The battle for the Senate



Trump still won’t concede, which Biden called an “embarrassment.” And a look at the implications of Georgia’s Senate runoff elections.


This year’s election season has sometimes felt like the longest the country has ever experienced. It was nasty. It took place during a pandemic that has kept many of us at home. And it still isn’t over.


That’s not even a reference to President Trump’s continued refusal to concede — which, while damaging to the credibility of American democracy, is extremely unlikely to change the result.


When I say the campaign isn’t over, I’m referring to Georgia. Because of both circumstance and a quirk in that state’s law, Georgia will host two Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5 (barring an unlikely change in the current vote totals). The implications are enormous.


If Democrats win both, they will narrowly control the Senate, and Joe Biden will be able to pursue ambitious legislation on the coronavirus, climate change, job creation, taxes and more. If Republicans win either Georgia seat, they will retain Senate control (barring an unlikely change in another state’s vote totals), and Biden will need one or more Republican votes to pass any bill.


In an earlier era, the difference between these two scenarios might not have been huge. Either way, Senate moderates, of one party or the other, would have been the key to passing bills. But our polarized era is different, especially for congressional Republicans.


They were almost uniformly unwilling to work with Presidents Bill Clinton or Barack Obama on major legislation, dealing with taxes, the climate, health care, economic stimulus and more. Obama offered various compromises — like market-based systems to expand health insurance or combat climate change — and still could not win Republican votes. The situation has been more nuanced with congressional Democrats during Republican presidencies, as bipartisan coalitions have passed big bills on stimulus, Medicare and education since 2000.


Maybe Biden will somehow prove more adept at finding Republican votes than Obama or Clinton. More likely, though, the elections in Georgia will shape Washington for at least the next two years.


The most significant difference is probably on climate change. It “is the issue that throws the Georgia runoffs into sharpest relief,” as Vox’s Ezra Klein has written. “If Democrats win 50 seats in the Senate, large-scale climate legislation is possible, even likely. If they don’t, it’s simply not going to happen.”


Here are the basics on Georgia, if you want to go deeper:


  • One of the two runoffs will resolve a special election following the early retirement of Johnny Isakson, a Republican who is in poor health. The top two vote getters in the first round of that special election will now face each other. They are Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican businesswoman whom Georgia’s governor appointed to the seat, and Raphael Warnock, the head pastor at the Atlanta church that Martin Luther King Jr. once ran.


  • The second runoff is between Senator David Perdue, a Republican running on the normal schedule for a second term, and Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee and a documentary filmmaker. Perdue leads Ossoff, 49.7 percent to 47.9 percent, in the latest vote count. But Georgia, unlike most states, requires a runoff if neither candidate wins 50 percent in a Senate general election.


  • Both parties consider the Georgia runoffs highly competitive. Biden currently leads Trump in Georgia, 49.5 percent to 49.2 percent.




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