Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeated Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in Georgia’s critical Senate runoff elections on Wednesday, as a result of which, the Democratic Party has finally managed to secure control of the US Senate.
For the first time since President Barack Obama was elected in 2009, the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives are now under Democratic control — thus, clearing the path for President-elect Joe Biden to enact his legislative agenda.
But why did another election happen in the US state of Georgia in the first place?
Georgia conducted two runoff elections on January 5, for both the state’s Senate seats, after all four candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties fell short of the 50 per cent-plus-one vote threshold mandated in the state.
Under Georgia election law, if a situation arises where no candidate is able to secure at least 50 per cent of the vote, then the two candidates with the most votes qualify for a second election, where they go head-to-head once again to try and clinch the minimum vote share mandated by the state to be declared the victor of the race.
According to the US Constitution, all 50 states are allowed to have their own election system and are thus free to decide the minimum share of votes needed to win a race. Several states, including Georgia, require candidates to get a minimum of 50 per cent of the total votes. Some states ask only for 40 per cent, and others do not have the option of runoff elections at all.
It is rather uncommon for two Senate runoffs to be held at once, but it happened this year as the seat for Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired last year, had to be filled.
In the November election, incumbent senator David Perdue got 49.8 per cent of the vote, while his Democratic contender Jon Ossoff managed to secure 47 per cent. The vote share of third-party candidate Shane Hazel of the Libertarian Party ensured that neither Perdue nor Ossoff could establish a clear majority.
The state’s other senator Republican Kelly Loeffler was appointed in 2019 to succeed Isakson after he retired. She was running against 21 candidates, none of whom were able to garner enough votes to win the race. Democrat Raphael Warnock received the greatest share of the vote (32.7 per cent), with Loeffler placing second (26 per cent). The winner of this runoff will only serve two years, which is the remainder of Ossoff’s six-year term.
Why was it so crucial for both sides to get that majority?
President-elect Joe Biden’s thumping victory over Donald Trump in the recently-held US presidential election was just part of the battle won as his ability to govern over the next two years was hinging on the two Senate races that took place in Georgia this week.
With the Democratic Party clinching both seats and reaching the crucial 50-seat threshold in the Senate, it is now able to create a unified government since the Democrats already have a majority the US House. Due to this, for the first two years of his term, President-elect Biden’s administration will be able to enjoy the enormous power that comes with control of both chambers and the executive branch.
With Trump’s repeated threats to reject the $900 billion Covid-19 relief package, which could potentially lead to a government shut down before the end of the year, Democrats are pushing the message that if they win the two Senate seats in Georgia, Congress will provide a more generous package with better benefits for the unemployed.
If the Democrats had lost, it would have been challenging for them to enact their major priorities like expanding healthcare and fighting climate change. The Senate’s senior-most Republican Mitch McConnell was likely to have blocked pretty much everything that was laid before him by the Democrats.
Basic duties like allocating funds for government projects and paying debts would become a struggle and their more ambitious plans — such as a multi-trillion-dollar plan to curb carbon emissions and to create more jobs in the country — wouldn’t have stood a chance in a Republican-majority Senate.
Senator David Perdue of Georgia talking about the first Black woman to be on a national ticket. pic.twitter.com/4fVylBJgdA
— Robert Costa (@costareports) October 17, 2020
It isn’t just policy proposals, if Senate Republicans had won the fight to keep their majority, McConnell would also have had complete authority to stifle Biden’s picks for the federal judiciary. For the last six years, the senate — led by McConnell — has been confirming conservative judges, a trend that Democrats hope to reverse now that they have won the runoff elections.
These are only Senate elections, so why the excitement?
There was a lot riding on the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, as it ultimately determined the balance of power in the Senate. If the Republicans had won one or both of the Georgia Senate races, they would have been able to clinch the majority in the house and, as a result, would have posed a major hurdle for Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.
Now that the Democrats have won both Georgia seats in the Senate, they will have a 50-50 tie with the Republican Party. In that case, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will serve as a tie-breaker. This would mean, hers would be the deciding vote in the Senate, which would clear the path for the Democrats to pass legislations and make big decisions.
