Warnock and Ossoff Won Historic Senate Seats Because of Rapidly Shifting Demographics in Key Georgia Counties
John L. Dorman, Business Insider, January 12, 2021
For nearly 20 years, Georgia Democrats tried every conceivable strategy to win elections in a state that was becoming increasingly dominated by Republicans.
In the 2020 election, President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump in Georgia, securing its 16 Electoral College votes and becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since 1992.
Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who were running for the US Senate against GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively, kept both Republicans from winning 50% majorities in November, which triggered separate runoff elections on January 6.
A closer look at the results reveal several notable shifts that allowed for victories by Warnock and Ossoff.
The city of Atlanta has long been a Democratic stronghold, but for decades, its suburbs were citadels of conservatism, which provided an electoral check on the Democrats’ control of statewide politics.
Today, explosive growth, especially among racial minorities, has changed the calculus for any candidate running statewide, as politicians face legions of new voters who have little to no familiarity with longtime officeholders.
J. Miles Coleman, the associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said that Democrats have benefited from the conglomeration of voters in population centers like Atlanta.
Fulton County, anchored by Atlanta, as well as surrounding Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Clayton, Henry, and Forsyth counties, provided the nexus of Democratic strength in the runoffs.
DeKalb and Clayton, with their large middle-class Black populations, have become growing Democratic bulwarks in statewide elections and gave both Ossoff and Warnock well over 80% of the vote in the runoffs.
However, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Henry counties, longtime Republican strongholds, and Forsyth County, which is still conservative, have undergone some of the most dramatic electoral changes in the entire state.
Gwinnett County, which was nearly 90% white in 1990, has evolved into a multi-ethnic suburb that’s now estimated to be 35% white, 30% Black, 22% Hispanic, and nearly 13% Asian. During that time, the population also grew from nearly 353,000 residents to over 936,000 residents as of last year.
Warnock and Ossoff both won the county by over 20 points.
Henry County, once a rural outpost southeast of Atlanta, has rapidly diversified and gave both Warnock and Ossoff well over 60% of the vote in the runoff elections.
“When Perdue won in 2014, it was a big disappointment for Democrats,” Coleman said. “Perdue lost Henry that year, but he barely lost it. This year, he got blown out. Black voters have been very instrumental in pushing the area more Democratic.”
After emerging as the second-highest vote-getter in the November multiparty election, Loeffler quickly went on the attack against Warnock, the Black pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.
She repeatedly condemned several of Warnock’s past sermons, criticized him for his pro-choice views, and attempted to connect him with the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
An influential group of Black pastors wrote an open letter calling out Loeffler for making “reprehensible falsehoods” about Warnock and rebuking her criticisms as an “attack against the Black Church.”
“We call on you to cease and desist your false characterizations of Reverend Warnock as ‘radical’ or ‘socialist’ when there is nothing in his background, writings or sermons that suggests those characterizations to be true, especially when taken in full context,” they wrote.
Loeffler’s attacks appeared to backfire spectacularly.
Not only did Warnock maintain a strong connection with Black voters of faith on the campaign trail, but Black turnout surged across the state, especially in rural, majority-Black counties in South Georgia.