Book Review: ‘Flipped,’ by Greg Bluestein

How Georgia Turned Purple and Broke the Monopoly on Republican Power
By Greg Bluestein

How do Democrats flip a state from red to purple to blue? This question keeps Democratic operatives lying awake at night.

What better place to search for answers than Georgia? In 2020, Georgians voted for the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden. The elections of the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff also handed Democrats a slim majority in the U.S. Senate. The results, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein in his new book, “Flipped,” provided “Democrats an invaluable foothold in the Deep South and a bulwark against growing Republican strength in the Midwest.”

Demography was not destiny, according to Bluestein. Despite the developments that were enlarging liberal, educated suburban communities while diversifying the Georgia population, partisan change depended on talented candidates, campaign strategists and local election officials.

Bluestein revisits the story of Stacey Abrams, who, working with the guidance of Lauren Groh-Wargo, ran a trailblazing campaign for the governorship in 2018. Abrams was one of the first statewide figures who sought to harness the “emerging alliance that was racially, economically and geographically diverse” rather than trying to recreate the Democratic coalition that elected Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992. Bluestein recounts how Abrams, a Black woman, was almost denied the right to vote because a poll worker insisted that she had requested an absentee ballot. If Abrams, an attorney, struggled to cast a ballot, “what about the countless other Georgians, she wondered, who could never have so quickly fixed their problem?” After losing the contest to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Abrams founded Fair Fight, which would register large numbers of Black voters by the 2020 election.

A bright spot for Democrats in 2018 was Lucy McBath, the daughter of civil rights activists. She defeated Karen Handel to represent the Sixth Congressional District. Handel had won office a year earlier in a special election, beating Ossoff, a documentary producer who had hoped to show that with Donald Trump in the White House, Democrats could win suburban Republicans and independents in districts that had been dominated by conservatives like Newt Gingrich. Instead, the election proved that Republican voters in 2017 were still loyal. McBath, whose son, Jordan, was killed by a white man in 2012, won election by advocating gun control in the wake of a horrendous mass school shooting in Florida.

Ossoff and Warnock found ways to run effective statewide campaigns for the Senate in 2020 despite the challenges posed by Covid shutdowns, masking and social distancing. During the runoff election campaign after Nov. 3, both candidates responded to the fierce outrage among Democrats who were tired of the chaos and extremism coming from the White House. As Trump kept talking about himself and about rigged votes every time he visited the state (to the frustration of Republicans), Warnock and Ossoff ran smart social media campaigns and connected to voters’ hope for a better future.

Remarkably, Bluestein writes that the Biden campaign underestimated the potential for victory in Georgia. Since Democrats had not won the state’s electoral votes in a presidential election since 1992, Biden’s team concluded that the risk of losing was too high. Fortunately for Democrats, local candidates disagreed. They did so by embracing the party’s liberal traditions rather than trying to mimic Republicans.

Still, the victories in 2020 ultimately depended on volunteers and voters whose voices are too often missing from Bluestein’s narrative. He doesn’t do enough to capture the thousands of volunteers who engaged in phone banking, text messaging, canvassing and turning out the vote. Nor are there many portraits of the voters who went blue.

“Flipped” will disillusion Democrats who hope that a realignment won’t meet fierce resistance. Lawrence Sloan, a Black American who operated a machine that opened mail-in ballots in Fulton County, was scared for his life after a video circulated online that appeared to show Sloan giving the middle finger to the machine and tossing out a ballot. In fact, we learn, his temper flared because the machine had nicked his finger, and Sloan was throwing out instructions for how to complete a mail-in ballot. Because of the misleading video, which Trump’s sons retweeted, Sloan was harassed and threatened. On one occasion, he asked friends to rescue him from a restaurant filled with Trump loyalists. “As a Black man in the South,” he said, “I know when pickup trucks start pulling up and honking their horns, it’s time to go.” Similarly, the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who refused to go along with Trump’s schemes, decided that his two grandchildren could not safely visit his home.

All of this brings us to the question of whether Georgia has really flipped or if 2020 was an aberration. Many parts of Bluestein’s story highlight how exceptional the conditions were in 2020. Democrats won with the help of Hollywood celebrities and political heavyweights who won’t always show up. A raging pandemic as well as a president whose politics terrified many voters raised the stakes of the state’s election in ways that would otherwise have been impossible.

The next few elections will reveal if Democratic success has staying power. It is worth remembering that Jimmy Carter’s efforts to forge a new kind of Democratic South ended up being trumped by Gingrich’s version of Reagan Republicanism. Even after reading this informative book, it’s all too easy to imagine how a struggling President Biden, an inflationary economy, war in Ukraine and a persistent pandemic — combined with gerrymandering, high rural turnout, national party support and Election Day polling sabotage — could result in Republicans welcoming back the Grand Old Party in 2024 following a short detour off the beaten path of conservatism.

Source: Elections -


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