In a reversal of usual political fortunes, Democrats have managed to flip both Republican-held Senate seats in Georgia. Reverend Raphael Warnock and documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff both won their Senate bids in Tuesday’s runoff election. The effort has been heralded by pundits as a sign of Georgia’s shifting demographics, as well as the success of grassroots “get out the vote” movements.
At the time of this writing, only a handful of publications have called the race for Jon Ossoff over David Perdue. However, Ossoff leads Perdue by a narrow margin and the remaining ballots to be counted are largely absentee ballots, which have heavily favored Osssoff. As such, there is confidence that Ossoff will win the race.
Much of the credit for Georgia’s seemingly sudden blue turn is given to voter registration efforts. Those efforts, including Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project, are largely led by black community leaders. The efforts have mobilized Georgia’s black population and have dramatically altered the political conversation in the populous Southern state.
The victory for both Democrats in Georgia is stunning because it splits the Senate exactly 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. However, that’s not a deadlock; Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will be the president of the Senate once sworn in, will be the tie-breaking vote. This gives Democrats de facto control of the Senate. Since Democrats already controlled a majority in the House of Representatives, this means that the Biden Administration will have much more freedom to pursue its agenda.
The biggest shift this political windfall brings for Democrats is that they no longer have to contend with former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Since ascending to that role in 2010, McConnell has functioned as an obstructionist to any and all Democrat policies.
Famously, he kneecapped the Obama Administration’s last four years, including refusing to hear the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. McConnell’s tactics in the Senate allowed Donald Trump to install Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, altering the dynamic on the high court and setting the stage of the current 6-3 Republican majority there.
Wednesday morning’s news that Democrats had won in Georgia was encouraging but still leaves questions in the air. Democrats haven’t held the Senate since the 2010 midterm election. With control of both houses of Congress and the executive branch, Biden will have the ability to enact a sweeping agenda to address issues like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
At the forefront of many voters’ minds is a provision Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t bring forward when in control of the Senate. The provision, to increase recently passed $600 stimulus checks to $2000, is very popular among Americans but deeply unpopular among Senate Republicans.
As Warnock and Ossoff prepare to be sworn into the Senate, one thing is clear: Democrats can make inroads in the Deep South and can turn historically Republican strongholds blue with the right grassroots approach. Those on the left hope Georgia is a blueprint of how to mobilize the Democratic base in the South for years to come.