Georgia Runoffs


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Courtesy of Jessica McGowan.

The November 2020 elections were arguably some of the most impactful in modern American political history, ushering a new administration into the Oval Office and securing various Congressional seats for both parties. This administration will set the tone for the years to come, securing Democratic control in both the White House and the House of Representatives. However, one of the most crucial moments for American politics came, two months after the general elections. In early January, Georgia held two run-off Senate races, both of which the Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, won. So how were two Democratic nominees elected as Senators in a historically Republican state? The key: Voter Turnout. This is especially true for Black voters, who were spurred by the efforts of key figures such as Stacey Abrams and Barack Obama and the widespread understanding of the significance that these two seats held. People understood that these seats not only determined partisan control within the Senate, but also defined the future of the Biden presidency and the Judiciary, leading to increased numbers of voters who went to the polls. 

The potential implications of the Georgia run-offs fueled the mass drive to elect the two Democrats to the Senate, leading to a rise in unprecedented voter turnout. Even Former President Obama appeared in a campaign ad for Ossoff, funded by millions of dollars in donations. In fact, the Georgia races have become some of the most expensive political elections in American history, dwarfing other Senate races and even some Presidential races in spending. 

Another big factor that ensured a Georgia victory for the Democratic party was the work that Stacey Abrams and others did to ensure fair voter registration and increased turnout. Through her program Fair Fight, Abrams managed to register over 800,000 voters in the state, most of whom were Black. Though Abrams does not currently hold public office, she had left her mark by enfranchising thousands of voters and battling voter suppression. These factors ultimately led to a Democratic victory. 

Now, what was the significance of the Georgia run-offs? The race, first and foremost, determined who held control of the Senate, and therefore who holds control of the Judiciary. The two seats allowed for the Democrats to hold a Senate majority through the tie-breaking Vice-President vote, a majority which the Republicans held for four years prior. With a current conservative majority within the Supreme Court and a couple of aging justices, this Democratic majority allows for the opportunity to potentially confirm a few more liberal justices who may shift the balance in the court. The same applies for the hundreds of federal judges throughout the entire country. Throughout his entire administration, Trump managed to appoint 26 federal judges with a Senate majority — Biden, with his Senate majority, now has the ability to take back a lot of lost control in the Judiciary. 

Biden is now also able to fulfill much of his legislative agenda, especially his ambitious climate policies and much of his Covid-19 stimulus plan. Precedent has shown that without a majority in Congress, it is virtually impossible to pass any legislation. Both Trump and Obama, with full control of Congress, were able to force many of their policies through — however, once control was lost, most, if not all of their proposed policies never made it through. For example, in 2010, Obama was able to pass his healthcare reform with the help of a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. However, once his grasp over Congress had begun to falter, his major proposals, including gun reform and budget control, had all been snubbed. And in an increasingly polarized atmosphere, this precedent will not change. People understood this significance, and therefore took to the polls, ensuring an unlikely victory for Ossoff and Warnock. 

In this decade, the reality is that races are not won by drawing from voters across the aisle, but simply through voter turnout. In Georgia’s runoffs, this concept was used effectively. Despite the dirty tactics that Loeffler and Perdue employed to gain an edge in the elections, whether it be lengthening Ossoff’s nose or darkening Warnock’s skin in attack ads, the two Democratic nominees prevailed, taking office as the first Jewish and Black Senator in state history.