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Democrats Take Senate Control With Georgia Wins

Georgia senate wins by democrats followed years of party organizing. Democrats Take Senate Control With Georgia Wins

Democrats Take Senate Control With Georgia Wins

State Republicans are left splintered after dual losses with no clear path forward.

Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won both Senate runoff races in Georgia, giving Democrats control of the U.S. Senate and easing the path for President-elect Joe Biden’s appointments and legislative agenda.

Mr. Warnock defeated Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, while Mr. Ossoff took the seat held by former Republican Sen. David Perdue, whose term expired over the weekend. The new Senate will be evenly split between the two parties at 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaker vote, if it comes to that.

Democratic control of the Senate means Mr. Biden has a friendlier chamber in which to advance judicial nominations, cabinet picks and legislation around Covid-19, climate change and infrastructure.

Still, Mr. Biden must navigate between the chamber’s centrist Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and progressives including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Moderate Republicans, such as Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, could also play deal-making roles.

Messrs. Warnock and Ossoff’s upset victories, projected by the Associated Press, coincided Wednesday with a riot in and outside the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was meeting to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s win in the presidential race.

A smaller group of President Trump supporters also gathered in Georgia’s Capitol, and Fulton County suspended counting ballots for the day out of an abundance of caution, county officials said Wednesday.

While Georgia Democrats celebrated the dual wins that gave their party control of the U.S. Senate, they said they must also press to make their new success durable in the GOP-led state.

Meanwhile, Republicans find themselves splintered. The angry pro-Trump mobs on Wednesday make the next steps even murkier, said Eric Tanenblatt, a longtime Republican strategist in Atlanta who was Georgia chairman of the conservative Senate Georgia Battleground Fund PAC this year.

“The problem is we had this civil war in our party in the aftermath of the Nov. 3 election,” in which Mr. Biden defeated Mr. Trump in Georgia by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast, he said. The angry protests will make reconciliation much harder, he predicted.

“This is just a further example of the disruption that the president and his loyal supporters are causing,” he said. “It’s sickening to see some of the things I’m watching on TV,” he said. “We need to heal. We need to move forward.”

Mr. Trump claimed the Georgia race was fraught with fraud, forcing fellow Republican and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to defend an election he had overseen. The increasingly bitter exchanges between them were “not constructive, a total distraction” that undermined Republican voter turnout efforts in the runoffs, said Mr. Tanenblatt.

The Democratic wins were driven by a mobilized Black voter community, an influx of new residents from more liberal states and years of organizing to turn the reliably Republican state into a politically competitive one.

Both Messrs. Warnock and Ossoff modeled their runoff races after Mr. Biden’s successful operation by running up big margins around cities like Atlanta, Columbus, Savannah and their suburbs to offset the Republican strongholds in the exurbs and rural regions.

Central to those plans was getting their voters to turn out for the runoff races two months after the November election. The second elections were required when none of the Senate candidates garnered more than 50% of the vote, as required by state law.

Unofficial results as of Wednesday show that counties with higher Black populations were among those that came closest to matching the record turnout they saw in November. And in those areas, Mr. Ossoff improved on his margins from his earlier matchup against Mr. Perdue.

The results also largely showed that the two Democratic candidates were able to hold and even build off gains Mr. Biden made in suburban and exurban areas that previously were Republican strongholds, an analysis by The Wall Street Journal found.

Democratic organizers engaged Black voters from cities to farms to spur larger turnout. Kim Sowels of Rex, Ga., said she had no idea the runoffs were happening until Democratic canvassers knocked on her door after the general election, urging her to vote again on Jan. 5.

“I got a bigger understanding for why it’s important to us to pay attention to all of the elections, not just the presidential,” Ms. Sowels said, and she took pride in knowing Black voters were essential to Democrats’ recent gains. Now, she said, it is time to hold them accountable on such issues as police reform and combating the pandemic.

“We have the right to put people in office, and we have the right to pull them out,” Ms. Sowels said.

Many Black voters in Middle Georgia returned for the runoffs races, bucking decadeslong assumptions that Democrats couldn’t get Black voters to participate in runoffs.

“The entire Black Belt, when they’re coming out to vote, they’re caring just as much about the issues that are on the ballot and have been affected by these issues even more,” said Britney Whaley, a progressive activist based just outside Atlanta. She organized canvassing efforts reaching roughly 200,000 homes across 11 counties.

One motivating factor for many of them was Ms. Loeffler’s attack ads aimed at Mr. Warnock as the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, the home church of Martin Luther King Jr. and the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis.

Democrats also took advantage of the migration to Georgia from other states—many of them from places like California, where Democratic politics are much more dominant than they are in Georgia.

From 2010 to 2019, Georgia experienced a cumulative net gain of more than a quarter million domestic residents, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Most of them have come from states carried by President-elect Joe Biden in December such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of the data. Among the top 10 states that contributed to Georgia’s migration boom, Mr. Trump carried just three of them: Ohio along with Tennessee and Florida, two states that share a border with Georgia.

Some of them flocked to places in Georgia like Gwinnett County, a booming suburban-to-exurban area outside Atlanta where many college-educated, nonwhite residents have flocked looking for relatively low costs of living and white-collar jobs.

The New(er) South

Georgia’s political shift is largely due to an influx of immigrants in places like Gwinnett County, as well as a rise in college educated residents, notably in traditional GOP strongholds such as Cherokee and Forsyth counties.

Thomas Lin, 34 years old, moved to Gwinnett County a few years ago to take a job at a data-analytics firm. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said of the politics in Georgia, where he assumed his neighbors would be decidedly more conservative than in his former New York City home. “You can see the difference,” he said, but added that he took pleasure in being part of Georgia’s changing politics.

