Inside the Grassroots Effort to Win Georgia’s 2 Senate Runoff Races

Inside the Grassroots Effort to Win Georgia’s 2 Senate Runoff Races


Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff appear to have defeated Georgia’s incumbent Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, giving the Democrats a majority in the U.S. Senate.

Georgia’s two runoff elections were required under state law after no candidate received a majority of the vote Nov. 3.

Janae Stracke, the grassroots director of Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of The Heritage Foundation, has been on the ground in Georgia for weeks to mobilize voters. 

Stracke joins “The Problematic Women Podcast” to explain what it takes to run a grassroots campaign effort. She also tells what she heard from Georgia voters who are concerned over the apparent direction of their state. 

Plus, we break down a surprisingly pro-life Amazon Prime show, and what you may want to add to your watch list in 2021. And as always, we’ll crown our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Virginia Allen: On Tuesday, Georgia had two runoff elections between Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

This election was a huge deal, not just because it determined who would represent Georgia in the Senate, but also because if Democrats won both seats that would essentially give the Democrats control of the Senate. So, to help us understand the importance of this election, what happened on Tuesday, and what it takes to run a grassroots campaign effort, is Janae Stracke. The grassroots director of Heritage Action for America. Janae, welcome back to the show.

Janae Stracke: Thank you. It’s always good to be on.

Allen: Well, it’s so good to have you back. We’re so glad that she’s taking the time to chat with us this morning. Janae, Heritage Action for America, or HAFA as we often call it, is the grassroots arm of The Heritage Foundation. So, you all actually engage in political campaigns, and that’s exactly what you’ve done in Georgia over the course of the past two months.

So, let’s begin with the most pressing news. And that is, what happened in Georgia on Tuesday? Now, I do want to let our audience know, we’re having this conversation Wednesday morning. So of course, information and results are going to continue to come out the rest of the day Wednesday into Thursday morning. But can you let us know what your thoughts are on the results right now?

Stracke: Yeah, that’s right. So, as you said, I’m on the ground here in Georgia. I’ve been here pretty much every weekend and then some for the last seven weeks, and we’ve been down here with our grassroots organization—our grassroots, which we call Sentinels.

We’ve been on the ground door-knocking, making phone calls, sending text messages, all sorts of stuff, we’ve been down here doing. And we can talk a little bit more about that later, but an initial analysis from last night: It does look like Kelly Loeffler has lost her race. David Perdue is still in the running, there is at least one county that still needs to be counted, and as well as absentee and, I believe, military ballots.

So, it’s really close. And I think we knew going into this, it was going to be razor-thin.

That’s why having our grassroots down here and all the time, money and energy that we spent on this race was so crucial and was so important because we knew … I mean, this could come down to a few votes. We’ve seen that happen before.

And I think that will be the case with Perdue’s race. So, every vote counts, and that’s what we’ve been saying from Day One. This was really an election about voter turnout. That was what it was going to come down to, is, whose base showed up.

Allen: Well, and as we’ve seen, there was a really strong turnout. There were over 3 million individuals who voted early in Georgia, and then over a million that turned out on Election Day. That’s a really high turnout for a runoff election. I know many individuals in Georgia were really happy to see that.

Stracke: Yeah, that’s right. I think just the scope and nature of this election, all eyes are on Georgia. The entire nation was watching and the entire nation was talking about it, and that’s because this has impact on the entire nation.

So, I think Georgians felt that pressure and were probably engaged more than they normally would be. So, there definitely was high turnout, based on traditional turnout for a special election like this. I think what was interesting is, so Heritage Action spent our time in five counties predominantly around the Atlanta proper in the Atlanta suburbs. And that was an area that really hurt us in the general.

We really needed to make sure that conservatives showed up here, that showed up for conservative values.

So, that’s where we’ve been spending our time. And based on the initial reports, at least it looks like more suburban moms came out than they did in the general [election]. And so, that tells me that we were in the right place doing the right thing, but unfortunately, it was the rural counties and the rural areas that hurt a bit more on turnout.

