‘Fired up’ Democrats at Georgia gathering get to work ahead of election

GOP holds annual fish fry in Perry on same day as rivals meet in Columbus

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

COLUMBUS — Jo Handy-Sewell painted her nails a shiny blue for Saturday’s state Democratic Convention. Her shirt — also blue — was awash in buttons for candidates and causes. And from a bench outside the convention hall, she called out greetings to the party’s brightest stars as they hustled in after the lunchtime break.

Handy-Sewell is aware that polls show some Democrats lagging behind. She knows President Joe Biden’s approval ratings are low. Nonetheless, she is confident her party can once again pull out a win in November, cementing Georgia as a Democratic state.

“Democrats have always had hope. Sometimes that it is the only thing we have had — hope and faith,” the DeKalb County resident said. “And sometimes when everything looks the worst, we are still working and praying for the best.”

If Saturday’s convention needed to do one thing, it was rally the party’s faithful ahead of the November election, now just a little more than two months away. Turnout will be critical for Democrats to win.

The odds aren’t in their favor. Inflation is high. And although Biden’s approval rating has ticked up recently it remains well below 50%. Additionally, the party in power traditionally loses seats in the midterms. Georgia Republicans, still smarting from the losses they suffered in 2020, are intent on proving that Georgia is still a GOP stronghold.

As Democrats met in Columbus, top Republicans gathered in Perry for the GOP’s annual fish fry. The event, which serves up catfish and hush puppies, brought together Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who hadn’t been spotted on the campaign trail together until Saturday.

Republicans have blamed Democrats for the nation’s wobbly economy, which polls show is top of mind for many midterm voters.

But buoyed by a recent string of accomplishments, Democrats say have delivered on key campaign promises — from congressional approval of a climate package to executive action canceling some student debt for millions of borrowers.

They also say public sentiment over the rollback of abortion rights is energizing their voters.

So, on Saturday, Democratic candidates up and down the ballot served up fiery speeches aimed at creating the same urgency and enthusiasm as they had two years ago when voters delivered the state for Biden and tipped the balance of power in the U.S. Senate by electing Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

They also touted the diversity in their slate of statewide candidates. On the ticket are six Black candidates, two white candidates and one Asian American.

“We represent what the next chapter of American history is going to look like,” said Nakita Hemingway, who is running to become the state’s first Black and first woman agriculture commissioner.

Credit: Steve Schaefer / AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer / AJC

Warnock, the morning’s marquee speaker, urged voters to get involved as Democrats launch what they called a a week of action. The U.S. senator will be on a bus tour all week, beginning with a South Georgia swing on Monday.

“I’m glad you’re in this room, but the work happens outside of this room,” he told the delegates. “Today we stand on this mountaintop together. Tomorrow we go down in the valley.”

Warnock touted his work on things like helping to cap insulin costs at $35 a month. The measure passed, but for Medicare recipients only. Republicans blocked a broader measure.

“I mean who would dare block providing insulin for people who need insulin?” Warnock asked. “Who does that? And, I’m sorry, but I’m a pastor, where do they go to church?”

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Warnock is locked in a tight reelection bid against Walker, the former University of Georgia football star.

During a lunchtime break, delegates and others filtered off into rooms to write campaign postcards or learn how to work a phone bank. A session on abortion was followed by a 10-minute break where aides with clipboards circulated in the crowd, getting attendees to sign up then and there to volunteer for abortion rights activities.

The afternoon featured the candidates for statewide constitutional offices.

Some of the sharpest attacks of the day came from lieutenant governor hopeful Charlie Bailey, who reminded the crowd that his opponent, Republican Burt Jones, was on a slate of fake electors now being investigated by the Fulton County district attorney.

“If you seek to overthrow the United States government, you are not fit, you are not qualified to hold any office in this country,” Bailey said.

Credit: Steve Schaefer / AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer / AJC

Closing out the event was Stacey Abrams, who is in a rematch with Kemp.

The gubernatorial candidate urged supporters to look past polls, which show her trailing Kemp by a small margin.

“It doesn’t matter what the polls say, it’s what the people say that we need to pay attention to,” Abrams told the crowd, which that on their feet as she spoke.

“We’re going to defy all the naysayers and take our state all the way back.”

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Abrams blasted “Brian Kemp’s Georgia,” calling it one filled with economic disparity. She criticized him for failing to use the state’s record $5 billion surplus to help Georgians who are hurting.

Abrams’ campaign is also planning a busy week of campaign events beginning with a roundtable on Sunday with sexual assault survivors.

Gloria Jenkins, who is leading an effort to turn out senior citizens at the polls, is a believer.

”I’m fired up!” she said. “Ready for action.”