If you had said a year ago that the Democrats’ hopes of controlling the Senate depended upon Georgia, pundits would have scoffed. The South hardly seemed the place for Democrats to look for success. After all, Stacey Abrams lost her race for the governor in Georgia in 2018, despite an otherwise strong showing for Democrats in the mid-terms.
But then came Donald Trump.
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Trump can’t abide having lost the election, but his narrow loss in Georgia is particularly rankling. (Based on his call to the state’s election official, he’s bothered enough to engage in a likely criminal attempt to change the outcome.)
Now, thanks to Trump’s relentless focus on himself, the two Republican incumbent senators – David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler – appear to have lost their re-election bids. The narrow but sturdy leads of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are attributable to Trump making the race one final referendum on him.
Trump’s insistence that the Georgia election results were rigged – in the face of all the evidence – resonated with his core followers. But by telling them that their vote didn’t count, Trump was sending a clear message to Republicans: why bother? Early reports indicated that turnout in GOP strongholds was surprisingly light.
Some outlets have already called the race for Warnock. Ossoff is ahead in his race, but the margin is narrower.
Meantime, Trump was also reminding Democrats why they needed to get out to vote. The election was going to be one last referendum on Trump and on the Republicans supporting him. Trump’s phone call last Saturday to try to force the state’s election official to throw out Biden’s victory was probably the last straw. In many counties, Warnock and Ossoff exceeded Joe Biden’s margin of victory against Trump.
Having Warnock and Ossoff in the Senate is not just sweet revenge for Democrats, who will now effectively control both houses of Congress. While the Senate will be evenly split, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris can serve as the tiebreaker on votes, giving Democrats the upper hand.
Warnock and Ossoff will also pave the way for LGBTQ progress in Congress. The prospects of success for any pro-LGBTQ legislation hung in the balance in the Georgia race, especially since Loeffler and Perdue have been reliable opponents for LGBTQ rights.
While the election results are a clear boost for Biden, it’s hardly smooth sailing. Republicans, especially the party’s Senate leader Mitch McConnell, will use every legislative trick in the book to stop Biden. Moreover, the narrow margins will only embolden Republicans to feed the myth that the Georgia election was ridden with fraud.
One last, important point. In both Georgia’s presidential election and the Senate runoffs, Democrats owed their success to Black voters and disenchanted Republicans. Black turnout was especially strong, and the Democrats owe Black voters a huge debt. (How they repay it is an important question.)
At the same time, moderate, college-educated suburban voters who were formerly reliable Republican voters simply gave up on the party. Whether Democrats can keep their hold on that bloc will tell the difference between future victories or Republican comebacks.