Democrats are on track to win both Georgia runoffs and retake the Senate

Democrats are on track to win both Georgia runoffs and retake the Senate
Raphael Warnock, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In an historic election with consequences that will reverberate for years, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are poised to flip two Republican-held Senate seats in Georgia and hand control of the chamber to Democrats for the first time since 2014.

With most votes tallied, Warnock held a small but insurmountable lead on his Republican opponent, Kelly Loeffler, and declared victory. Ossoff trailed Republican David Perdue by the narrowest of margins but is all but assured of taking the lead when the remaining ballots are counted, since they are almost all in blue counties.

Warnock, a pastor who holds the pulpit at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, would not only become Georgia's first-ever Black senator but also the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from a state of the old Confederacy. Meanwhile, Ossoff, an investigative journalist who shot to prominence in a 2017 special election for the House, would be the first Jewish senator elected from the Deep South, and, at just 33, the youngest Democrat in the Senate since none other than Joe Biden.

The likely victories cap off a remarkable election cycle that saw Biden become the first Democrat to carry Georgia's electoral votes since Bill Clinton in 1992. They would also see Democrats reverse a long history of desultory turnout in runoff elections, which were originally put in place precisely to prevent Black candidates from winning office, making Warnock's impending win all the more extraordinary.

This unlikely turn of events was powered by major shifts in Georgia's electorate, which has both grown more diverse in recent years and seen many once-loyal Republican voters abandon their party out of disgust with Donald Trump. When Democrats last won a Senate seat in Georgia 20 years ago, the victor was the notoriously conservative Zell Miller, who later went on to serve as a keynote speaker for George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Warnock and Ossoff, by contrast, ran campaigns that reflected a newer South and affirmed mainstream progressive values, including support for $2,000 COVID relief checks—an issue that became central in the final days of the race and put both Republicans at odds with Trump.

Most consequentially, if Warnock and Ossoff's victories hold up, Democrats will find themselves in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade. While many challenges will await, this alone will remove the biggest obstacle to Democratic priorities—including Biden's cabinet appointments and judicial nominations—by deposing Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader.

The durability of Georgia's political transformation will be tested again soon: Because the Warnock-Loeffler race was a special election for the final two years of former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson's term, Warnock would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022. Ossoff, by contrast, would not go before voters again until 2026.

P.S. The last time a state's entire Senate delegation changed hands on the same night was in November of 1994, when Republicans won a pair of elections in Tennessee, including a special election for the seat that had previously been held by Al Gore.

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