Georgia’s on the mind this fall as both Senate races head to winter run-offs. The contests pit Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff, and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was nominated to fill a vacant seat just last year, against Raphael Warnock.
At first glance, the two Democrats appear to be dream candidates. In Ossoff, team blue has a young man with a Justin Trudeau look and an economics education from London running against an older incumbent. In Warnock, they have a black Baptist minister who literally leads Martin Luther King Jr’s old church running against a never-elected incumbent accused of insider trading.
Historically, Georgian Democrats have toed a more conservative line. A Georgian congressman was a co-founder of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats, for example, and the last Democratic senator to represent the state was Zell Miller, who famously growled “nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators” in a fiery Republican National Convention speech endorsing George W. Bush over John Kerry.
But southern Democrats don’t run quite like they used to. Ossoff first came onto the scene in a special election in 2017 with a run for Congress, raising more than 95 percent from out-of-state donors, mainly Californians and New Yorkers. The year after, Stacey Abrams launched her ridiculous, never-conceded 2018 run for governor, landing frequent appearances on “The View” and other popular shows despite her failure.
Since these races, the major contests in the changing state have routinely become marquee-topping, left-wing, Hollywood and New York-funded events, thus far ending in failure, not unlike Texas’s blue hopes. In 2017, for example, despite running “the most expensive House contest in U.S. history,” Ossoff lost. Now he’s back with the same playbook, and in October he raised more than 87 percent of his funds from out of state, besting Warnock’s nearly 80 percent. On Monday, both candidates attended their first fundraiser of the run-off — with Silicon Valley elites in a San Francisco restaurant.
So what about these two Democrats attracts so much progressive money while Ossoff, for one, denies support for Green New Deal, defunding police, Medicare for All, and packing the Supreme Court? Check out Ossoff’s Instagram account for a starter, where he crows about his wife’s testimony against the Georgie heartbeat bill that protects babies with a beating heart. Then dig into his actual positions.
He’s told Georgians he supports the Paris Climate Accord, yes, but he also supports “historic infrastructure plan that includes massive investments in clean energy, energy efficiency, and environmental protection.” “A huge infrastructure plan, you say?” the left-wing New Republic joked. “One that reduces emissions while also providing well-paying jobs? That sounds mighty familiar.”
Similarly, he stands against defunding police while saying he’d “take a look” at the funding for police departments. He supports “comprehensive immigration reform,” including amnesty. He doesn’t like gun rights much either. Sounds right by California.
So how about Warnock? He’s carefully crafted himself after Martin Luther King Jr., attending the same college and now leading the same church. Like King, he’s an activist and a preacher, but unlike King, his sit-in arrest was over Obamacare — and he believes abortion “is consistent with” the Bible.
Warnock also loves Rev. Jeremiah Wright, calling his “God damn America” speech “a very fine sermon.” As recently as the ’90s, the New York City church Warnock pastored at chanted Fidel Castro’s name in jubilation, welcoming a dictator who closed churches, silenced priests, called Catholics “social scum” and even banned Christmas. He stayed with the church, actually rising in its ranks.
While he claims he is against defunding the police, Warnock’s said they have “a gangsta and thug mentality” and that it’s “often those who are sworn to protect cause more trouble.” And then his senior adviser thinks defunding “will actually make us safer.” While he’s to the left of Ossoff on packing the Supreme Court, he sure seems to share Ossof’s hope he beats the president’s supporters so badly they “never show [their] face in public again.”
Democrats face an uphill battle in both Senate races, with anti-Trump turnout non-existent in early January, but both races are still very competitive. “That Jon Ossoff’s message seems moderate,” Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote in 2017, “is a sign of how far Democrats have shifted.” If that message can work in the strange, only-recently conservative state of Georgia, will serve as an important signal to national Democrats — and could decide control of the Senate.