Column: The impact of Georgia run-off on the Senate

On January 5, 2021 democrats raced down the stairs as if it was Christmas morning. Voters, candidates, and staff were glued to the TV awaiting the results of Georgia’s Senate runoff race. This race was to determine the future majority in the senate, a price both sides were eager to win. However, both democratic candidates prevailed. Leaving John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock the senator elects for the state of Georgia. What led to this outcome? Considering Georgia was historically a Republican state what led it to swing to the democrats in both the senate and the presidential race? I spoke to Billy Piper, a republican strategist and former chief of staff to Mitch McConnell.

“There was a really concerted effort by democrats in Georgia to register new voters and to encourage those voters to get out and participate enormous dividends,” Piper said. 

Voter turnout in this runoff was historical. Over 4.4 million people voted in the election which was more than double in Georgia’s previous runoff in 2008. Piper expressed that Democrats in Georgia worked as a well-oiled machine. Most importantly they worked together, unlike the Republican Party who was facing turmoil within their circle. Ossoff and Warnock often campaigned together and worked on a joint message to encourage new voters to get out and participate. They also received help from other members of their party. 

Stacey Abrams, who formerly served in the Georgia House of Representatives, was at the forefront of a 10 year effort to increase democratic voter turnout. Ever since her election to the House in 2007, she worked tirelessly to rebuild the Democratic Party in Georgia. After her loss in the most recent race for governor her efforts only increased. Her two voting rights organizations, Fair Fight and New Georgia Project, lead to the increase in voters of color; more specifically women of color. She fought to ensure democrats won their place in congress even if she lost her own race. 

This election was not historic only in voter turnout, Raphael Warnock is the first black senator to ever be elected in the state of Georgia. The state of Georgia was a cornerstone of the confederacy. Slavery, segregation, and lynchings are still imprinted on the lands of Georgia. But Georgia was also a home for the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. preached at Warnock’s Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta. Warnock’s election marks a shift in Georgia, away from its deplorable past. The new Georgia is now represented by a black pastor and the son of Jewish immigrants. Georgia is in for a progressive new era. 

So what does this mean for the senate? Now that there is a 50/50 senate the democratic vice-president breaks the tie, giving the majority to the democrats. As I spoke to Piper he explained what advantages the majority party has. “The majority leader of the senate gets to decide what business comes to the floor of the senate for consideration, and when”. But because of the way the senate is formed a majority as small as this won’t predict how votes will go, because in order to pass something you have to get to a significant majority of 60 or more votes. Piper believes this will encourage more bipartisanship, because in order to get anything done democrats and republicans will have to work together on votes. 

This Georgia runoff race not only affected the future of Georgia but also the future of bipartisanship in the U.S. senate.

About Author