So, it’s interesting to see those numbers flip from the general to this special runoff, where suburban moms showed up and the rural areas did not. So, I think there’s probably a few reasons for that, but I think ultimately that will be what hurt us.

Allen: Well, and why do you think that is? Why was there that lower turnout in the rural areas?


Stracke:
I think there’s a few different reasons for it, one being, what we’ve already talked about, is that turnout is just traditionally lower for a runoff election, and people for whatever reason don’t make it as much of a priority. And maybe there wasn’t as much of a push there.

We were canvassing in the suburban area, which is an important place for us to be. We can’t be in every county, certainly. But maybe they needed that extra push. We were sending text messages, but I also think that a really big part of this are Trump’s base. And many of you are probably hearing some of the rallies happening in Georgia, from lawyers, such as Lin Wood. There was one in particular where he actually called on Georgia residents to not vote because he was upset about the general election.

And there were many, many, many conservative organizations, conservative elected officials that were down here touring the state saying, “Please show up and vote. You can be upset about the general election. We should fight with everything we have to make sure that our elections are fair and that there is integrity within our systems. But the worst thing you could do is stay home. There’s one way to be sure that your vote isn’t counted, and that’s to stay home and to not vote.”

So, we were all making a rallying cry for people to show up and vote anyway. But I do think that that ended up hurting us.

Allen: Well, we’re going to be continuing to watch those results as they roll in … . The Associated Press was reporting 98% of the vote reported. And like you mentioned, we’re especially keeping close eyes on the Perdue race to see as ballots continue to be counted. That one is really razor-thin right now.

But Janae, I want to chat a little bit just about the work that you all did on the ground. I mean, running this sort of grassroots effort is a ton of work. Can you just tell us what did a normal day looked like for you over the past two weeks?

Stracke: Yeah. Well, when we’re on the ground here, I mean a normal day was rallying the troops. We’ve been recruiting our Sentinels, as I said to come join us in Georgia. We obviously have some here in Georgia, but we had people traveling in from all over the country: California, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, everywhere, Nebraska. I mean, I’m telling you we had grassroots coming in from everywhere on this because they knew what was on the line. And they were willing to put their lives on hold, sacrifice their personal time, finances to show up in Georgia, and do everything they could to turn out the conservative vote.

So a typical day was, if we had new grassroots that hadn’t been on the ground yet, we would start out training them on how to door-knock. Some are really experienced and have done this before, have helped with various campaigns. And others were here for the first time, and were like, “We don’t know what we’re doing, but we want to help.”

And so we would train them, and it was very user-friendly. Anyone can do it. It’s a little intimidating at first, but then we would send them out. We would meet back for meals, and they would door-knock all day. We also had thousands of people across the country that were making phone calls for us, sending text messages. So, the outpouring of support from our grassroots is really incredible to see.

We ended up exceeding our goal. We contacted over 1.5 million Georgia voters and ended up increasing that goal to 2 million, so we were really pleased with the work that we were able to do. We hit our goals and then some, and that was only possible because of all the help of grassroots from around the country.

The other thing that we did was, worked with our grassroots to get signed up as poll workers and poll watchers, and this is really a crucial part of an election.

We did this in the general as well, down here in Georgia. We had well over 300 volunteers sign up to work in various counties. And some of the stories that I was getting from those volunteers yesterday were great to hear, some positive, some neutral, some were reporting suspicious activity or what they thought to be illegal activity. And we would make sure that was reported and handled.

But what really stood out to me were the volunteers that were reaching out to me and saying, “I’m the only conservative here, or there’s two of us here. We came together. We’re the only conservative.”

And that again tells me that we were exactly where we needed to be. We were doing exactly what we needed to do. If our grassroots weren’t there, there would have been no conservatives at that county or at that precinct. So every bit that our grassroots were doing was vital, and I do believe made an impact.

