Beverly Glover was right. The 66-year-old lifelong East Macon resident shooed me away from Senator Raphael Warnock’s Monday rally immediately, once she learned I wanted to get back to Atlanta in time for a late-afternoon Stacey Abrams event. I had best be going. It was only 1:45.
“Go. There’s already traffic.”
There was. Oh I-75, how I missed you.
This is not how I pictured this election. I spent so much time here in 2017 and ’18, covering Abrams’s last race for governor. But in 2020 and early 2021, I had to cover Georgia’s astonishing Senate races over the phone from my Covid home office. I saw the Abrams coalition coming together, first to elect Joe Biden, and then the Senate majority. I felt wistful being so far away, and hearing from people about the energy on the ground. I’d be there in 2022, I told myself, when Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (I loved hearing people call him that, as they do here) and Stacey Abrams would be on the ballot together. Everyone would be together, I imagined.
I did not imagine myself driving two hours and back to see each of them one day before the election. Maybe it’s just geography: This is a big state, with 159 counties. And maybe the days of the big outdoor rally, where everyone thrills to the energy, are behind us. It still felt wrong to me, that there was no big election-eve event for this history-making senator and the woman who worked so hard to elect him, and now to try to elect herself governor.
Beverly Glover just shrugged when I asked her about that. “I’m voting for the reverend and Stacey,” she told me. She and her 43-year-old son are old school; they will vote today. “That’s our tradition, we don’t do early voting.” She’s voted in every election she’s been eligible to, so far, Glover tells me.
The three women who sat next to me at the Warnock event, one in an Abrams T-shirt, had all early-voted, and they tracked their ballots, too. Everywhere I went, people seemed expert at making sure not only that they voted but also that their vote counted. It’s incredibly inspiring and moving to hear how fervent Black Georgia voters are about not letting former secretary of state, now governor, Brian Kemp disenfranchise them.
“A vote is a kind of prayer, for the world we desire for our children,” Warnock told the crowd. The crowd at Macon’s Bearfoot Tavern said amen.
Everyone says I came to Georgia too late—all the energy is in early voting now. An estimated 500,000 people voted early who didn’t even vote in 2018. The early-vote campaign was when Barack Obama was here, when the Warnock-Abrams rallies happened, when Senator Jon Ossoff appeared with both of them. Ossoff is working like he’s on the ballot. I saw him with secretary of state candidate Bee Nguyen in Atlanta Sunday night and with Warnock the next day. He was with Abrams last week. The man who helped galvanize the anti-Trump resistance in a 2017 suburban Atlanta special election, then 30, is now at 35 the state’s senior senator.
Ossoff believes I am too pessimistic about Tuesday’s outcome. “I think the turnout infrastructure that we built over the last five years continues its potency,” he told me. That’s how he talks. But in person, it’s compelling. I started to believe.
At the Bearfoot Tavern the next day, I got some of what I yearned for in my lonely home office in 2021. Ossoff introduced Warnock, they hugged, and it was that pandemic buddy movie we all watched come to life. “He’s my brother from another mother,” Warnock cracked. “We’re twins—but he got all the hair.”
I heard what people consider a centrist pitch: Warnock’s work for farmers and veterans. “I’m the 18th most bipartisan senator,” he told the crowd. He also talked about his role in capping insulin prices for the 1 million Georgians who are diabetic. His opponent, former football star Herschel Walker, says the answer is for Georgians to start “eating right.” Warnock loses a little of his preacher halo when he takes off on Walker, who has no business being in this race, mocking him for pretending to be a police officer, his high school’s valedictorian, a college graduate. As always, I feel like the people around Walker are cruel opportunists. As a mental health professional says to me before the Warnock event, Walker needs and deserves sustained mental health treatment. Not a Senate seat. But we’ll see.
I hate to have to acknowledge this, but he did not mention Stacey Abrams. (If I faded out in the 85-degree heat and missed it, I will correct the record.)
When I got to Atlanta, Abrams was also talking about health care, focusing on the six hospitals that have closed under Kemp, most recently Atlanta Medical Center on the first of this month. His stubborn ideological opposition to accepting federal help to expand Medicaid killed those hospitals—and I don’t want to be melodramatic, but it probably killed Georgians too. “I’ll take the money—and I’m gonna make Georgia stronger for it,” she said.
Abrams was funny, even when talking about guns. “My grandma told me you don’t aim a weapon at anything you don’t plan to shoot at,” she said, summoning a ridiculous 2018 Kemp ad that featured him holding a rifle while sitting across from a potential suitor for his daughter—on the eve of the Parkland massacre. So clever. And she reminded voters to bring their water bottles to the polls tomorrow “because Brian Kemp’s made it illegal to bring you a cup of water.”
And she hit abortion hard. “It took a man to take our right to choose; it’ll take a woman to put it right.”
I only ran into one person at the Abrams rally I’d seen in Macon: Rachel Lomas, a Texan who has made Georgia her cause. She drives around trucks adorned with the faces of Warnock and Abrams. She was here in 2020 and ’21. “I have to say I’m a little bit demoralized,” she admits. “If we know about January 6, we know about the election deniers,” and yet Democrats could lose the House and Senate. “Well, the country may get the elected officials we deserve.”
Nobody else I met all day admitted such thoughts. (Lomas is white, as am I. I’m just saying.) People were still wound up: There’s a lot of work to do on Tuesday. I went back and forth all day between pessimism and then believing these Georgia voters and elected officials who all tell me “the numbers are there” for both Abrams and Warnock to win, though most admit a Warnock win is more likely. “We plan the work, then work the plan” one told me. That’s what’s unfolding today.