Black Voter Turnout In Ossoff-Handel Runoff Could Be First Step In Turning Georgia from Red to Purple

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Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff has made it a point to connect with the district’s Black voters. (Photo by Joe Raedle /Getty Images)

Why It’s So Important That Black Voters Turn Out for Tuesday, June 20, marks the beginning of the end of Georgia’s high-stakes special election, as voters head to the polls in what has shaped up to be the most expensive House race in history.

Candidates Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R) remain neck and neck in the face off for the House seat left vacant by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. But there’s one thing that could spell victory for the fresh-faced Democratic candidate: nonwhite voter turnout.

According to Atlanta-based nonpartisan group The New Georgia Project, it’s going to take a larger number of Black and minority voters at the polls than were at the primary election in April for Ossoff to snag a victory against Handel. Georgia’s 6th Congressional District has remained largely white and Republican-led for more than four decades, so nonwhite voters in particular have been encouraged to “Vote their Ossoff” this Election Day.

“Georgia is going to become the first state in the Deep South to be majority people of color,” New Georgia Project’s executive director Nse Ufot told ThinkProgress. “It’ll be the first state in the Deep South with a white minority. When you think about places like [Georgia’s] 6th Congressional District, they are changing at the same pace that the state demographics are changing. What does that mean?”

During his campaign, Ossoff, 30, made it a point to develop relationships with his African-American constituents, doing everything from attending a debate hosted by the NAACP, which Handel declined to participate in, to mingling with locals at Cobb County’s annual Juneteenth Celebration this past weekend in Marietta. Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis (D-Ga.), Ossoff’s mentor, also was in attendance.

“Juneteenth is a celebration of emancipation and it’s a celebration of freedom,” the political newcomer told African-American voters at Marietta Square on Saturday, June 17. “And one of those freedoms is your right to vote.”

Ossoff’s efforts to woo Black voters didn’t stop there, however. CNN reported that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee funneled hundreds of thousands of bucks into digital and radio ads on Black radio stations and paid $325,000 for get-out-the-vote mail fliers targeting Black voters.

In order to “Flip the 6th” back blue for the first time in over 40 years, however, Ossoff must rely on the votes of his minority constituents, according to ThinkProgress. The New Georgia Project, which works to register and civically engage local citizens, reported that nonwhite voters comprise 30 percent of the district. However, these same voters made up only 17 percent of the electorate in the April primary.

“We’ve been knocking on about 1,500 doors a day, focusing on voters of color,” Ufot said of the group’s efforts to get out the vote. “We are making sure people understand the issues. It’s not Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff on the ballot. … It is the future of Georgia politics and Black people and Latinos and Asian-Americans as a swing vote.

“All the research shows that this race is neck and neck and there are all these institutional barriers to Black people, people of color and young folks participating that we’re just trying to do everything we can to combat,” she added.

Both candidates have a lot at stake in the run-off election. A victory by Ossoff would serve as proof that President Donald Trump’s unpopularity is hurting GOP’ers up and down the ticket, according to CNN. On the other hand, if Handel wins, her victory could serve as a confidence boost for Trump and Republicans to continue pushing their conservative agenda.

Like Ossoff, officials with Handel’s campaign have also made efforts to connect with Black voters. In fact, Black district resident and chair of the Cobb County GOP Leo Smith, said he feels the Republican candidate has done a better job at reaching out to minority voters.

“Any time that any person involved in politics reaches out to people who are marginalized, people who are not getting good representation, I support it,” Smith told ThinkProgress. “But the most important thing is not just reaching out to them during a campaign. It’s what you do with them when nobody is voting, and I’m not real familiar with Jon Ossoff’s work in the community.”

Tuesday’s race is expected to be a tight one, but both candidates are seemingly ready to hear the will of Georgia’s 6th district voters.

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