Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 3, 2021, left, and Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaking in Perry, Ga., Sept. 25, 2021.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome back to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Democrats have already secured a majority in the US Senate for the next term of Congress. With 50 Democrats and a tiebreaking vice presidential vote, the only question left to answer is whether incumbent Raphael Warnock of Georgia is going to make the number 51.
With the stakes lowered, nearly all other midterm races decided and the holiday season in full swing, any experienced political observer would have told you to expect low, even dismal turnout in Georgia.
Once again, voters in the Peach State are defying expectations and showing up in record numbers to cast early ballots. Keron Blair is Chief Field and Organizing Officer for the New Georgia Project Action Fund. Keron, welcome to The Takeaway.
Keron Blair: Thank you for having me, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What is happening in Georgia? I thought y'all couldn't even give out water at the polls. What is going on down there?
Keron Blair: What is happening is so far the New Georgia Project Action Fund and our canvas and phone and text operation, we have done Achillean work to engage voters. Our canvas alone, we've knocked almost 530,000 doors in about two weeks, and we've been talking to people.
The coalition that we're a part of, we've been doing ads, we've been using social media, we've sent text messages. The operation that we are running has been really deliberate in letting Georgians know that the stakes are high and that, again, American democracy depends on the choices that our people make and folks are responding.
It is also a testament to the sophistication of the Georgia electorate that they have read the tea leaves, they understand what is at stake, and once again are rising to the moment because, quite frankly, the issues are dire. When we talk to voters, abortion, healthcare, student debt, having capable and firm and steady leadership in the Senate really matters to voters, and they are showing up to demonstrate their commitment to those values.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Basically, everything you're saying flies in the face of expectations of decades of political analysts, political scientists. The idea that voters are showing up based primarily on issues, on values, and that despite these rather extraordinary efforts to limit voting, that voters are nonetheless almost enthusiastic about an opportunity to, once again, stand in long lines. Did something change? Was there a moment that you can point to when really Georgia decided to enact and behave in a different way?
Keron Blair: The South has something to say and the South's been saying something. For us, that's a part of it. Some of it is around when we talk to voters, and again, I can't speak for every voter in Georgia, but I can talk about the folks that we're talking to. Some of what people are saying is there is a recognition that even the turnaround time for the runoff from January to December, the not being able to hand out water and other comfort items online, the reduction in the number of drop boxes.
The voters, Black, brown, young, women voters that we talk to recognize those things as expressly designed to suppress voting. I think people are enthusiastic, but they're also offended that there are those in power who thought they would not recognize those efforts and respond accordingly.
Some of it is voting as protests. You thought we weren't going to show up, and we, in fact, are. Young people showed up in high numbers primarily because, again, the coalition that we're a part of, we did real advocacy, Melissa, last week, just to get Saturday vote in.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Keron, help us understand the context of this. Are these just city folks? Is this just Atlanta showing up, or are we seeing this across the state?
Keron Blair: We are seeing this kind of turnout across the state. So far between absentee ballot requests and early in-person voting, over 800,000 Georgians have participated in this runoff election. People, the Georgia electorate, Black people, young people, brown people, women are clear that who represents Georgia in the US Senate in this moment matters.
People are clear that there are a lot of things that we get to decide together over the next little while and folks are showing up to make sure that America understands that once again Georgia is prepared to carry this democracy on our backs.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As we're talking about the notion of voting almost as protests, like, "Oh, y'all thought we weren't going to be here, but check it out. Here we are," and this notion of the big questions of democracy, but how important is the actual matchup between Walker and Warnock? The closeness of that, the fact that they're both African American men, the ways that masculinity, fatherhood, all of those questions have emerged in really fascinating ways, how much is that playing in to this turnout?
Keron Blair: I think it is to the extent that when we talk to voters again, and we've knocked a lot of doors, and we've had a lot of conversation, there is clarity for the voters that we're talking to around which of the candidates seem better prepared to show up and represent Georgia, which of the candidates are taking positions on issues that young people, for example, feel are decided and we do not need to re-litigate.
We are running a campaign called Shock the System, which is our effort to engage young Georgians. We're on college campuses. We're at the mall. We're doing skating events to have political conversations.
The reference that comes up even in the last few days is Herschel Walker's latest ad that for a lot of young people just felt deeply anti-trans and deeply anti-bodily autonomy. We're seeing young people say, "We refuse to live in a country where our trans friends and our trans loved ones continue to be under attack by the person that represents Georgia in the US Senate."
There is a sense that this match-up is also a part of what is driving turnout because people are decidedly clear about the kind and quality of leadership they need in the Senate.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I think I need you to tell me what a skate party looks like for voting.
Keron Blair: [laughs] Come to Atlanta.
Keron Blair: We will show you, for real, but it's a fun time. It is really a fun time, and we're having a lot of fun talking to young people, talking to voters, doing things that are in community and cultural as a way to say politics matters, it can be fun, and it is also about community building experience that helps people understand that what we're fighting for is not just my life but the lives of our communities and the people that we love. People are hearing that and we believe they are responding positively.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Keron Blair is Chief Field and Organizing Officer for the New Georgia Project Action Fund. Keron, thank you so much for being with us.
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