Democrats went into the election expecting to win the White House, expand the majority in the House of Representatives and win a majority in the Senate. They won 1-3 which is good in baseball but bad in electoral politics. Their ultimate boogeyman may have been voted out of office but the ambitious, far-reaching progressive agenda that President-Elect Joe Biden promised to enact will likely be blocked by 50 Republican Senators. For Biden to have any hope of getting core parts of his plan through Congress, Democrats need to win the two Senate run-offs in the state of Georgia, which Mr. Biden won. If this were to occur, the Senate would be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie breaker and potentially making her the most influential Vice President since Aaron Burr, who served in the office from 1801 to 1805.
THE INCUMBENT VS THE MAVERICK
The first Senate race features incumbent Senator David Perdue, a Republican, in a battle for re-election against Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff. Perdue won a plurality of the vote with 49.7% but per Georgia law, the race must go to a run-off between the top two candidates. Mr. Ossoff has the political ambition of a young Bill Clinton but none of the electoral success. He ran for Congress in a special election in 2017 that became the most expensive in history and earned 48% of the vote in a heavily Republican district. Democrats would win the seat a year later. Mr. Ossoff once again secured 48% of the vote in the Senate election, but needs to find 90,000 more votes to overcome his deficit. His best opportunity would be to repeat his strong debate performance from the first campaign, where he accused his opponent of being a “crook”; the attack proved so devastating that Perdue withdrew from the next debate. Mr. Perdue will be looking to secure the 115,000 votes that went to the Libertarian Party candidate and retain his place in the Senate. Perdue is favored but the Democrats have energy on their side and believe that they can win statewide in Georgia, something they haven’t done since – you guessed it – Bill Clinton.
THE CEO VS THE PASTOR
At the start of 2020, Kelly Loeffler was sworn in to replace the retiring Senator Johnny Isakson. Her appointment by the governor required the state to hold a special election outside the regular term interval. Ms. Loeffler is a successful business executive and co-owner of the Atlanta women’s basketball team. Her opponent is the Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, who is the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also pastor. Loeffler has attempted to brand Warnock as a Marxist in the hopes of dissuading Georgia’s suburban voters outside the Atlanta area from backing the Democrat. The key to Biden’s victory in Georgia was high turnout from Black voters in Atlanta and strong performance in suburban districts. Warnock’s connection with Black and religious voters is his strength; perceived radicalism his weakness. On the other side, Loeffler has touted her 100% devotion to President Donald Trump including his efforts to cast aspersion on the voting process in Georgia. If public opinion sours on Trump’s unproven claims of voter fraud, Loeffler’s standing will fall with the president’s.
Democrats’ secret weapon
Stacy Abrams, a 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate, has been frequently cited as the reason Biden won Georgia. Her tireless work to organize Democratic voters in the State and in particular registering voters that had been denied the vote through voter suppression tactics during her run for governor made the difference in 2020. She will be working once again to win the State for Democrats’ and deliver Biden the Senate wins he needs for his election. Republicans typically gain 1-2 points of electoral performance in runoff elections, but these races are won by organization more than messaging. Getting your voters to turn out to back you in the second election in just two months, especially when the first was a grueling campaign, is the real battle. In the special election, Republican candidates fought between themselves over the right to a runoff and now are fighting a separate battle on voter fraud. Their lack of focus on the election could be the Democrats’ gain. If however, conservatives unite to shut out Democrats in the Senate, Biden will begin his presidency with one arm tied behind his back.