Turnout among young voters key to Georgia Senate runoffs

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Georgia Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate Raphael Warnock, left, and Jon Ossoff, right, gesture toward a crowd during a campaign rally on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA – Preethi Gowrishankar was never really politically active before this year. But watching polarization increase during President Donald Trump's administration changed that.

The 27-year-old data scientist put on a face mask and stood in line on a recent sunny but cold day in Atlanta to cast a ballot early for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock ahead of Georgia's Jan. 5 runoff elections that will determine control of the U.S. Senate.

“We’ve seen in the last four years what apathy leads to and where it can get us,” she said. “So I’ve tried to make an effort to become a lot more informed of my choices and to make my voice heard.”

Strong turnout among voters under 30 nationwide helped propel Democrat Joe Biden to victory over Trump in the November presidential election. Young voters were key to Biden's narrow win in Georgia, with a margin of just under 12,000 votes.

Now, with the national spotlight on Georgia's Senate races, the campaigns and voter mobilization groups are working furiously to make sure young voters turn out for the runoffs, which pit Ossoff and Warnock against Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. A win by either Republican would maintain the Senate majority for the GOP, while a sweep by both Democrats would yield of 50-50 split in the chamber, with the tie-breaking vote going to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

The push to connect with young voters has been especially apparent for the Democratic campaigns, which have more to gain from youth turnout — and more to lose if there's a drop-off.

Ossoff and Warnock have held rallies in college towns, invested in staff to help register and mobilize young voters, engaged social media influencers to promote content and run ad campaigns on new media and digital platforms. They recently hosted a game night on Twitch, a livestreaming platform popular with young gamers. Ossoff also has made a push to connect with voters through TikTok, a video sharing app used by millions of U.S. teens.

Perdue's campaign did not respond to a request for comment, and Loeffler's campaign directed questions to Abigail Sigler, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party. Sigler did not answer a specific question asking how the campaigns are reaching out to young voters but sent a statement attacking Ossoff and Warnock and asserting that policies backed by Perdue and Loeffler are better for young voters.