What role is Trump playing in the election?
President Trump has been relentlessly trying to cast doubts on the results of the Georgia race, where he became the first Republican in over two decades to lose in the otherwise reliably-red state.
He courted controversy yet again this week, when an hour-long phone conversation was leaked in which he was heard pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” him enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory. He told Raffensperger he hoped this could be done before the Senate runoff election on Tuesday.
With the defeat in Georgia rendering a fresh blow to the Grand Old Party (GOP), many Republicans are now pointing fingers at the sitting US president. His refusal to concede and his repeated voter fraud allegations have divided the Georgia Republican Party. Some fear his antics may have dissuaded Republican voters from casting their ballot.
In fact, data from early voting shows the turnout in the runoff election reduced considerably in heavily Republican areas in the state, The New York Times reported.
On multiple occasions, he chose to speak against local Republican leaders when they did not support his bid for a recount. Meanwhile, his support for Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Pursue merely came in the form of a couple of Tweets and two rallies.
“I will easily and quickly win Georgia if Governor Brian Kemp or the Secretary of State permit a simple signature verification. Has not been done and will show large scale discrepancies,” he earlier tweeted. “Why are these two ‘Republicans’ saying no? If we win Georgia, everything else falls in place!”
Questions were raised against Trump about his “Georgia Election Fund” to support Republicans in the two senate runoffs, Politico reported. But a closer look showed that most of the proceeds were going towards his newly-launched Political Action Committee (PAC), which he plans to use to fund his future political activities.
But after facing pressure from Republican leadership, he held a rally in the state where he urged his supporters to vote as a way of getting back at the Democratic Party for committing fraud, The Washington Post reported.
Has a Republican majority thwarted a Democratic White House earlier?
Yes. During former President Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House, the Senate led by Mitch McConnell fought and attempted to block nearly every piece of legislation or major nomination the president put forth.
In a landmark political moment that was widely reexamined following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this year, McConnell and the Senate Republicans refused to confirm Obama’s pick, Judge Merrick Garland, to replace Justice Antonin Scalia in the US Supreme Court after his demise.
Many Democrats cited this instance after the recent nomination of federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to point out an apparent double standard in how Republicans handled the Supreme Court nominations of Obama and Trump.
Former President Bill Clinton, too, was repeatedly blocked into virtual paralysis by the Republicans in the Congress and Senate. Several of his nominees for judgeships, ambassadorships and other top posts were turned down by the Senate. To work around the hurdles posed by the House and Senate Republicans, he began flexing his presidential power through executive orders, regulations and proclamations.
On December 19, 1998, the House (then controlled by Republicans) voted to impeach Clinton for lying under oath and obstructing justice in connection with an alleged affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In the end, he was acquitted on both articles of impeachment following a trial in the Senate — which then was controlled by the Democrats.
Who contested the Georgia Senate races and against whom?
Sen David Perdue vs Jon Ossoff
David Purdue, a 71-year-old wealthy former businessman and vehement Trump ally, has served as a Georgia Senator since 2015. He is currently under scrutiny over allegations of insider trading, The New York Times first reported. But he is better known for sparking backlash when he consciously mispronounced Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’ name at an event.
Ossoff, the winner of the race, is a documentary filmmaker who first launched his campaign with an endorsement from the late civil rights icon John Lewis. The 33-year-old was the democratic candidate for a special congressional election in 2017, which he ultimately lost.
Sen Kelly Loeffler vs Raphael Warnock
Loeffler is a junior Georgia senator and is still regarded as a political newcomer. Much like Purdue, she has also been a long-time supporter of Trump. In 2019, she was named to the senate by Governor Brian Kemp after the sitting senator resigned. She also happens to be one of the wealthiest members of the Senate and even co-owns a women’s NBA team called the Atlanta Dream.
Warnock, who ultimately won the seat, is a pastor at the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr used to preach. The pastor made history with his election win, becoming the first Black Democrat elected as US Senator from a southern US state and only the 11 Black Senator in the country’s history. He has often been called “radical Raphael” by his Republican adversaries, who constantly bring up statements about the police, US-Israel relations, and the military that he made during some of his sermons.