Georgia’s run-off elections
So sweet and clear
Two stunning victories for Democrats in Georgia upend the Senate
Four years ago, any pundit predicting that the solidly Republican state of Georgia would send two Democratic senators to Washington in 2020 would have been dismissed as a crank. Yet that was the outcome of two extraordinary run-off elections held on January 5th, which may set a new model for winning Democratic campaigns in the usually inhospitable South. The contests were also the costliest Senate races ever—more than $500m was spent on a deluge of advertising alone—because they will determine control of the Senate for the next two years.
Raphael Warnock, the first African- American ever to be elected to the Senate from the South, defeated Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbent. The other Democrat, Jon Ossoff, defeated Senator David Perdue, meaning the Senate will be tied at 50-50, giving the vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, the casting vote in the upper chamber. Democrats will thus have secured the Washington trifecta of House, Senate and White House needed to pass legislation. For the incoming president, Joe Biden, this means a chance to convert at least some of his ambitious agenda from a pile of white papers into reality. For the outgoing president, Donald Trump, it is a startling rebuke.
Though the elections’ national ramifications may take most headlines, the contests also reflect Georgia’s idiosyncrasies. The state is unique in requiring a head-to-head run-off if no candidate commands a majority in the general election. On November 3rd Mr Perdue secured a greater share of votes than did Mr Trump, who lost the state by a razor-thin margin. The president has since been consumed with attempts to overturn that result through recounts, lawsuits and, most disturbingly, direct pressure on Georgia’s top elections officer to “find” the necessary votes to steal the election.
Run-offs typically favour Republicans: they tend to be snoozy events that attract only the most committed voters (older, whiter and typically more conservative). That did not happen this time. Turnout was estimated to be 4.5m, or 89% of the recordsetting tally in November. It was high enough in the right places to suggest a Democratic finish ahead of Mr Biden’s.