Election Victory for the Democrats in Georgia

Joe Biden DNC 2020
© picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Carolyn Kaster  

Two months after the presidential election and for the first time in six years, Washington is now fully under Democratic control. On Tuesday, voters in the U.S. state of Georgia decided in two critical runoff elections which party controls the U.S. Senate, determining just how much President-elect Joe Biden can accomplish in his first two years in the White House.

Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler tried everything to preserve their party's position of power in Washington for the next two years after President Donald Trump lost the White House in November. But Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock were able to defeat the incumbent senators on account of strong voter turnout on Election Day. Warnock is the first black Democrat elected to the Senate from the southern state. Their wins narrowly give Democrats control of the Senate - the seat distribution in the chamber is now 50-50, and in the event of a tie, Vice President Kamala Harris will cast the deciding vote. This gives President-elect Biden crucial support to push through his agenda.

Democrats benefited from a high turnout among black voters, who made up a significantly larger share of the electorate than in the presidential election. Ossoff and Warnock relied on the coalition of urban, suburban and progressive-leaning voters that carried Joe Biden to a narrow victory in Georgia in 2020. Biden is the first Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 to win that state.

Both runoff elections were highly contested. Demographic changes, particularly the rapid growth of the Atlanta metropolitan area, have transformed Georgia's politics over the years, turning the traditionally conservative southern state into a hotly contested "swing state." Democrats, led by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, have been able to register thousands of new voters in recent years and help transform Georgia from a reliably Republican-voting state to a battleground state.

The runoff elections were among the most consequential in recent American history - never before has a runoff election in Georgia decided the balance of power in the Senate. Consequently, they were also the most expensive Senate races in history: nearly $500 million was spent on commercials.

The Democrats' message was that two wins in Georgia were necessary for Biden to help the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic and the recession. Republicans countered that a Democratic-controlled Senate would lead America to socialism.

Significant Impact on Biden's Agenda

Because the party in power controls the agenda and has considerable room to maneuver, the Ossoff and Warnock victories are critical for President-elect Biden to effectively advance his ambitious agenda in the first 100 days of his presidency. Biden's top legislative priority is a stimulus package aimed at distributing funds to the states to get Americans vaccinated as soon as possible, among other Covid-related priorities. The package also includes robust incentives for green technologies. A Republican-led Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have curtailed Biden's ability to quickly fill and confirm his Cabinet and pass legislation.

Recent history gave Democrats reason to be pessimistic about their chances in Georgia. They had not won a Senate seat in Georgia in more than two decades, let alone two. But at the same time, President Trump's actions since the November election gave Democrats a new sense of hope that victory was possible. Democrats were especially hopeful that the president's unsubstantiated claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of fraud, along with his public attacks against Republican officials in Georgia, would help keep his supporters away from the polls.

Trump's final political chess move on the eve of the election ultimately damaged his party decisively. In an hour-long phone conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the president repeated a series of conspiracy theories and demanded that state election officials "find" the 11,780 electoral votes that would secure him Georgia's 16 Electoral College votes. Raffensperger resisted the pressure and the recording of the conversation was released.

The blame game begins

Tuesday's election in Georgia not only determined the balance of control in the U.S. Congress, but also revealed the extent to which President Trump's unsuccessful efforts have fragmented and damaged his own party. Now a blame game will begin within the Republican Party and renewed attempts to delegitimize the results. The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of President Trump for his actions since November 3. His tactics frustrated Republicans and complicated their efforts in Georgia to bring his supporters back to the polls. Ultimately, he undermined the party's messaging and stoked tensions among leading Republican politicians.