‘That white boy didn’t lose’: Ossoff’s revenge with a little help from Warnock
OPINION: After losing his 2017 bid for the U.S. House, it appeared Jon Ossoff was facing yet another loss on Jan. 5 -- thankfully for him, things turned around
“I’ve got the title for your next article!”
That was the first text I saw after my flight landed in Atlanta, Georgia when I turned on my phone. It was from a friend who’s plugged into Georgia politics who has a way with words. I planned on meeting with him during my 48 hours in Georgia to cover the Senate runoff elections and his excited text told me something interesting was brewing in the Peach State.
“Okay, what’s the title?”
It took him a while to respond, and I was increasingly curious. Having covered three elections in Georgia, the Senate races of 2021 probably had the greatest national implications if Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock actually won their races. His response surprised me.
“That White Boy ‘bout to lose: Part 2”
Putting this title, the Georgia race and this story in context requires us to go back in time. Just seven days ago, the most important political event in America was the Senate runoff in Georgia. A mere 24 hours before electoral vote counts and terrorist attacks overtook our media, all political America cared about was whether Democrats could pick up two Senate seats in Georgia, putting the upper chamber of Congress at a 50-50 split with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the deciding vote on most legislation for the foreseeable future.
The “White Boy” in question was Jon Ossoff. A 33-year-old journalist and former staffer for Civil Rights icon John Lewis, Ossoff was the founding member of the political boy band “No Direction,” a group of young white guy candidates that mainstream pussy hat-wearing “Resistance Dems” kept falling in love with despite the fact that they had paper-thin resumes and never actually won anything (the other members were Beto O’Rourke who sang back-up and Pete Buttigieg who wrote all the songs because he went to Harvard).
Ossoff became the first Resistance Poster Boy when he ran against Karen Handel in the 2017 special election for Georgia’s 6th congressional district only a few months into Trump’s first term. He raised millions as Americans desperate for a symbolic blow against Trump broke donation records. On election night in 2017, I asked my friend what he thought of Ossoff’s chances, to which he said “that white boy ‘bout to lose” which was the title of the story I wrote at the time. The argument then was that Ossoff’s campaign didn’t do enough to court Black voters and that would be essential to beating a well-connected Republican like Handel.
Jump ahead three years and his text presaged another defeat for Ossoff and a potential split election where incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue would win along with Democrat Rev. Rafael Warnock who would likely defeat Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
However, he wasn’t the only one who believed this; several men and women I spoke to the ground 24 hours before the polls opened thought there was a very real chance that Georgia would send a Republican and a Democrat to the Senate. The argument was that not only was Warnock the stronger candidate but that Loeffler was the weakest of the four candidates running. The Republican campaign confirmed this belief because while Loeffler and Perdue ran as a GOP slate, they focused almost all of their energy, racist campaign ads, and attacks on Warnock, all but ignoring Ossoff who became the Everett K. Ross to Warnock’s King T’Challa.
“If Warnock beats Loeffler by 1.5 to 2% then he’ll pull Ossoff over the line … If Warnock only beats Loeffler by .05% then Ossoff is going to lose,” was the warning I heard on a speakerphone call with a campaign insider the night before the election. In other words, that White Boy was about to lose again, unless Warnock made history. Not only would Warnock need to become the first Black man elected to the Senate from the state of Georgia, but he would have to do so with a margin big enough to help out Ossoff.
So how did the two Democrats actually win? Off the strength of a thousand boots on the ground, and Trump’s meddling from afar.
“Do you think ANY of these four sociopaths, Loeffler, Perdue, Warnock or Ossoff, care about YOU?” ranted a local conservative radio host Eric Von Heassler on 750 a.m. the Von Heassler Doctrine. “All four have sold their souls to the DEVIL!”
This wasn’t some late-night YouTube crank, this was the morning drive time radio show for conservatives in metro Atlanta. From Jan. 5, all the way through Election Day on Jan. 6, I listened to conservative local radio as I drove around the Atlanta metro area to get a feel for how Republicans were feeling about the election. Basically, they hated everybody.
Once Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger leaked arguably the second biggest recorded conversation of the Trump era, an hour-long Trump rant pressuring the secretary to illegally find votes and flip Georgia from Biden to Trump, Georgia Republicans were stuck with a lot of bad options, and local radio was venting those feelings. While this leaked conversation didn’t detail sexual assault, arguably this tape had a greater impact on Trump’s electoral fortunes.
Democrats on the other hand were hitting every corner of Georgia. I counted at least half a dozen organizations on the ground in Georgia pushing for Warnock and Ossoff that weren’t the Democratic Party. GALEO (Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials), ACLU, the New Georgia Project, and even outside groups like 1000 Women Strong were all on hand, from the downtown streets of Atlanta to the rural Southern parts of the state.
“I think now is a great time to highlight the work that Black people, and certainly Black women do for Democracy versus storm the capitol,“ said one organizer with 1000 Women Strong a few days after the election. Stacey Abrams made a stop at the Jonesboro Slutty Vegan, the super woke extremely popular vegan burger chain in the metro area, and Joe Biden held a rally at Turner field.
I watched Rafael Warnock wave at cars in the LGBTQ friendly 10th & Piedmont neighborhood while a group of trans Latino men waved signs of support. On my way back to my Airbnb, I heard Warnock doing interviews on AM 790, a Korean language only station. While Republicans griped about the process Democrats were putting in work.
Around 2 a.m. on election night it was clear that Warnock would not only beat Kelly Loeffler but that his margin would be big enough to boost Ossoff to victory as well. Warnock’s eventual 90,000-plus vote lead over Loeffler was larger than Ossoff’s lead over Perdue, for several reasons.
Mainline Republicans turned off by Loeffler’s southern cosplay MAGA act were willing to vote split ticket for Perdue and Warnock, but Ossoff, running with Warnock was able to increase his African American support by 5% and his Latino support by 28% since the November election.
My source was shocked that Ossoff managed to pull off the victory, but was pleased with all the work that organizers had done on the ground. I chose to give a nod to his quote in the article title because in the wake of a week’s worth of attacks on American Democracy I think it’s important to remember that these types of electoral victories aren’t automatic.
There is still skepticism on the ground, and America was a few percentage points from Mitch McConnell remaining as Senate majority leader and knee-capping the Biden administration. Ossoff raised tons of money, worked hard and teamed up with organizations to make a difference. The white boy didn’t lose this time, and as usual in Democratic politics, he’s got Black people to thank for it.
Have you subscribed to theGrio’s podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!
TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!