Progressives vowed to take on Joe Biden the minute he defeated President Donald Trump.
But the unresolved Senate races in Georgia are helping to keep the peace between the party’s warring factions for a few more weeks — and then it’s open season.
The logic behind the current cease-fire is simple: If Democrats don’t take back control of the Senate, much of the progressive agenda is doomed.
That’s why the left has thrown its weight behind Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidates in Georgia who do not back “Medicare for All” — a major liberal priority. Ossoff, in particular, is not seen by progressives as one of their own. Still, top progressive elected officials and organizations are putting aside their disappointments to campaign and raise cash for the Jan. 5 races anyway.
“All of the big-ticket items, and even some of the smaller items that I ran on in my race, are largely dependent upon having leadership of the Senate that shares my values,” said Rep.-elect Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), an incoming House progressive. “And that requires electing Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) team said she has raised more than $600,000 for outside groups working to elect the Georgians. The Working Families Party, a national left-wing organization, is planning to spend upwards of $1 million on the campaign. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), members of the so-called Squad, are working to turn out Muslim voters in the state, including by recording a robocall.
Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has long had an icy relationship with Ossoff, is lending a hand. When Ossoff ran unsuccessfully for the House in a 2017 special election, Sanders said that he didn’t know if he was progressive. This year, Sanders faced pressure for initially not endorsing Ossoff, though he had previously come out in support of Warnock.
But in recent weeks, Sanders has officially gotten behind Ossoff and raised money for both candidates with his massive email list. According to an aide, he has brought in a total of $400,000 for them.
“Bernie Sanders wants there to be a Democratic Senate. If we’re going to see any progress on Joe Biden’s pro-worker economic proposals, we need to have a Democratic Senate,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ longtime adviser. “It’s in everybody’s interest to move forward.”
If Democrats unseat both Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast tie-breaking votes in a 50-50 Senate, giving the party power over the chamber. The GOP needs to win just one of the races to maintain control.
The united front forged by moderates and progressives mirrors their collaboration in the general election. Though Biden was just about the last Democratic nominee they wanted, leading figures on the left committed to helping him in a way that they didn’t for Hillary Clinton in 2016 because they were so desperate to beat President Donald Trump.
The Sunrise Movement, a group of young activists working to address climate change, said it has texted 33,000 voters and made nearly 160,000 calls in the Georgia runoffs. The organization has also protested outside the home of Loeffler, whom Warnock is challenging. Like many on the left, it sees the two contests as an opportunity to do long-term organizing in an emerging swing state.
“We’re doing this because we understand the math. There’s a 50-50 tie that would happen if Ossoff and Warnock win,” said Shanté Wolfe, electoral politics director of the Sunrise Movement. “But we’re also focusing on after the runoff. The work certainly doesn’t start or stop here.”
Mijente, a national Latino group that endorsed Sanders in the presidential primary, said it has hired 200 staff members in hopes on knocking on every Latino voter’s door in Georgia. It is also microtargeting Latino voters based on their country of origin and other factors.
According to a copy provided to POLITICO, one set of talking points from the organization is aimed at Cuban and Venezuelan voters and addresses the topic of socialism. Republicans in Georgia have sought to paint their opponents as radical socialists.
“Georgians want better access to healthcare and good paying jobs. These issues are basic rights that pundits/the Republican candidates are calling ‘socialist’ because they’d rather line their pockets than help our communities,” said the talking points.
In some cases, progressives have tailored their message in the state to their liberal base, which they believe is more excited about Warnock, a pastor at the church that was once home to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Warnock has championed voting rights and criminal justice reform.
One piece of the Working Families Party’s literature focuses on Warnock, for instance, but urges voters to support the entire ticket. “The Democratic team needs our votes,” reads a caption under a photo of the pastor.
Ossoff and Warnock’s campaigns have embraced progressives’ help. But some Democrats have privately said that the left’s efforts could backfire in a state that they flipped this year by less than 12,000 votes — the first time the state has voted Democratic in a presidential race since 1992.
At times, the tension simmering between the two wings of the party in Georgia has risen to the surface. During a closed-door meeting between Biden and civil rights leaders this week, the president-elect said that the GOP’s campaign to link activists’ call to “defund the police” to Democrats is “how they beat the living hell out of us across the country,” according to a recording of the conversation obtained by the Intercept.
“I just raise it with you to think about how much do we push between now and Jan. 5 — we need those two seats — about police reform. But I guarantee you, there will be a full blown commission,” Biden added.
Progressives have sometimes made their own true feelings clear, as well. In a recent fundraising email, the left-wing group Justice Democrats said that the “Ossoff campaign squandered millions” in the general election.
Still, the organization said, Ossoff and Warnock need to succeed to “secure Democrats the majority in the U.S. Senate,” and it called on supporters to donate to outside groups working on the races that will “win for Democrats AND undertake deep, long-term organizing for a more just future.”
A Justice Democrats aide said that because the Georgia candidates don’t share some of its policy goals, its small-dollar donors are more willing to contribute to left-wing organizations helping to elect them.
The effort reveals the kind of workarounds that progressives are employing to stay involved in Georgia despite their ambivalent attitude about Ossoff. Post-Jan. 5, that approach will likely change.
“Everyone sees the opportunity,” said Rob Duffey, the national communications director for the Working Families Party, of the runoff election. “Afterward, when we’re all fighting over [centrist West Virginia Democratic Sen.] Joe Manchin standing in the way of Democrats’ policy agenda, we’ll see.”