cannot walk down the street, or watch a sporting event, or turn on your television without being bombarded with political messaging. And then, when it’s just about to finally be over, the President of the United States calls your Secretary of State and essentially commits treason two days before the election.
The Georgia runoff election is finally here. You will forgive Georgians both for primarily feeling relief, and also for being more than a little concerned this election is going to find a way to last another few weeks. We all live in the election now.
To be clear, no one who lives here is downplaying the immense importance of the runoff. It’s not just that control of the Senate is at stake, or that Raphael Warnock would become only the 11th Black Senator in United States history (11th!), or that Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have floored it so far into QAnon land that you half expect each of them to announce an endorsement from JFK Jr. any day now. It’s that this election is such a potentially transformational moment for the state, moving forward.
As has been well-documented, the demographics of Georgia have changed dramatically in the last decade-plus. It has become younger, more diverse, more educated, and a really appealing place to relocate if you’re a professional who’s looking to run your career far from the usual urban hubs. (That’s why my family moved to Athens from New York City seven years ago.)
Georgia has long been the state Democrats aimed to turn blue. And thanks to those demographic changes, a general disgust with Donald Trump, and the long-time efforts of Stacey Abrams and other voting rights advocates in the state, Joe Biden won the state in November—just barely. If Warnock and Jon Ossoff can pull this off, setting the stage for Abrams to win a rematch with Brian Kemp for the Governorship in 2022, Georgia could become, basically, Virginia: A former deep red stronghold gone blue that doesn’t just alter the political map nationally, but one that scrambles the playing field locally. After all, this is Georgia, the cradle of the Old South, with its mountains of confederate soldiers, and current white supremacy sects. Athens is a college town with a long history of activism in a reliably blue county, and it’s very much a model of the changing nature of the state. But, like most of the country, it is surrounded by places still hanging on to the past.
We all know the runoff is important. It is in fact so much more important to Georgians than it is to all the New Yorkers and Californians who keep calling and texting us to remind us to vote, even though we know after Tuesday we won’t hear from them again for two years. This is where we live. These are the actual senators who will be representing us. To the rest of the country, they are just numbers. Can they get the Senate to 50–50 and deal a blow to Mitch McConnell? But in Georgia, they are our elected officials.
But it has become just so much. The constant ads are one thing; there is a new Kelly Loeffler ad that accuses Warnock of having connections to both domestic and sexual abuse. It is so vile we’ve started turning the television off the second it comes on. But it’s also the unrelenting nature of it all, the sense that Georgia is some sort of petri dish where the rest of the country is conducting a dangerous experiment.
On Monday night, Donald Trump is having a rally in Dalton, where he honestly could say anything—actively telling people not to vote at all is absolutely on the table. But more to our concerns, Dalton is in Whitfield County, a place that, like much of the rest of the country, is having an absolute explosion of Covid cases right now.
And here comes Trump, presiding over yet another superspreader event, cramming as many people as possible into a small area just to stroke his own ego and wield power over his disintegrating political party. Meanwhile, some estimates have Georgia as the worst state in the country at rolling out vaccinations.
The point is, we have our own problems—and we’re having an extremely difficult time dealing with them. All this outside influence, even if it is good-hearted and well-intentioned, is just one more thing to deal with. And it can be particularly galling when you know that, come Wednesday, everyone is high-tailing it out of here. (This is how Iowans would likely feel if their caucuses had happened during the plague, I guess, instead of right before it.)
It also becoming far, far too much. I have already voted for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and I very much want them to win. And while polls are leaning in their direction, everyone on both sides remains skeptical, or maybe just terrified. I will stay up all night Tuesday waiting for a result like the rest of you. But when we have one and everyone goes back home, no matter what happens, I will be relieved. And I don’t know a single Georgian who feels differently.
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.