At the end of the day, we’ll see how this turns out. It might swing in favor of Perdue, but I really believe that without the grassroots support, this would have looked really different.

Allen: So, as you all were engaging with people in Georgia, as you were knocking on doors, sending those text messages, and then even at the polls on Tuesday, what were you all hearing from Georgians, from the people that live in the state?

Stracke: Mostly, it was positive. We spent our time knocking predominantly with our base. There are definitely some independents in there, some undecideds, but it was predominantly our base.

As I said earlier, this is a lot about voter turnout. This is a really unique election, and we weren’t trying to change minds, and a huge part of that as well, is that Georgia has been saturated. You can’t turn on your TV or radio or open your mailbox without receiving something about this election. So, almost everyone we talked to, I mean, nobody answered the door and said “Who? Oh, I don’t know, who’s the candidate?” Everybody knew.

If you opened the door, it was within a few seconds you could figure out if they’d already voted or not, but their mind was already made up. Most people knew who they were going to vote for. And I would say it was a relatively positive response. Most people I spoke with personally were like, “Oh, yeah, you don’t have to worry about me. I’ve got my plan.”

Even just yesterday, talking to people, a lot of the conservatives I spoke to are dumbfounded, for lack of better word. I mean, they’re really just wondering what happened, why is our state going in this direction? So, I think it’s a wakeup call for Georgians, because there’s a lot of conservatives down here that thought, “We’re a deep-red state.” This is really baffling to them to even see … The fact that they’re having a special runoff at all, the fact that it’s as close as it is, is really shocking to them.

Allen: Well, in Georgia, of course, has been a red state for about 20 years now. So, as you’ve kind of been in the weeds of that campaign world and really on the ground in Georgia digging into what is the situation, were you kind of able to answer that question for any of those folks who were asking, “Wait a second, I’m conservative. I thought I lived in a really conservative state. What’s going on?”

Stracke: Yeah. Well, I think Georgia is not all that different from a lot of our other states, where you can have a red state, but you’ve got these dense city, urban populations where that’s starting to shift for a variety of reasons.

Certainly, the younger vote has a big impact on that, and often younger people are living in those urban areas. So, I think it really is the cities that swing on this. And I think that combating that is going to be twofold. We certainly need to continue doing what we’re doing traditionally, just saturating the field and educating people, but we really have to get ahead of it.

It’s not enough to talk to voters a month before the election and try to convince them to vote for it. We have to change hearts and minds, and that’s what Heritage Action is all about—is education and working with our grassroots to make sure that they’re informed and equipped. Not only to know where they stand on issues, but to be able to talk to their friends, family, neighbors, their kids, their grandkids.

And Heritage Action, we’ve been down here on the ground in Georgia, but we didn’t just pick this up in Georgia. We’ve been doing this all year in swing states, and we just transitioned what we’ve already been doing to Georgia. And we plan on continuing these grassroots efforts.

I really think that that is where the political landscape is shifting. It’s going to be face-to-face conversations. And so, we’re going to keep working in important swing states and being on the ground, building those relationships, having those conversations, and trying to change some hearts and minds, and then win elections.

If we do, maybe we’ll hang on to Perdue’s seat and buy us some time. But elections are not final, even Warnock, who I believe has [beaten] Loeffler. He’s going to be up for re-election again in 2022, because this was a special election.

Most senators are going to go in and be in for six years. That’s not the case for him. So, elections are not final. We can’t give up. There’s going to be a new fight tomorrow. And Heritage Action is not going anywhere. We’re going to keep fighting.

Allen: Well, that’s good to hear because we need people like yourselves to keep fighting, to be on the ground.

Talk a little bit about why you do what you do. I mean, it is pretty grueling to go in, do all of this work on the ground. And then, as we’re seeing right now, it looks like Loeffler has lost her race. That’s got to be discouraging when you have put so much work into trying to really back a candidate that you believe in, really advocate for values that you believe in.

And then, it doesn’t always work out the way that you hoped and the way that you’ve been working for.

