Democrats fret about Biden’s reelection chances in Georgia

Senior Georgia Democrats are raising private and public concerns that the state won’t get the same battleground treatment as Michigan, Pennsylvania and other hot spots this election cycle. (Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

Senior Georgia Democrats are raising private and public concerns that the state won’t get the same battleground treatment as Michigan, Pennsylvania and other hot spots this election cycle. (Steve Schaefer

President Joe Biden just carried Georgia’s Democratic primary with 95% of the vote. He kicked off his general election campaign last week with a fiery rally in Atlanta. He and his allies are already pouring resources into the state.

So why are some Democrats worried Georgia could fall off Biden’s radar?

After the president narrowly captured the state in 2020, senior Democrats are raising private and public concerns that Georgia won’t get the same battleground treatment as Michigan, Pennsylvania and other hot spots this election cycle.

Their fears run deep. There are no statewide down-ballot races in Georgia to help generate turnout, and GOP victories in the midterm dashed Democratic hopes of turning the state into a beachhead. Grassroots organizing efforts have taken a hit. Key Republicans are uniting behind Donald Trump despite deep fissures within their party.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, who ran six campaigns in the Atlanta suburbs and served one term in Congress, said Biden’s campaign is likely to focus more on the “white working class” in the Midwest than the voters who dominate Georgia’s more diverse, less union-oriented electorate.

“Arguably the loss of this constituency is more devastating to Democrats nationally than anything else,” Bourdeaux said. “However, this is different from the Georgia Democratic coalition.”

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, one of the most prominent Democrats in the state, warns that the Biden campaign must also invest in places such as his coastal Georgia community to repeat his victory.

And he worries that a potential strategic shift toward North Carolina, where Republicans nominated a candidate for governor with a history of hateful and antisemitic comments, could draw resources and attention away from Georgia.

“North Carolina is pivotal because they have a high-profile gubernatorial race,” Johnson said. “But Georgia should not be taken for granted or put on the back burner because Republicans have good motivation to show up in November.”

The 2024 election does not include key down-ballot races in Georgia like in 2020, when Democrats Jon Ossoff, center, and Raphael Warnock, right, ran for the U.S. Senate and won. Democrats worry that could hurt turnout in Georgia. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Biden’s campaign and its allies say fears of Georgia getting short shrift are unfounded, and it points to plans to scale up staffing and open offices across the state to match the party’s ambitions.

“I’m not worried at all. I heard from the same naysayers in 2020 and we shocked the world,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, who chairs the state party. “We’re getting the treatment as a premier battleground state, but we need to continue to do the work ourselves on the ground.”

The campaign is also dispatching important allies to shore up support. Vice President Kamala Harris has traveled to Georgia 11 times since the 2020 election. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, who crisscrossed the state over the weekend, acknowledged he’s heard from Democrats worried about the campaign’s pace.

“It’s a fair concern. People want to see a campaign that’s fully engaged and spreading the message about the administration. And the campaign hears that message,” Moore said in between stops at Black churches in Columbus.

“Now that this is firmly a two-person race,” Moore said, “you’re going to see a campaign that’s going to ramp up significantly.”

‘Steeper to climb’

Party leaders and activists say the shift is underway. More than $20 million has been spent on TV ads in Georgia, including many targeting voters of color. First lady Jill Biden launched a women’s outreach initiative in Atlanta this month, and more trips by high-profile surrogates are in the works.

“This is one of the first years that Georgia comes into the election cycle already viewed as a battleground state,” said Jonae Wartel, a veteran of the 2020 race who is now the campaign’s senior adviser in Georgia.

She said she has plenty of allies in an operation sprinkled with campaign aides with deep ties to Georgia, including Quentin Fulks, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, and Michael Tyler, his communications chief.

“Every call, every discussion I’ve had with the campaign headquarters has driven home the point that Georgia is in play,” Wartel said. “And there’s going to be a lot of activity in the month of March to put the doubters to rest.”

Fair Fight, the political organization that Stacey Abrams, left, founded and Lauren Groh-Wargo has returned to head in an interim role, used organize voters and fight Republican policies in court. But the group, once a fundraising juggernaut, has recently experienced financial troubles severe enough to lay off much of its staff. Democrats worry that could hurt their efforts to help President Joe Biden carry Georgia again this year. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Even so, many Democrats worry about structural problems. The Fair Fight political and voting rights advocacy group launched by Stacey Abrams once used its massive fundraising hauls to organize voters, pummel Republicans and wage court battles against GOP policies. Now the group is in grievous financial straits and was forced to fire most of its staffers.

Others worry turnout could lag because no down-ticket contests are on the ballot, unlike in 2020 and 2022 when U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock helped motivate voters. Likewise, none of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats is expected to be competitive in November.

“It’s not a controversial statement. Our hill is steeper to climb because unfortunately Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue aren’t in the running,” Democratic strategist David Brand said of the two GOP incumbents on the ballot in 2020 who were reviled by the party’s base.

“The fundamentals just stack up better in states where there are competitive down-ballot races,” Brand said. “It’s Political Science 101.”

Warnock himself brushes aside those concerns. He told the “Politically Georgia” podcast that he plans to help mobilize Democrats across the nation. He likes to say he comes from the state that “literally saved the whole country” in the last election cycle by voting to oust Trump and electing him and Ossoff.

“The president is in the right place,” Warnock said last week at Biden’s event in Atlanta, “because we know that the road to the White House goes through Georgia.”

‘I’m not seeing it’

Republicans, too, face steep internal divisions in a state that Trump said is a linchpin to his comeback bid.

Case in point: Republican Nikki Haley still collected more than 77,000 votes in the state’s primary — including at least 20,000 after she dropped out of the race. And Gov. Brian Kemp, who issued a tepid endorsement Tuesday of Trump, has refused to say whether he’ll campaign with him.

What’s more, there’s a belief in Democratic circles that potential third-party candidates could damage Trump more than Biden. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. drew disgruntled conservatives to a recent Atlanta event, while former GOP Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan could appeal to reluctant Trump supporters if he runs.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump faces some obstacles in his effort to win Georgia. They include the 20,000 voters who cast ballots for his GOP rival Nikki Haley in the Georgia primary after she ended her campaign. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

But the primary yielded red flags for Democrats as well. Nearly 300,000 more Georgians voted in the GOP primary than the Democratic primary. That’s partly because Republicans had an active race for the White House for part of the three-week early voting period. But Republican leaders took it as evidence their partisans were more energized.

And more than 6,000 Democrats left the ballot blank after being urged to protest Biden’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war, although it’s unclear how many of the blank ballots came from protesters. State Rep. Ruwa Romman, an organizer of the movement, said she hopes it can spur Biden to change his foreign policy approach by November.

“We’ll continue to show up. I’m a firm believer in the reverse coattails theory,” said Romman, a Duluth Democrat who is the state’s only Palestinian American legislator. “If people like me do our jobs, we’ll increase turnout.”

Bourdeaux, the former U.S. House member, said her worries go deeper. She still harbors hope that Democrats can win Georgia “just because so many moderate Republicans dislike him.” But she said that might not be enough.

“They need to vote for Biden. Maybe that happens organically, but I doubt it,” she said. “For Democrats to truly put the state in play, on their own merits, would take ferocious energy to raise the money, deliver the message and the field operations. And right now I’m not seeing it.”

Staff writer Adam Van Brimmer contributed to this report.

Former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux said Democrats need to demonstrate they will put for the energy needed to put forth President Joe Biden's message, raise money for the candidate and put together strongfield operations if they want his campaign to treat Georgia as a top battleground state. "Right now," she said, "I’m not seeing it.” Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC