ATLANTA — On the eve of the Senate runoff, Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock turned to an unlikely surrogate to deliver the campaign’s closing pitch to Georgia voters: Rep.-elect Maxwell Frost of Florida.
Frost, 25, has no prior formal political experience and has not graduated college. But last month, he made history as the first member of Generation Z elected to Congress, immediately thrusting him into the national spotlight. Now, he has joined the ranks of former president Barack Obama and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker on the shortlist of national politicians whom Warnock has campaigned with since the general election.
With one day to go before the runoff between Warnock and his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, Frost campaigned for Warnock at a rally at Georgia Tech, speaking to students about the need to vote and bring their friends to the polls and about his vision for building power with young people in the South.
“We know that young people don’t make up the biggest voting bloc right now,” Frost said. “But we are the bloc that matters. We are the bloc that decides the margins.”
Georgia Senate runoff
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Frost’s visit to Georgia to campaign for Warnock at three events here represents a larger push by the Warnock campaign to center young voters in the runoff. In the four weeks since the general election, Warnock has held nine events focused on students and hired 100 campus fellows on more than a dozen campuses around the state. Organizers have even utilized a pet goat, known as the “vote goat,” and a video from rapper Waka Flocka Flame to mobilize the group.
“A long time ago, generations ago, our ancestors conspired for this moment right here. For a 25-year-old Black Afro Latino progressive organizer, Congressman-elect from Florida to sit here in this room with an amazing diverse group of young people who are going to have the power to reelect this Black reverend United States senator,” Frost told the students, who later swarmed him for selfies and advice on how to get involved in politics.
Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, who spoke after Frost and was welcomed by screams of support by the students, reminded the audience that he is also the first millennial Senator and “the youngest member of the Senate by a lot.”
In interviews with The Washington Post, more than 20 students said they appreciated acknowledgment from both candidates, but older generations and Democratic and Republican politicians and operatives are not doing enough to engage and turn out young people.
The angst over not focusing enough attention on young voters crosses party lines, with both Democratic and Republican students voicing the need for their parties to do more.
Zae Brewer, a junior political science student and president of Young Democrats at Kennesaw State University, believes the Warnock campaign improved its youth outreach in the runoff, but argued that some efforts were overdue, like visiting colleges outside of the Atlanta metro area.
“I think had they taken that strategy from the beginning in the general election, they probably could have won outright, but a lot of these college students have felt ignored,” he said.
“The Democratic Party, as well as the GOP and every other political party in the United States have drastically failed young people, without question,” said Joshua Anthony, a sophomore and president of Young Democrats at Georgia State University. “They are expecting our vote, but with that you have to address our issues, you can’t have one thing without the other.”
College Republicans agreed that both parties need to be doing more to focus on young people.
Mekai Kamara, a junior at Georgia State University and a Walker supporter, said that it is going to be hard for Republicans to bring more Gen Z voters into the fold, and that the Walker campaign should be doing more to reach voters like him.
“For me, being a Black conservative on a campus like this, this is a rarity, I’m a rarity,” Kamara said. “It’s kind of hard.”
Liam Gardo, a Walker supporter and a sophomore who serves as vice president of Turning Point USA at Georgia State University, argued the “Republican Party needs to do more to reach out to young voters, Black voters, Hispanic voters, all voters frankly.”
“There’s no future for the party or our country if they don’t reach out to the young voters,” Gardo said. “Who’s gonna vote? Who’s going to fund their campaigns?”
The Walker campaign did not respond to multiple requests for information about Walker’s message to young voters or efforts to turn out students.
Warnock led Walker by about 36,000 votes in November, but neither candidate met the 50 percent threshold for an outright win, triggering a runoff on Tuesday. If Warnock wins, Democrats will control the Senate by a 51-49 margin. If Walker wins, Democrats will still control the evenly split chamber based on Vice President Harris’s tiebreaking vote.
