Home Part of States Newsroom
Eying Georgia’s November election and beyond, Dems’ Atlanta conference schools operatives


Eying Georgia’s November election and beyond, Dems’ Atlanta conference schools operatives

Apr 21, 2024 | 6:15 pm ET
By Ross Williams
Eying Georgia’s November election and beyond, Dems’ Atlanta conference schools operatives
Political organizers chat during a break at the 2024 Arena Summit in Atlanta. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

More than 400 left-leaning campaign managers, political staffers, fundraisers, organizers and data managers came to Atlanta over the weekend to update their skills ahead of the 2024 Joe Biden-Donald Trump presidential rematch.

“We start from the premise that it takes great candidates to win elections, but candidates can’t win on their own,” said Lauren Baer, managing partner of Arena, an organization dedicated to training Democratic campaign staff. “They need qualified, well-trained teams behind them, and teams that represent the diversity of the districts where they’re running and the diversity of the Democratic coalition.”

Arena includes a PAC and a 501(c)(4) organization, a type of nonprofit that can endorse candidates and causes. Baer said they’ve trained 7,000 campaign staffers since 2019, mostly women and people of color. They also work to place the trainees on competitive races around the country, from the presidential to significant local races. The training event, which ran from Thursday through Sunday, was the organization’s first in-person Georgia event, and that’s not happenstance.

“You will see all of this work on display in Georgia,” Baer said. “We think that Georgia is going to be an absolutely critical state in 2024, that the pathway to the presidency runs straight through the heart of Georgia. But we also recognize that it is incredibly important for long-term power building, and although we have seen top-of-the-ticket victories in Georgia over the last several years, there’s still significant work that needs to be done farther down the ballot in order to build the kind of political infrastructure that is needed to win, and to win over the long run.”

On Thursday, hundreds gathered in downtown Atlanta’s Loudermilk Conference Center, some wearing shirts with their candidates’ logos or left-wing slogans. They attended seminars on topics like fundraising, data management and organizing.

Data Analysis

Among them was Christian Goree, a local campaign organizer who said he wanted to pick up campaign tech tips.

“I do field organizing, and so I want to sharpen my skills when it comes to the data and technology and become more tech-savvy, and that way I can be a better organizer,” he said.

Goree said he’s working with Norcross Democratic state Rep. Marvin Lim, who faces fellow Democrat Jorge Granados in the May 21 primary but doesn’t have a Republican challenger. Goree said he hopes to bone up on his skills and network to help him pick up work after the primary.

“That’s when individuals start focusing on building their team more because then they know they’re going all the way to November, and so I’m hoping that I can actually lock in some jobs for the rest of the year.”

“It’s a struggling job, but as long as you’re doing it for the right cause,” he added with a smile. “I tell anyone who wants to get into political work, find something that you can stick with all the way, because sometimes you’re going to be working from campaign to campaign. You don’t want to do that.”

Goree followed along on a laptop as Santiago Martinez, a data campaign strategist who runs Arena’s data and analytics, stood on stage next to a projection of a color-coded spreadsheet. Martinez talked the trainees through using it to plug in demographic information from their candidate’s district to help decide how to allocate resources toward registering new voters, persuading swing voters or getting out the vote.

“This is where the Pathway to Victory comes into play, in helping us figure out, all right, for the different ways that we might engage voters, what are the things we need to be focused on? Should it be all registration? Should it be some registration and turnout? Should it be all persuasion? This is where there’s art and science.”

Eying Georgia’s November election and beyond, Dems’ Atlanta conference schools operatives
Arena trainers Santiago Martinez and Jess Weldon welcome the crowd to the 2024 Arena Summit in Atlanta. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

On their laptops and phones, trainees followed along with population numbers, expected turnout and historic amount of Democratic support as the variables in electoral equations – if you register X new voters from a given demographic, who have a historic turnout rate of Y, your candidate can expect Z new votes.

“The data’s not going to be perfect. That means any predictions we make based off of our data aren’t going to be perfect either,” Martinez added. “So if you’re like, I just need to get to the 50,000 voters it’s going to take to win, to get to 50% plus one, it might be higher, it might be lower. What I want us to focus in on is like, what do we actually need to do to change the outcome? So the win number’s not going to tell us how we get there. What’s the process of, if the election were held today, what would get us to a win?”

Building Blocks of Organizing

During another session on political organizing, trainer Jessica Angima delivered a lesson including differences between electoral organization and advocacy organization.

The latter requires building lasting relationships within a community, while the former typically focuses on burning through all resources as efficiently as possible so you have next to nothing left after Election Day.

But a good electoral organizer should also think long-term, Angima said.

“For any campaign, I think we have to ensure that we’re engaging authentically in this community, so we can’t just, you know, parachute into a place, think that we understand and know how to organize it as people, and then leave,” she told the Recorder after the session. “We really, as a progressive party, need to be organizing for the long term. And part of that is organizing with the way the electorate is changing and not treating those marginalized groups as a monolith, so taking the time to understand where a specific group meets, how a specific group organizes or communicates and ensuring that we are talking to people on the ground who are invested, who are going to be there and building up their skills.”

Left-wing activists in Georgia have complained in recent elections that national groups and the Democratic Party seem to be interested in Georgia only around election time and only around Atlanta.

As attendees mingled during a break, Jenn Simmons, an activist with more than 15 years of experience in Georgia politics, said she’s hopeful that could be changing.

“This is the first room in 15 years that not only looks like this, but has the funding for Democrats and progressives,” she said. “I look around this room and I’m telling you that we have been breaking our backs to get this kind of influence and buy-in from the sponsors.”

Baer said Arena is working with a long list of local groups, including Georgia Democrats, the Georgia House Democratic Caucus, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, Emerge Georgia, Black Voters Matter, the Georgia Working Families Party, and the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition Action Fund to create lasting Democratic infrastructure.

“Republicans spend about four times as much as Democrats in the development of their talent pipeline,” she said. “Their largest talent pipeline organization is larger than the top 10 Democratic organizations combined, and so when I say that there are gaps in Georgia, what I mean is that there are incredible organizations on the ground doing really, really significant work in their communities, who’ve already had incredible successes in the past, but need to get their people trained and upscaled in order to ensure success going into November and well into the future. And so what we are able to provide as a national training organization working in collaboration with these state partners, we believe will help to deliver the state for Biden in the fall.”

With just under 200 days to go until the Nov. 5 election, the Real Clear Politics polling average puts Trump at a slim lead in Georgia, 49.7% to 45.5% in a two-way race, a 4.2% advantage. When independent candidates Robert Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are included, the spread increases to 6%, with Trump polling at 43.3%, Biden at 37.3% and the rest in the single digits.