Stracke: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t discouraging. It’s, of course, not fun to lose, but I think to answer your question, why I do what I do, and why Heritage Action does what we do, is because we believe in freedom. We believe in America. We believe in the Constitution, and we’re going to fight for that, no matter what.

As I already mentioned, elections are not final. The seat is not final. Victory is also not final. So, I think in this line of work, and really for any American, whether you work in politics and policy or not, it impacts your life. And this is, and should be, something you care about. And as exhausting and frustrating as it can be, we can’t give up because it’s never final.

I think the left does that really well. They’ve been chipping away at our values and what we stand for in America for decades. This is not new for them, either.

I think we’re in the position we’re in now because, really, it comes down to our education system and people, our understanding of history, and what America really stands for, and why we operate the way that we do.

What the Constitution says has been chipped away at for a really long time. So, we cannot give up. We have to match that by equally fighting. And it’s not saying, “Oh, well, it’s a slippery slope. We’ve gone too far. All is lost.” No, that’s not true. We have to keep fighting.

You’ve maybe heard this quote before. It says, “Perfectionism abhors error, it tries to eradicate and destroy it. Excellence embraces error. It builds on it, and it transforms it.”

So, we at Heritage Action are striving to be excellent. And we’ll always evaluate, “All right, we lost this race. Why do we think that is? Do we need to change our strategy? How do we further the policy?”

I mean, at the end of the day, that’s what elections are about. We want to win elections, so that we can win policy. So, really, it comes down to the policy battles, and we’re going to spend the next few years still fighting for policy and looking for unique strategies to still win.

Allen: On the work that you all do at Heritage Action, it’s so important, but it’s also so unique, because it’s not just people sitting in Washington behind computers.

You all are out there, you’re on the ground, and you’re mobilizing communities through your Sentinel program. And so much of your work in Georgia was completed and achieved through volunteers. And so much of mobilizing people to get out and vote.

We had that high voter turnout, I believe, exactly because of people like the Sentinels. Can you talk a little bit about the Sentinel program and how our listeners can get involved, can learn more, and can join you all in their own state, in their own communities?

Stracke: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, you said it well. These are just American patriots who love America. And that is really the fuel to me personally in what I do. I love getting out in the field and interacting with our Sentinels.

I mean, as I said earlier in the interview, they have sacrificed a lot. It’s my job to be down here in Georgia, but many, if not all, of the Sentinels I’m working with sacrificed time at their job, their finances, their time to come and help with this. And I see that everyday working with them, and it is truly inspiring. So, they’re cream of the crop, incredible people.

They’re also from all different walks of life. Some of them are involved heavily in politics in their communities and others come with zero experience and are just worried about where the nation is going, and they want to help be a part of change and make a difference.

And so, I would encourage any of our listeners to go to heritageaction.com/sentinel. Again, that’s heritageaction.com/sentinel. You can sign up there. You’re going to get connected with a regional coordinator who lives in your area, [who] can answer any of your questions. We’ll connect you with other Sentinels.

We have meetups and Sentinel summits, where we do in-person trainings. I host a weekly call that updates everyone on what’s going on Capitol Hill, upcoming battles, the strategy on it.

We want to make sure you know what’s happening before you’re hearing it on your TV. By the time the news is talking about it, it’s usually baked and decided. So, we want to be strategic about our influence and make sure you know about the issues that matter while you can still have influence and impact with your members at Congress.

So, we have all sorts of different resources for you. And again, don’t be intimidated if you haven’t been involved in any kind of activism before. There are all sorts of things you can do and all different skill sets.

So, we need you. We would love to have you join. Again, you can sign up at heritageaction.com/sentinel.

Allen: Well, that’s wonderful. Janae, thank you so much for your time. We’ll let you catch your flight now, but we just really appreciate you coming on the show, talking to us about Georgia, what happened. And of course, we’re going to continue to monitor the situation and watch those votes roll in, specifically for Perdue. So, thank you.

Stracke: Absolutely. Thank you.





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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.