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Debby Peppers Runs Smart Savvy Campaign
The first calls about a potential Debby Peppers candidacy came to WIN List board member Wendy Davis, who serves on the Rome City Council and the Democratic National Committee, just days after the November election when nerves were still raw over the national results and politically active Democrats were despondently picking themselves up off the floor.
Just days after the election, Gov. Nathan Deal had appointed Senator Charlie Bethel to an appeals Court judgeship. GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp set a quick timetable for the special election cycle which included all the important end of year holidays and effectively limited campaign time.
Because both women had been involved in political circles for decades and knew each other, Wendy not only called Debby to encourage her to run, she offered to accompany her to Atlanta for qualifying and to make strategic introductions. WIN board members interviewed Debby immediately after she paid her qualifying fee and were energized by the idea of supporting a candidate of her qualifications – a decades long record of child advocacy and service to her community. On very short notice, Campaign Consultant Liz Ernst signed on and the board voted in favor of our first ever “under the radar” endorsement. Ernst had earlier managed Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver’s race against a primary opponent and Senator Tonya Anderson’s defeat of a sitting Republican Senator in November.
From the beginning, WIN List knew the race was a long shot. But, given the opportunity to overturn the GOP Senate Supermajority with a candidate of such stellar quality, it was a race we felt well worth the effort. Special elections have been the start for many a woman’s political career and we had high hopes for the “Pick Peppers” effort.
The WIN List endorsement remained “under the radar” because Debby wisely chose to run with no party affiliation listed on the ballot. However, she made no secret of her Democratic loyalty, having served a term on the Whitfield County Commission as a Democrat. She also boldly spoke in favor of a woman’s right to reproductive freedom during the campaign and made no secret of her support for Bernie Saunders during presidential primaries.
Women who attended a series of December WIN List house parties liked what they heard about Debby Peppers and volunteered to work as “Pick Peppers” phone bankers. Social media groups were also heavily leveraged to recruit volunteers and spread the word about her campaign and WIN List donors were contacted. As Debby tirelessly campaigned door-to-door with local volunteers and union representatives, the “Pick Peppers Phone Bankers” placed more than 1200 calls in the period between Thanksgiving and the December 13 special election where Debby won her run-off spot.
Between Christmas and New Year’s, mailer paid for by a Republican independent expenditure surfaced in Democratic households which published a map of the district and the wrong date for the runoff. With that mailer circulating, the work of informing voters became more important and the phone bankers got back to work making even more calls than before, including election day reminder calls. ”The WIN List volunteers were essential to our runoff strategy,” Campaign Strategist Liz Ernst said.
In December, fewer than 5,000 votes were cast and only 400 votes separated Peppers and her opponent, Chuck Payne. The district trends 70 to 80 percent Republican in most election years and Republicans successfully targeted their base, with turnout for the runoff exceeding 6,700 votes – an increase of almost 30 percent. While we are disappointed Debby lost, her 35 percent showing far exceeded the typical Democratic performance in the district and the percentages voters awarded the national ticket in November 2016.
We at WIN List could not have dreamed of a more highly qualified candidate. Debby Peppers exemplifies the kind of woman in cities or small towns across Georgia who awaits your encouragement to run for office. A native of Dalton with a deep commitment to public service, she learned about politics by actively working on behalf of several women running for statewide office. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree from the University of Georgia, graduating in a law school class with only 10 women. She has been a clerk for local judges, practiced real estate and family law and worked in the family business. More importantly, she has been a highly successful advocate for children, most recently representing on a pro bono basis children from DFACS families in front of school disciplinary tribunals.
Debby has worked tirelessly in Dalton and statewide for decades, including service on numerous boards and many honors for her work. She was featured in People magazine and New York Times articles for her efforts to improve conditions in Georgia juvenile detention centers. See the articles here: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/08/07/us/town-rides-to-the-rescue-of-its-young-inmates.html?mwrsm=Email and here: https://www.google.com/amp/people.com/archive/cleaning-up-vol-52-no-15/amp/?client=sa
Special elections are a constant in Georgia Politics, with 29 legislative contests ending up with runoffs since 2010. Two of those 29 contests involved WIN List Winners: Miriam Paris for SD 26 in 2011 and Park Cannon in HD 58 last year. The board of Georgia’s WIN List prefers to keep a strong campaign fund which allows us to move quickly when special elections occur – providing the strategic and tactical expertise women candidates need as they mobilize the support necessary to put them in the WINners Circle.
Because 2016 was a busy election year, we need to replenish our campaign account to remain ready for races like these. Your contribution today will insure we are able to quickly respond with support for strong women candidates like Debby Peppers in the future.
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