Conservative Groups Lean on Ground Game in Georgia Runoff

PERRY, GA - NOVEMBER 19: (R to L) U.S. Sen. David Purdue (R-GA) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) wave to the crowd of supporters at a "Defend the Majority" rally with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agriculture Center on November 19, 2020 in Perry, Georgia. Loeffler and Purdue are facing Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in a January 5th runoff race. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
November 20, 2020

Conservative groups are spending millions to dominate in-person voter outreach ahead of Georgia's crucial runoff elections, exploiting an opening they believe was left wide open by pandemic-leery Democrats.

Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, is putting $1 million into a multi-faceted canvass that plans to knock on 500,000 doors. Women Speak Out PAC, a partner to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, is following suit with a $4 million multi-channel effort to support door-to-door outreach. And CatholicVote is putting up to $500,000 behind a campaign to turn out about 215,000 Mass-going Catholics.

"Democrats are realizing that part of the reason why the blue wave didn't happen is because those low propensity voters were never engaged through a ground game," Heritage Action executive director Jessica Anderson told the Washington Free Beacon.

The groups say there is no substitute for face-to-face engagement, especially when thousands of voters lack the time or means to participate in campaign webinars or parking lot rallies. Most Democrats retreated to digital ahead of the general election, leaving countless doorsteps open to Republican volunteers who owned the open field.

Even as President Donald Trump lost the state, down-ballot Republicans appear to have benefited from an aggressive in-person canvass. The GOP retained comfortable majorities in both chambers of the Georgia statehouse, while Democrats were left grasping at Biden's coattails.

Even though prominent Peach State progressives such as Stacey Abrams have networks in place to help Democrats compete, it's not clear that they can mobilize on doorsteps in force at this point, if they're even inclined to do so. Georgia reported over 3,000 new cases of the virus Wednesday, in keeping with a national surge in transmission.

"I think that they're behind," Anderson said. "They don't have the infrastructure in place in the way that conservatives like Heritage Action do. We've been in the state for seven years, so we were able to knock our first door last week on Monday."

Anderson said a ground game is especially important to reaching metro-Atlanta voters who lean Republican but might have voted for president-elect Joe Biden or stayed home. Initial returns suggest suburban defections from the GOP delivered Georgia to Biden, even as minority turnout stalled. Heritage Action is looking for Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, and Hall county residents with a spotty voting record and hopes to engage them on issues such as economic recovery, safety, and security.

"That's where the heartbeat of these voters are and need to be turned out," Anderson said.

Fulton and DeKalb are Democratic strongholds while Hall, which encompasses the outlying Atlanta suburbs, is solidly Republican. President Trump was competitive in Cobb and Gwinnett in 2016, but Biden won them in convincing style in 2020.

The group has also prepared a digital ad component to compliment its field efforts, which will launch Nov. 23.

Whether that battle-tested infrastructure can turn out weary voters is the decisive question of the race. Anderson said Republican voters are "down on the mat" after an exhausting general election and a statewide recount.

Other conservative groups are stepping into the breach to protect against faltering confidence among Republican voters. Tea Party Patriots is hosting training sessions for precinct workers and poll watchers.

"This election has made clear the need for transparency in our election processes," Tea Party Patriots president Jenny Beth Martin said. "Consequently, we will be conducting training sessions for poll workers and poll watchers, so we can have confidence in the outcomes."

While Biden took the state by a narrow margin, Ossoff ran almost 100,000 votes behind him. Warnock's margin was far more daunting, at over 850,000 votes behind Biden.