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Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock unseated Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in runoff elections for Georgia’s two seats in the Senate last week, ensuring their party would control both houses of Congress for the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency.
After two months of intense national focus on Georgia in the leadup to Tuesday’s runoffs, the outcome has been pushed off the front page by the assault on Congress the following day that left five people dead. Still, many political experts see the wins by Ossoff and Warnock — which create an even 50-50 split in the Senate and give Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tiebreaking vote — as among the most consequential down-ballot results in modern American history.
Had Democrats failed to flip either seat, a narrow Republican Senate majority may have stood in the way of Biden’s bold plans for everything from coronavirus relief to health care reform. Instead, a unified Democratic caucus can pass much of his agenda without any GOP support.
Both Democratic candidates represent a departure from historical election trends in Georgia.
Warnock will become the state's first Black senator. Ossoff will be the first Jewish senator from Georgia.
Why there’s debate
On a practical level, Ossoff and Warnock won because they were able to turn out a larger share of their Nov. 3 election voters than Republicans were, early data suggests. Both Democrats appear to have improved on Biden’s margins in areas of the state with a large percentage of Black voters, thanks in part to the massive statewide voter mobilization effort spearheaded by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Those gains, combined with just enough drop-off in heavily Republican counties, appear to have tipped both races in Democrats’ favor.
Even though he wasn’t on the ballot, President Trump is believed to have played a potentially decisive role in the outcome. The president’s baseless allegations of election fraud and searing attacks aimed at Georgia's Republican governor and secretary of state may have convinced a significant share of his supporters to sit out the race. Trump’s demand for $2,000 checks to be included in the most recent stimulus bill also created a political minefield for Loeffler and Perdue, some argue.
Others say the Republican candidates did plenty to hurt their own chances. Loeffler and Perdue, two of the wealthiest members of Congress, were ill suited for a campaign run in the heart of a severe recession, some argue. Accusations that they sold off stock in the early stages of the pandemic to avoid personal losses may have been particularly damaging. Ossoff and Warnock have received praise for promoting an optimistic message focused on the economy, while the Republicans have faced criticism for centering their campaigns around attempts to label their opponents as “radical socialists.”
Ossoff and Warnock won’t be sworn in until the election is certified at both the county and state levels in Georgia. Barring any delays caused by unexpected irregularities in the results, Democrats will establish their Senate majority sometime around Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.
Democrats’ on-the-ground voter turnout efforts made all the difference
“Once more, Democrats must profusely thank activist Stacey Abrams, who has mobilized more Democratic voters in Georgia than either party thought possible. ... She put in six years of work to shift the electorate in a way that allowed solid Democratic candidates to capitalize on the transformed electorate.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Trump sabotaged Republicans by questioning the integrity of the election
“If you’re looking to win elections, it is probably best not to urge your supporters not to vote. And – just spitballing here – don’t suggest that even if they do vote, you’ll engineer a preposterous scheme to get their ballots thrown out if the result isn’t to your liking.” — Christian Schneider, USA Today
Trump has turned suburban voters against the Republican Party as a whole
“Trump has done damage to the Republican brand among suburban voters that goes well beyond just races where he is on the ballot. And extrapolating further, if the suburbs are now a pure toss-up across the country, that would be, generally speaking, scary news for Republicans.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN
Democrats had a much more effective campaign message
“Ossoff and Warnock threw their own hard punches, but overall — in TV spots that never ended and direct mail that never stopped — their messages were significantly more optimistic. Warnock’s portrayal of himself as a dog lover, a strategic means of overcoming white suspicions of Black men, smacked of pure genius.” — Jim Galloway, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The national importance of the runoffs motivated Democratic voters to turn out
“Turnout was nearly 90 percent of what it was in the general election. That probably made the runoff electorate look more like the general-election electorate than it does in a typical runoff, which may help explain why Democrats gained ground rather than lost it.” — Nathaniel Rakich, Geoffrey Skelley, Laura Bronner and Julia Wolfe, FiveThirtyEight
This election is the culmination of a long demographic transition in Georgia
“As older, white, Republican-leaning voters die, they’ve been replaced by a younger and more racially diverse cast of people, many of whom moved to the Atlanta area from other states — and carried their politics with them. Overall, demographic trends show that the state’s electorate is becoming younger and more diverse each year.” — Brian Slodysko, Associated Press
Black voters won the runoffs for Democrats
“In this election, it is easier to argue that the Black and Democratic turnout was strong rather than to say that the Republican turnout was weak. Republican turnout was extremely strong for a runoff election; had analysts been told of G.O.P. turnout in advance, most would have assumed the Republicans were on track to win.” — Nate Cohn, New York Times
Republicans relied heavily on a misguided attempt to label Democrats as socialists
“Socialism and communism were our shadowy demonic enemies during the 20th century, and they’ve never fully gone away as bogeymen, even with the end of the Cold War. But in the 2020 elections and in Georgia’s runoff Tuesday the menace of creeping socialism was elevated to near-hysterical levels.” — Nicholas Goldberg, Los Angeles Times
Trump’s stimulus demands hurt Loeffler and Perdue
“Whether $2,000 checks would have gotten to 60 votes remains an open question (though it seems quite possible), but the fact that the GOP-held Senate blocked them gave Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff a potent political weapon.” — Fred Bauer, National Review
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