Democrats cemented a narrow Senate majority Tuesday with narrow victories in two runoff races in Georgia. Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church – the pulpit once occupied by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – defeated incumbent Kelly Loeffler by just 35,000 votes (out of 4.4 million cast).
In the second runoff, Jon Ossofff defeated Republican David Perdue by 73,000 votes, also out of 4.4 million cast.
Georgia had not been scheduled to elect two Senators in 2020. Perdue was originally up for re-election at the end of his six-year term, but state law required Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to replace veteran Senator Johnny Isakson when the latter retired at the end of 2019, to run for election on her own accord. In addition, the presence of a third-party candidate, Libertarian Shane Hazel, resulted in none of the candidates achieving the required 50% of the vote.
The results establish Georgia as a critical swing state for the 2024 presidential election and brings the Senate balance to an even 50-50 split. That will give Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote in her role as president of the Senate when she takes office on January 20. That, in turn, will smooth the path for Congress to implement President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.
The Georgia runoff was a mirror image of the state’s presidential election in November and further illustrates the growing split between rural and urban districts in the United States. Like President-elect Biden, who carried Georgia with by just 12,000 votes, Warnock and Ossoff won on the strength of metropolitan areas in and around Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah and Columbus, with nearly every rural district in the state voting for Republican candidates for both Senate and president.
Prof. Andra Gillespie, the director of Emory University’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference, said there is a sharp difference between the Democrats’ 2020/21 victories and victories in previous generations.
“What we saw in the ’80s and ’90s… was a shift of White voters away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republican Party,” Gillespie told CNN. “Southern whites were a firm part of the New Deal coalition (but) that starts to change after the Civil Rights Movement. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a long period of time. It culminated in the 2000s, at the beginning of the decade, with Sonny Perdue’s gubernatorial victory and a change in party of the control in the state House of Representatives. And then it culminated by the 2010s at the end of the decade, when all of the state wide offices were won by Republican candidates.
“I don’t think Georgia is blue by any stretch of the imagination, but it is moving towards some form of purple. I wouldn’t be surprised if we stay there for, you know, the next decade or so,” Gillespie said..