By BEN MORLEY
On January 5th, mere days away, the electorate of Georgia will choose its next two Senators in a remarkably important set of run-off elections. Currently the Peach states’ two Senatorial seats are held by Republicans - Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue - and both are running for re-election. Opposing them are the Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff, a former journalist and Congressional aide and Reverend Raphael Warnock, Senior pastor of Martin Luther King’s Jr’s former church. With the Senate currently split 50-48 to the Republicans, this is a vital election that could decide the fate and story of Joe Biden’s Presidency.
Should the Democrats win both seats in Georgia and the Senate see a 50-50 split between Democratic and Republican Senators in January, the Vice President would be called to end a tie. Thus, should the Democrats win both seats in Georgia, they will regain control of the Senate and therefore all of the legislative branch of Government, giving President-Elect Biden a solid and flexible mandate to govern. Importantly, such eventualities would move blocker-in-chief Majority Leader Mitch McConnell down to the minority, and mean Sen. Chuck Schumer would assume the duties of the Majority Leader. As a result, Biden would be able to get vastly more of his agenda, from climate to COVID-19-relief, achieved.
Throughout President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, the 44th Commander-in-Chief was greatly handicapped by not controlling both chambers of Congress and, in particular, by Sen. Mitch McConnell creating an impasse for a considerable bulk of the White House’s legislation. Crucially, the politics of this worked for McConnell since at a time of gridlock, the President is blamed for being unable to steer through progress, even if Representatives and Senators are trying to deliberately create and elongate that situation. Without the flipping of these two Georgia Senate Seats, the same should be expected, but this time for Joe Biden.
The Democratic Primary process in 2019 and 2020 that nominated Biden was the most progressive in US history. Consequently, the party platform released for the General Election, was the most liberal ever in a US election. Evidently, the vast majority of these proposals would not get past a Republican Senate. Yet, if Ossoff and Warnock manage to win, the changes Biden would initiate could be transformative for the US.
Economically, Biden has floated bringing in a universal $15 minimum wage, making tuition free for students of families earning under $125,000 a year and vastly increasing the supply of affordable housing. Health-wise, the Biden team seeks to build on the ACA to create a public option for healthcare and hopes to make all COVID-19 testing and vaccinations free, as well as extending sick pay and unemployment insurance. Bolder than any previous administration, they aim to make the US net carbon neutral by 2050 and make all power plants carbon neutral by 2035 and will rejoin the Paris Climate Accords immediately upon entering office. Lastly but yet likely first in line legislatively, the Democrats could seek to pass a new voting rights act to make it easier to vote including automatic voter registration and potentially even providing statehood to Washington DC and a path to it for Puerto Rico.
Unlike most of Georgia’s recent Congressional elections, this one is very close. When Sen. Perdue first won election into the Senate in 2014, he won by the comfortable margin of 8%. In 2020, Perdue only reached 49%, Ossoff (his challenger) 47% and importantly, the Libertarian candidate (Shane Hazel) received 2% of the vote, meaning a run-off was needed since no candidate reached the required 50%. Additionally, for the first time since 1992, Georgia voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate in the 2020 General Election. In large part, this was achieved thanks to the work of activists, noticeably Stacy Abrams, in getting hundreds of thousands registered to vote. From solidly Republican, Georgia has edged towards being a toss-up.
Critical in such a competitive state, the race has not been short of controversy. Back in the spring, both of the Republican incumbents, Loeffler and Perdue, after receiving a coronavirus briefing sold some of their stocks for profit, and then proceeded to play down the pandemic. While this hypocrisy is problematic enough, Loeffler faced even more negative press recently when she was seen pictured with a prominent KKK leader at one of her rallies. Her campaign denied that she knew who he was.
Arguably their biggest problem though is the conundrum of whether to publicly support President Trump’s claims that he, somehow, actually won the election. Support him, back the supposed voter fraud and the race being fixed, and they may see a small but highly significant number of supporters not vote. Dispute his version of the facts that there is widespread voter fraud to prevent low turnout but then the Senators may lose the critical fanbase of President Trump. They cannot convince Republicans the election is fair and keep the President’s base full support.
January 5th 2020 may well prove to be the most consequential day of Joe Biden’s Presidency, even before it has begun. In many ways, the future of the US is on the ballot: a progressive agenda led by a near-fully Democratic Washington, or gridlock with the hope of bi-partisanship between Congress and the White House. Truly, it is all to play for in Georgia.
Image - Flickr (Heather Kennedy)