DECATUR, Ga. – President Trump based his re-election on a very specific vision of the American suburb: a 2020 Mayfield edition of “Leave It to Beaver,” in which residents are white, dislike minorities and prioritize their economic well-being any other concerns.
The bet lagged far behind. Mr Trump lost ground with suburban voters across the country. And especially in Georgia, where rapidly changing demographics have made it the country’s most racially diverse political battlefield, his pitch was at odds with reality.
From the inner suburbs around Atlanta to the traditionally conservative suburbs, Democrats benefited from two big changes: blacks, Latinos, and Asians moving to formerly white communities, and an increase in the number of white, higher educated moderates and conservatives who pissed off have become on Mr. Trump.
These factors helped make President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. the first Democrat to win Georgia since 1992. And the January Senate runoff will see if these Biden voters supported his agenda or simply tried to remove a uniquely divisive incumbent.
Although Mr Trump will not be voting next month, he is very much involved in the race and, despite being punished at the ballot box, has not moderated his message. The hope is, to some extent, that the pitch, which fell short of suburban voters last month, will work when it comes to democratic scrutiny of the Senate.
“Quite simply, you will decide whether your children will grow up in a socialist country or whether they will grow up in a free country,” Trump told the crowd at a rally on Saturday in Valdosta, Ga. “And I will tell you.” Do this, socialist is just the beginning for these people. These people want to go further than socialism. You want to go into a communist form of government. “
Mr Trump stood up for Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who each have different political brands that could pose a challenge to the Democrats. It is a challenge that Democrats are trying to address, especially among suburban voters, by putting Mr Trump in the spotlight.
Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate who ended up about two percentage points behind Mr Perdue and sent his race to a runoff, makes this claim at almost every campaign freeze: if the Senate stays in Republican hands, it will block the change Georgia voted for when Mr. Biden chose it.
Carolyn Bourdeaux is the only Democrat to flip a house district this year. She won in the northeast suburbs of Atlanta and, like Mr. Biden, took on her background as an ideologically moderate and non-partisan deal-maker.
“The Biden effect was likely shared ticket voters,” she said.
Runoff elections, she said, are about turnout, not voters crossing a president.
“You put your people to the vote,” she said. “One of the things you need is a real, robust base field operation.”
Ms. Bourdeaux’s victory – and Mr Biden’s – cracked a code of conduct for Democrats in the South and underscores the changed nature of the Atlanta suburban electorate that made the party successful. It was an effort initiated by neighborhood level organizers, accelerated by an unpopular president, and brought across the finish line due to changes in the inner suburbs of Atlanta and in the smaller towns of the state that showed significant fluctuations from Mr. Biden.
In Atlanta, known colloquially as the “Black Mecca” for its concentration of black wealth and political power, the proportion of white residents has grown steadily. In the suburbs, black residents who have moved outside and a diverse collection of newcomers have fueled democratic change. These include a growing Latino population, an influx of Americans from Asia, and highly educated white voters who may have supported Mr Trump in 2016 but turned against him.
The result is a swing state in which the “typical” suburban voter can take many forms. There’s Kim Hall, a 56-year-old woman who moved from Texas to the suburb of Cobb County eight years ago and attended a rally for Mr. Ossoff in Kennesaw. And Ali Hossain, a 63-year-old doctor who brags about his children and takes care of the economy; He attended an event for Mr. Ossoff in Decatur. He is also a Bangladeshi immigrant who has started organizing for state and national candidates.
“Asian and South Asian – we’re growing up here,” said Hossain. “This time it was history. When I went to the early voting, I saw thousands of people in line. People have had enough of Trump. “
In Henry County, about 30 miles southeast of Atlanta, Mr. Biden improved his party’s performance nearly five times in 2016. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton defeated Mr. Trump by four percentage points. In 2020, Mr. Biden won with more than 20 points.
Michael Burns, chairman of the Henry County Democratic Party, said he expected interest to decline from the general election to the runoff election. Instead, he has been overwhelmed by investment by national groups and more local organizers than he knows how to do.
For the runoff election “we had to turn away volunteers,” said Burns.
This is part of a bigger shift, said Robert Silverstein, a Democratic political strategist who has worked on several races in Georgia. Some believe that suburban voters are generally temperate and white, rather than members of the party’s diverse base or progressives. Mr Silverstein said that to win the runoff elections in January and keep winning in places like Georgia, Democrats need to both recharge and convince.
