On the first day of December, I opened my laptop to watch Ossoff and Warnock speak to metro Atlanta chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Kappa Alpha, two venerable Greek organizations for Black students. It seemed like a chance for Ossoff to ride Warnock’s coattails a bit; among the illustrious past members of A.P.A. is Warnock’s legendary predecessor at Ebenezer. Ossoff, who’s thirty-three, grew up in the suburbs northeast of Atlanta and attended a local private school before going to Georgetown and the London School of Economics. He sat, a tad rigidly, in his home office, and spoke, as he tends to do, somewhat grandly—about joining “the political arena at this moment in history” and about the mentorship of the late congressman John Lewis, whom he first met in his teens. He described his investigative film work at a “twenty-eight-year-old company.” He also talked about housing and health care, student debt and equal justice under the law.
Warnock speaks with a rousing fluency that befits his day job. Earlier, I had asked him whether he saw Biblical precedent for the country’s predicament, and he’d told me about sermons he preached after the pandemic began, paraphrasing a passage from the Book of Joel—“Even upon the slaves, the most marginalized members of the human family, I will pour out my spirit,” the verse reads, more or less—and offering a gloss: “There is a word of hope even in the midst of this sick darkness.” He spoke to A.P.A. and A.K.A. about growing up as the eleventh of twelve children in a Savannah housing project and getting a Pell Grant, calling himself “the embodiment of what happens when personal responsibility meets good public policy.” He talked about COVID-19 and “COVID-1619,” by which he meant “the ongoing struggle with race and justice in our country.”
Warnock and Ossoff have raised more than two hundred million dollars since late October. You cannot turn on a television or radio without hearing their ads, many of which emphasize Loeffler and Perdue’s twin stock-trading scandals and the failure of the Senate, until recently, to secure additional pandemic relief. Volunteers outside the state are calling, texting, and sending postcards to Georgia residents. (I have received more handwritten postcards asking me to vote than holiday cards from friends and family.) Various show-business people—Pearl Jam, Eva Longoria, the cast of “Elf”—are touting Warnock and Ossoff on social media and hosting virtual get-out-the-vote events.
I’ve heard the occasional grumble from fellow-Georgians about the deluge, and there are those who believe that the waves of out-of-state cash in other Senate races made it easier for Republicans to portray Democratic challengers as beholden to their party’s leadership or to its left wing. Andrew Yang, who announced in November that he was temporarily moving to Georgia, told me that “some very well-known folks” had said they wanted to join him. But then, he said, there were “crosscurrents” from “various folks in the Democratic party, about not wanting to nationalize the race,” and “people who were on the fence about it just stood down.” Some Democrats feared energizing the other side, he said. “So you’re resisting trying to maximize our vote because you’re afraid it’s going to maximize their vote?” he asked.
We spoke in early December, as Yang knocked on doors in southwest Atlanta with Martin Luther King III. The pair, in suits and masks—Yang’s said MATH—passed an elderly man bathing in his yard with a bucket. They waved and continued on. Yang said that he’d sold knives door-to-door as a teen in Westchester. “I don’t know how we’d do it without you here, Martin, though,” he added, chuckling—and feeling, perhaps, like a bit of an outsider. At two of the first five homes they visited, people told King that they had been his childhood playmates. (He wasn’t sure that all of them recalled correctly.) Few recognized Yang, who participated in seven Presidential primary debates.
In between stops, Yang pulled up a CNN op-ed on his phone, which argued that Democrats should treat the races as national campaigns. “ ‘Move the Biden transition headquarters to Atlanta,’ ” he read aloud. He and King said, in near unison, “Yes!”
Yang went on, “ ‘Send in the ex-presidents.’ ”
Fraga told me that nationalizing the races had been a boon for Democrats in the fall, that it spurred interest and brought in money that helped drive turnout. Ufot said that things like the postcard barrage simply work. “It’s part of our ‘ten touches,’ ” she said, explaining that receiving ten reminders about an election increases the likelihood that a registered voter will actually show up.
Yang stepped up to another porch and was soon talking with an elderly man in a mask. He introduced King—which triggered a story. “You know,” the man said, “I got registered April 4, 1969.”
“Wow,” King said, with real surprise. His father was assassinated exactly one year earlier.
“God is good,” Yang said. “Well, fantastic. Let’s win this one.”
“We gonna win it,” the man said. “This a good thing y’all doing. Hit the streets. Let the people see faces.” The man mentioned that he had a picture of Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor, knocking on doors to get out the vote fifty years ago.
After they left the porch, King explained to Yang who Jackson was.