Democrats go down to Georgia, secure election victory, and U.S. Senate majority

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Emily Shiff

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, two Democratic candidates, won a heated Georgia Runoff election this past Wednesday. Ossoff is the first Jewish Georgian senator and Warnock is the first Black Democrat Georgian senator. The election hints that America’s politics may be at a turning point.

Georgia held a Senate Runoff Election to determine who its next two senators would be last Tuesday. Senate runoff elections are held when no singular candidate has over 50% of the state’s votes, which was the case for the elections for both Senate seats in the 2020 elections. Most of the candidates are eliminated, save for the two with the most votes, who go on to run against each other directly in these special elections. On one hand, incumbent Republican David Perdue faced off against Democrat Jon Ossoff; on the other, Republican Senate appointee Kelly Loeffler battled Democrat Raphael Warnock. The runoff elections were particularly important this year as opposed to any other: Whoever won would decide whether Democrats or Republicans would take control of the Senate, and America’s future with it.

Normally, Georgia would not have both its Senate seats feature in elections at the same time. Senate seats are usually distributed in such a way that only a third of the seats are up for reelection at any given time, with terms lasting for six years. However, one of Georgia’s senators- Johnny Isakson (R) – had just resigned from office due to health concerns. In his place, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp decided to appoint Kelly Loeffler, a staunch Republican, to the role until the next election. 

However, during her stint as Isakson’s replacement, Loeffler was often at the center of controversy. Forbes estimates that she is “the richest person on Capitol Hill,” with a net worth of about $800 million. She is married to the CEO of International Exchange, the parent company behind the New York Stock Exchange– and before she became Senator, she had worked in the International Exchange herself. It was possible that using her position in the Senate, she could rule on bills and procedures in ways that would benefit the International Exchange. She was among the senators who had possibly used their insider knowledge to sell stocks just before the stock market crashed in March of 2020, in a violation of the STOCK Act of 2012 which prevents Senators from doing just that. Loeffler has stated that she adamantly opposes the Black Lives Matter movement, and she supported President Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election– a claim that led to the riots in the Capitol last Wednesday.

Meanwhile, David Perdue, the Republican Senator making a re-election bid to, was also no stranger to controversy. Like Loeffler, he too had possibly violated the STOCK Act to sell stocks just before the market crashed. NBC News said of the matter, “There is no evidence that Perdue, who is among the wealthier members of the Senate, acted on information gained as a member of Congress. But legal experts say the timing of his sale, the fact that he quickly bought Cardlytics stock back when it had lost two-thirds of its market value, and his close ties to company officials all warrant scrutiny.” 

Their opponents for these elections, respectively, were Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Warnock, originally an African-American pastor from Atlanta, rose to prominence as an activist in favor of the Affordable Care Act. Ossoff, meanwhile, was formerly an investigative journalist and documentary producer who had previously run in the 2017 Special Election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. Both of these challengers lean left. Warnock advocates for universal healthcare, expanding voting accessibility, and policies to combat climate change. Ossoff advocates for a woman’s right to choose, raising the minimum wage, and comprehensive immigration reform. Compared to Loeffler and Perdue, who have both labeled themselves as allies of Donald Trump, the difference could not be any more pronounced.

The most important thing about these two elections, however, was that it would decide which party has a majority in the US Senate. Prior to the runoff, Republicans had a majority, which means the Senate is led by Kentuckian Republican Mitch McConnell. If Democrats could snag both Georgia senate seats, the Senate would be perfectly balanced with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans- but would still be considered a Democrat majority because Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris would preside over the Senate. Otherwise, however, Republicans would continue to control the Senate under McConnell. 

However, Georgia being a state that had not elected a Democratic Senator since 1996, was not likely to elect two left-leaning candidates, partially because of its long history of voter suppression. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Georgia has a long history of voter suppression, dating back to the post-Civil War period when the Ku Klux Klan used widespread violence to intimidate Black and Republican [which at the time was a left-leaning party similar to the Democratic party today] voters in order to re-establish white supremacy. Georgia was one of the states that perfected Jim Crow laws to limit Black votes.” Voter suppression in Georgia, such as closing polling places in mostly-Black areas, gerrymandering, forcing voters to wait hours in line, and purging voter rolls, has long favored white Republican voters. If the Democrats were to take the Senate in this race, they would need to take the bull of voter suppression by its horns and usurp it– which is where Stacey Abrams comes into play.

Stacey Abrams is a Georgian politician, author, lawyer, and voting rights activist. In the 2018 election for Georgia’s Governor position, she was the Democratic nominee, facing off against Republican Brian Kemp- but she lost to him in an election marred and cross-hatched with allegations that Kemp actively engaged in voter suppression to win his seat. In response to this, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, an organization that financially aids Democrat election campaigns and to assist in voter protection in 20 states, especially Georgia and Texas. The organization, with its initiative Fair Fight 2020, worked to ensure votes were actively counted and advocated for voter turnout, especially in minority communities like Georgia’s Black population. This organization has been deemed responsible by both the New York Times and Washington Post as having been responsible for 800,000 new voter registrations as well as the high Democrat turnout in both the 2020  U.S. Presidential and 2021 U.S. Senate runoff elections.

In the end, on the morning of January 6, it was made apparent that both Democratic candidates would win their positions as Georgian Senators. This means Democrats would be able to take back Senate control from McConnell and the Republicans. It also makes for some historic firsts: Warnock will be both the first African-American to represent Georgia in the Senate as well as the first African-American Democrat elected to the Senate by a formerly Confederate state. Ossoff will be the first Jewish Georgian Senator as well as the first Jewish Senator representing the Deep South since 1879. A bold statement has been made by Georgian voters in terms of who they want to see represent them.

So where do we go from here? If anything, the Georgia Runoff Elections have taught us that Democrats should put more emphasis on helping and advocating for minority communities. It was the work of Fair Fight Action and Black voters that won the Democrats the Senate, not white centrists that needed to be coaxed over to the left. It was Stacey Abrams’s work of empowering communities and combating voter suppression that led the election to two Democrat victories and Georgia’s first Black Democrat and Jewish senators. The solution for the Democratic party is not to prioritize white centrist voters that might otherwise vote for Republicans- it is aiding the communities who might otherwise feel unrepresented by voting. Georgia is not the only state that had shown signs of turning blue as it did this election- many others, including the traditionally-Republican Texas, show signs that they could flip blue as well. Change is in the air. It is up to the Democratic party to learn from this election and continue to work to empower voters. 

If Democrats continue to prioritize minority voters in future elections and work hard to stop voter suppression, well, who knows- it could be a great, big, blue-tiful tomorrow.