How Georgia has become a training ground for 2020 operatives

Dozens of Republican activists gathered for training sessions around Georgia followed by “watch parties” for President Donald Trump’s campaign kickoff. AJC/hand-out.

Dozens of Republican activists gathered for training sessions around Georgia followed by “watch parties” for President Donald Trump’s campaign kickoff. AJC/hand-out.

President Donald Trump’s campaign kickoff last week wasn’t just a chance to energize Republicans. It was also an opening for the national GOP to ramp up training for a core of volunteers who will help his 2020 re-election bid.

The Republican National Committee unveiled a “week of training” in Georgia and every other state that involved a series of sessions to educate activists on the art of fundraising, digital messaging and grassroots organizing.

Democrats have already launched training efforts in the state, which officials from both major parties point to as a battleground in the 2020 election.

Republicans expect to add hundreds of Georgians to the 30,000 volunteers the RNC says have already received training through a program known as the Trump Victory Leadership Initiative.

The party held more than 30 “MAGA Meet Ups” around the state to coincide with Trump’s rollout, where hundreds of Republicans traded tips about politicking. One of them was Gabby Koval, a Johns Creek student who took a year off before college to work on campaigns.

“I went to understand the policies — and how Georgia is going to get Trump re-elected,” said Koval, 19. “We covered recruitment, analyzing data and how to up our social media message to spread President Trump’s message.”

Senior Republicans say there’s a pressing need for the training. U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is seeking a second term next year, noted how nearly every Democratic contender for the White House has already visited the state because “they believe their path to the presidency runs through Georgia.”

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Perdue said, “and that’s why we’re working with local grassroots activists and Trump Victory to build the strongest ground game in Georgia’s history.”

Democrats, too, are fast boosting their training initiatives in Georgia. The Democratic National Committee launched Organizing Corps 2020 to train 1,000 college-age students in Georgia and a handful of other potential swing states.

And the National Democratic Training Committee recently ran a daylong training session in Macon to prepare candidates to run for office — and operatives to work on campaigns.

Rose Clouston, one of the group’s directors, helped shepherd dozens through separate tracks on fundraising, communications, and digital and field operations. Sarah Moody, a retired educator, drove in from Grovetown to take in the course.

She helped manage a local school board campaign last year but wants to get more involved in 2020, and she has already helped launch a Democratic women’s group in the Augusta area that she hopes will spread statewide.

“I want to learn everything there is to learn about campaign work, and I came away with little things I never really thought about,” said Moody, 72. That included new skills to track down hard-to-reach voters who are likely to support Democrats once they’re reached in person.

“I know if I’m going to manage a campaign the most important thing is meeting the voter face to face — getting out there, knocking on doors and holding town halls,” said Moody, who sees Georgia as the make-or-break state for Democrats next year.

The training comes at a pivotal time, too, for the Georgia GOP. In 2018, Republicans held every statewide office for the third midterm vote in a row, but they lost a sweep of legislative seats in the suburbs and Democrat Lucy McBath pulled off an upset against Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel.

Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer, who recently said state Republicans are "in trouble" and need to ramp up quickly, said the initiative is a key part of prepping for 2020.

“This week’s trainings will mobilize our volunteers around the state as we strengthen and grow our ground game that we’ve had in place for several election cycles,” Shafer said.

The activists are ready to put their training to use. Koval said she now plans to work on recruiting and training others with the tips she’s gleaned. And Moody is in search of more sessions to hone her skill.

“I want to know everything I can about my job. I love helping others run,” Moody said. “I’m going to attend every training that might be helpful.”

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