He noted that in 1992, when Bill Clinton ran the state, more affluent suburbs in Atlanta were “blood red”. Today, he said, the coalitions are very different.
Still, the patchwork that made the 2020 Democratic Coalition possible is nascent and fragile, and could be defeated by an energetic Republican electorate. Both Democratic Senate candidates must perform better in November when Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock defeated a divided Republican field and Mr. Ossoff ran firmly behind Mr. Biden.
Republicans are confident that their grassroots will emerge and that the prospect of a unified democratic government under Mr Biden would put off some conservatives who fear fiscal and cultural change.
The location of their campaign events is an indication of their priorities: Republicans have largely stayed away from metropolitan Atlanta in order to focus on increasing voter turnout in more rural parts of the state. Both candidates met with President Trump in Valdosta on Saturday. The city, which is near Florida and has a large military and naval community, is three hours geographically from Atlanta, but even further in terms of pace and culture.
Democrats hope Mr Trump’s involvement will spark a backlash that will help them cement voting in the suburbs. Last week, in a steady stream of public events, Mr Ossoff hammered Republicans’ response to the coronavirus pandemic against Asian American voters in Decatur, a town in DeKalb County near Atlanta. During an event near a local university in Cobb County, another changing suburban area, he called Mr. Perdue a coward for refusing to debate him and also criticized Ms. Loeffler.
“We run like Bonnie and Clyde against political corruption in America,” said Ossoff.
Several Georgia Republicans have privately expressed their discomfort with Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue, who have teamed up closely with Mr. Trump and have all but given up contacting the moderate center in favor of an all-base voter turnout strategy.
Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster in Georgia, said the erosion of Republicans in the inner suburbs – and to a lesser extent in the Conservative suburbs – had mitigated the advantage that Republicans enjoyed in the runoff election in the past. While white evangelicals and religious conservatives remain a core of the Republican base and make up a portion of the suburban electorate, some Republicans fear that such themed voters may be deterred by Senators’ willingness to delve into Trump-induced conspiracy theories, misinformation.
Mr Ayres said both sides had hurdles to overcome before January. Republicans have a president who sows discord within their party, and Democrats need to mobilize communities that normally held non-presidential elections. You cannot rely on the same coalition that emerged in November.
“Are they now permanent democratic voters? No, not at all, ”he said. “They are in transition and have been deterred in large part by the behavior of the president.”
Both the Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party of State and outside groups have made daily efforts to register and mobilize voters – again. Democrats have also taken note of polls showing that Mr Ossoff is worse off than Dr Perdue against Mr Perdue. Warnock against Mrs. Loeffler.
Few expect the decline to be significant enough that the parties will end up sharing the seats in the Senate. Far more likely are two Democratic victories or two Republican wins, a contest that depends on whether Liberals can compete with a energetic Conservative electorate that has often been insurmountable in low-turnout elections in the state.
“The demographics are definitely changing. And the whites, the better educated voters in Fulton and Cobb counties, turned very quickly against Trump, ”said Democratic strategist Silverstein. “As a democratic agent, I hope it stays that way. But that’s the challenge here. There are still plenty of Republicans in these suburbs. “
Last week in Alpharetta, north of Atlanta, a “Stop the Steal” protest underscored the chaotic political landscape of the state and sent a mixed message to voters in the suburbs.
“We’re not going to vote on any other machine made by China on January 5th,” said L. Lin Wood, the attorney who has become a conservative hero in recent weeks by telling the president’s unsubstantiated claims Electoral fraud repeated. He urged Mr. Perdue and Mrs. Loeffler to be more determined to overturn the election.
At Mr. Ossoff’s event in Kennesaw, some of his followers found statements such as Mr. Woods concern and a sign that every part of their state – the cities, suburbs and rural areas – is changing in ways that show that Georgians are further apart are removed than ever.
Tamekia Bell, a 39-year-old who had returned to the northwestern suburb of Smyrna after years in the Washington area, said it was up to the voters who delivered for Mr Biden in November to deliver again.
“We feel that hope,” said Ms. Bell. “It won’t mean anything if Biden comes in there and can’t do anything.”