Early voting data estimates more than 15 percent of voters under 30 — over 20,000 people — who voted early for the runoff did not vote in the general election, which could be a decisive factor in who wins on Tuesday.
“Students are always the tip of change in our country,” Warnock told The Post at Kennesaw State University. “Not much happens in the way of transformation and meaningful change without the voices of young people.”
New Georgia Project, the nonpartisan organization founded by Stacey Abrams, has shifted its entire organizing apparatus to focus on young voters in the runoff, with one team working to turn out students and another to galvanize young people who are not attending college. Voters of Tomorrow, a Gen Z focused group, has sent more than 1.5 million texts to young Georgians and is funding Uber rides to the polls.
Young voters are “the bloc that got him here less than two years ago,” Frost told The Post of Warnock’s student-focused efforts in the runoff. “It’s the bloc that’s gonna have him win this runoff here, and it’s the bloc that stopped the red wave in November.”
John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics and an expert in young voter behaviors, says the only way for Republicans to win the runoff is to narrow Warnock’s lead among young voters and keep his support with the constituency under 60 percent.
“Democrats do not hold the Senate, [and] they do not narrow the margin for Republicans in the House without Gen Z and millennials. Period.”
Attendees of the Warnock event, and students across the state, expressed frustration with the process to vote under Georgia’s new state law, S.B. 202. The voting bill passed last year and presents challenges for young voters, including a shortened runoff period.
“The hardest thing for us with these new voting laws is the timelines,” said James Wilson, a sophomore at Georgia State University studying public policy. “We’ve got people who are thinking like it’s the year before the law was passed, and then thinking ‘Oh, I’ve got plenty of time to request my absentee ballot.’ No, you don’t. Or they’re thinking ‘We’ve got weeks and weeks early voting’ and you just might not.”
Wilson, who also works as a poll manager on Election Day, something he skips class to do, described classmates and young people at the polls not receiving absentee ballots in time, or not knowing how to apply for them.
Another challenge of the runoff is voter burnout, students said.
“I was just tabling right before I came to this, and people are obviously fatigued. They are very [much] avoiding our table. They did not want to come talk to us,” said Avery Rosen, a sophomore at Emory University, who noted that the line at the Emory on-campus polling location was an hour and a half long during early voting.
“It is the fifth time, and folks are getting fatigued,” said Bryce Berry, a Morehouse College student and president of the Young Democrats of Georgia. “This runoff is shorter than it was in 2021, this runoff is a month. And in that month, we’ve had Thanksgiving, where students go home for the holidays, and we’ve had finals.”
At Morehouse, final exams started on Monday, the day before the election. Berry voted early because he has a final on Election Day.
“I know that you all just got back to school and back to classes and back to studying for these final exams. But please know that we have unfinished business to handle before Christmas. Citizenship is your final exam,” Warnock implored students at Morehouse, his alma mater, last week. “Now’s the time to use your voice and to stand up.”
Warnock gained points with young voters by suing to allow early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a joint effort with the state Democratic Party and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that Republicans in the state tried to block.
For out-of-state college students like Kavita Kar and Catherine McBride, who waited hours in line to vote that Saturday in Marietta, the extra day allowed them to participate in the election while home for Thanksgiving.
“I’m a college student in school in Boston, and this is pretty much my only opportunity to vote in person,” said McBride, a senior from Cobb County.
“For the last election, a lot of my friends didn’t receive their ballots from Cobb County on time,” Kar said of her decision to vote the day before returning to Stanford University.
Both young Democrats and young Republicans in Georgia said they hope that after the midterm results — in which Democrats outperformed expectations and youth turnout is estimated to have reached its second highest point in three decades — Gen Z is more appreciated as a constituency and essential voting bloc by campaigns.
According to Frost, the Democratic Party is trending in the right direction in their efforts to politically engage young people.
“We’re seeing campaigns like this putting a lot of resources into it. I think we can do better, and we will do better. And that’s something that I’m going to make sure that we do as a party nationwide.”