Opinion by Arick Wierson and Bradley Honan
Updated: Thu, 03 Dec 2020 14:43:43 GMT
Editor's Note: Arick Wierson is a six-time Emmy Award-winning television producer and former senior media adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He advises corporate and political clients on communications strategies in the US, Africa and Latin America. He tweets from @ArickWierson. Bradley Honan, CEO of Honan Strategy Group, a Democratic polling and analytics firm, has advised the campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Tony Blair and leading global companies. He tweets from @BradleyHonan. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion at CNN.
If the next five weeks were to have a theme song, at least in political circles, it would be "Georgia On My Mind," a song made popular by Ray Charles in 1960. With two competitive US Senate runoffs slated for January 5 in the Peach State, the fate of the Joe Biden presidency hangs in the balance.
So, it would behoove Biden -- and Democrats across the nation -- to have Georgia on their minds.
Put simply, if Democratic candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff do not win their races against Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively, Biden will have to contend with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who could prevent any meaningful liberal legislation from passing. McConnell could also block Biden from confirming key cabinet picks or White House staff. Given McConnell's take-no-prisoners approach to politics, Biden would be forced to govern through executive orders or compromise with the wily GOP Senate leader every step of the way.
If Biden is to have any chance of bringing to fruition many of the campaign promises he made, he needs to win both of these races -- something far easier said than done.
Aside from Biden, who won the state by fewer than 13,000 votes, Georgia has voted for only two Democrats in presidential contests since 1964 -- Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1992. And it's been nearly 25 years since Georgians last elected a Democrat to the US Senate.
So, what should Democrats do? We have some ideas.
1. Turn the Georgia races into national campaigns.
We live in solidly blue and affluent states -- New York and Minnesota -- but so far we have not heard one peep about being asked to donate -- or do anything -- on behalf of either of the two Democratic candidates in Georgia. If winning these two seats is so crucial to the success of the Biden presidency -- and we believe it is -- Ossoff, Warnock and the DNC should be mobilizing Democrats from coast to coast.
Leaders in both the Ossoff and Warnock camps should take a page from Jamie Harrison, a former Democratic Senate candidate in South Carolina, and make this a national campaign. Although Harrison came up short, he was able to raise more than $100 million in his recent campaign, 90% of which came from out-of-state donors, proving that there are ample resources to be culled nationwide for hotly contested races with national implications.
For donors who are already tapped out, enlisting them to make millions of get out the vote calls to ensure every Georgia Democrat knows the nation is counting on them could be just the nudge that drives high turnout on Election Day.
2. Move the Biden transition headquarters to Atlanta.
Why Biden is still hanging out in Wilmington, Delaware, or Washington, DC, when the future of his presidency will be decided hundreds of miles to the south in Georgia defies political logic. Biden should set up shop -- at least temporarily -- in Atlanta and shine a spotlight on the vast implications of the two runoff contests. As a freshly-minted President-elect who comes into office on the heels of a record-breaking vote -- and accompanied by Kamala Harris, the first woman of color as his vice president -- a relocation to the state would be a bold move for an administration with equally big aspirations.
Biden undoubtedly has advisers telling him to stay away from Georgia, persuading him he will suffer politically if his direct involvement doesn't deliver a win in these races -- but that is shortsighted. If Democrats don't win these two races, or at least one of them, Biden and Harris will suffer far more damaging political consequences.
3. Send in former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
The Ossoff and Warnock campaigns need to enlist former Presidents Bill Clinton, the "Son of the South," and Barack Obama. Although Clinton has been sidelined from campaigning for Democratic causes a bit in recent years, his role as the nation's "explainer in chief" could be particularly helpful to help both native Georgians and Democrats from across the country understand the enormous stakes at play in the runoff. Clinton could also play a particularly critical role in persuading White voters in the suburbs -- a cohort, according to exit polls, Trump narrowly won in November, 51% to 48%.
Meanwhile, Obama, who is by far the most popular living President, could focus on galvanizing the state's Black voters -- who comprise almost a third of the state. Obama has already voiced a new Ossoff ad, but the former President needs to show up in person as well to keep enthusiasm high and drive voter turnout.
4. Campaign against Trump, Loeffler and Perdue.
Democrats need to put Trump back on the ballot. He was a powerful force in turning out both Democratic voters and Republican-leaning suburban voters disgusted with his rhetoric and tweets. And Loeffler and Perdue, who remain Trump's faithful enablers, should constantly be forced to defend their loyalty to an inept leader who cannot accept a peaceful transfer of power. In other words, Ossoff and Warnock need to tap into that same primal fear of another Trump presidency that motivated voters in November.
Such a move would likely exacerbate a rift within the state GOP about how best to deal with Trump. Republicans are still fighting over the state's election results, blaming each other and casting doubt on its voting system. That Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are now actively engaging in the Georgia runoff -- traveling there in support of Loeffler and Perdue -- provides the perfect setting to tie the two incumbents to the President whom Georgians just voted out of office.
5. Focus on the virus as the first step in rebuilding the economy.
Combatting Covid and rebuilding a lagging economy are not mutually exclusive. According to exit polls, on Election Day, voters in Georgia were more likely to cite the need to contain the coronavirus virus (51%) than rebuild the economy (44%). However, Ossoff and Warnock should double down on the linkage between the two, emphasizing the importance of containing the virus as a precursor to rebuilding the economy, and in doing so, drawing attention to the more than 8,800 Georgians who have perished from Covid.
Democrats used Covid to hit Trump during the general election, but once Biden assumes office, they effectively will own not only the pandemic response but getting the economy back on its feet. They need to be talking about the two issues in the same breath.
If Democrats don't win these two races, Biden and Harris will be in for a long four years. The party must work hard to motivate Democratic voters in Georgia and like-minded Democrats across the country, a tall feat given that many of them are breathing a sigh of relief now that Trump has been defeated. But that sigh of relief cannot turn into complacency in this critical special election.
In "Georgia on My Mind," Charles sings that "The road leads back to you, oh, oh, Georgia, Georgia." It's an apropos metaphor for President-elect Joe Biden, whose ultimate success hinges on a road through Georgia.