Bianca Keaton, the chair of the Democratic Party in Gwinnett County, worked to boost turnout operations after 2016, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton surprisingly won this area despite losing Georgia to Mr. Trump.

Then in 2018, Democrat Stacey Abrams improved on Mrs. Clinton’s margins statewide in her unsuccessful run for governor. Ms. Keaton said the candidacy of Ms. Abrams—who would’ve been America’s first Black woman governor—helped inspire a lot of young, nonwhite and female Georgians to vote simply because of how close she came to victory.

“I just think about the historic nature of her race—and the resistance, somewhat, that her presence inspired” in some GOP quarters, Ms. Keaton said.

It’s unclear what the future GOP will look like without Mr. Trump in the White House, Mr. Tanenblatt said. “He is still a powerful force with the grassroots, but part of his legacy is, we lost these two Senate seats,” Mr. Tanenblatt said.

Rusty Paul, a former chairman of the Georgia GOP, said Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the November results and his insistence that he won were “a huge, huge burden that the candidates had to bear. The president put himself on the ballot again, and the anti-Trumpers came out in full force.”

The Georgia GOP faces a bigger problem in trying to lure back suburban voters, who abandoned the party in droves in recent years, Mr. Paul said. “ Donald Trump has driven a lot of moderate, traditional Republican voters to the other side,” Mr. Paul said. “The question is, is that permanent?”

Democrats won control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in six years with victories in two runoff races in Georgia — a stunning result in a state that hadn’t sent a new Democratic senator to Washington for two decades.

Jon Ossoff unseated incumbent Republican David Perdue and Raphael Warnock defeated appointed GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler in Tuesday’s special election, according to the Associated Press. Neither Republican had won a majority on Nov. 3, forcing the runoffs two months later.

The race call came amid chaos in the nation’s capitol as supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol and disrupted lawmakers who were meeting to certify the November election for President-elect Joe Biden.

The double win marked a final setback for Trump in his efforts to turn the election his way, including his urging protesters to “cheer on” those challenging the election, and only telling them to retreat after they broke windows in the Capitol and forced members of Congress to barricade in the chamber.

Republicans said his challenge of the election results had cost the party two Senate seats.

“It turns out that telling the voters that the election is rigged is not a great way to turn out your voters,” said Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a longtime Trump antagonist.

North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer said Trump’s message wasn’t “helpful” for turnout, but he also noted that his party should have noticed Georgia’s politics were changing.

“We didn’t just wake up to that, obviously,” he said. “Senator Perdue has sounded that alarm for at least two years.”

Turnout in Republican counties didn’t match the enthusiasm among urban, suburban and Black Democrats who turned out in greater numbers even than in November.

The Democrats’ victory means a 50-50 split between Republicans and the Democratic caucus, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes and conferring control of the chamber.

In a tweet, Biden said he called Warnock and Ossoff on Wednesday morning “to congratulate them on their hard-fought campaigns. Georgia voters delivered a resounding message yesterday: They want action on the crises we face and they want it right now.”

Biden’s party will hold the gavels in both the House and Senate, with the first Democratic trifecta, including the White House, in a decade. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is set to become majority leader, reducing the scope of Republican leader Mitch McConnell to stymie Biden’s agenda and personnel picks.

The victories by Ossoff and Warnock, who will be the first Black U.S. senator from Georgia, were propelled by record turnouts in the Southern state and mark a major shift in Georgia politics. That follows Biden’s narrow win there in November — the first time Georgia voted for a Democratic president since 1992.

Nearly half of the state’s votes come from the Atlanta metropolitan region, and Democrats have been gaining in the diverse, fast-growing suburbs that ring the city. Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, had come tantalizingly close to winning the governorship in 2018, and much of that campaign infrastructure remained in place.

While Biden can now escape a blizzard of subpoenas from Republican Senate committee chairs intent on digging further into his son Hunter Biden’s financial dealings, the narrow margin of Senate control will limit Democrats’ ability to deliver on the most ambitious agenda items.

Centrist Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has already pledged to oppose any effort to abolish the filibuster, a requirement for 60 votes to proceed with most legislation. Unless he and other Democratic skeptics of ending the practice change their minds, Biden would have to rely on special budget rules that allow only certain spending, tax and debt limit bills to pass with a simple majority.

Biden and Schumer will have to manage a Senate that has an energized liberal wing including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont along with more moderate figures like Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who saw her Democratic majority narrowed in November’s election, similarly has to balance the initiatives of progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York with those of the moderates who will be facing voters again in November 2022.

“There’s a real progressive-establishment divide in the party,” said Joshua Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.

Representative Stephanie Murphy of Florida, co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, cautioned that the Democrats’ majority makers mostly come from swing districts and tend to be more moderate. Blue Dogs were a key brake on President Barack Obama’s agenda in his first two years, insisting on a pay-as-you-go law in an effort to keep the lid on the deficit.

As in 2009, the battle for another economic relief package will provide an early test, though back then Democrats had far larger majorities in both chambers.

Read More: What Biden Gets With Slimmest Possible Control of U.S. Senate

Budget-related legislation using so-called reconciliation rules could be used as vehicles for other Democratic priorities, like a public health care option for the Affordable Care Act, climate measures and a progressive rewrite of the tax code.

Yet many other agenda items, such as gun-control measures, federal codes for voting rights, higher minimum wages and new family-leave regulations, would likely fall by the wayside with the filibuster intact.

Democrats will also be under pressure to deliver finally on a comprehensive immigration overhaul after decades of false starts, with the scope and shape of such a bill dependent in large part on whether they need Republican votes.

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