Now that former Vice President Joe Biden has been projected as the winner of the 2020 presidential election, the eyes of the political world are shifting to the state of Georgia -- where Biden holds an extremely thin lead, with a recount pending, and where two Senate runoffs will determine whether or not Democrats wield full control of the federal government starting in 2021. It's true that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's majority will be battered and bruised in the new Congress, thanks to a major Republican over-performance that led to substantial and unexpected GOP gains in the lower chamber:
Still looking like the largest House vote swing from the prior midterm against the presidential-winning party across all the years I have (that was already true when I assumed it will end up D+2 here). https://t.co/6StKErSzWx pic.twitter.com/VACOaERknI— Matt Grossmann (@MattGrossmann) November 8, 2020
Given the internecine fights already brewing among House Democratic factions, Pelosi and company are likely in for a bumpy ride, and their advantage will be very much in peril come 2022. Though diminished, however, it's a majority nonetheless. So the only check on total Democratic power in DC would be a Republican-controlled Senate. That outcome is plausible-to-probable.
As of this writing, each political party has won 48 Senate seats. Neither Alaska nor North Carolina has been called, but each of those seats is extremely likely to be carried by GOP incumbents. Up north, Sen. Dan Sullivan's Democratic challenger claimed in a fundraising appeal that he's well-positioned to overcome a huge deficit and win, but this is delusional. Alaska takes forever and a day to count votes, but once more ballots come in, it's virtually a lock that Republicans will carry all three uncalled federal races (POTUS, Senate and House). In North Carolina, a November 12 deadline involving the return of requested absentee ballots is delaying what's likely the inevitable final result. Given what's still outstanding, President Trump's margin is strongly favored to hold up. Sen. Thom Tillis' margin is even larger. In other words, the overwhelming likelihood is that Sullivan and Tillis have been re-elected, putting Republicans at 50 seats. They need at least one more to secure an outright Senate majority, erasing Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' power to break the tie for Senate control in her party's favor. The stakes are extremely high.
Which brings us to Georgia. By several twists of fate, both of the Peach State's Senate seats are in-cycle this year -- and because none of the candidates running for either seat won 50-plus-one percent of the vote, under state law, both races will be decided in January 5th runoffs (with early voting starting in mid-December). If both Republican incumbents win, Mitch McConnell will have a 52-48 majority to thwart the worst attempted excesses from Biden/Harris/Pelosi. If both lose, Democrats will win control of the Senate, and unified Democratic governance will be off to the races. Just ask Chuck Schumer:
Chuck Schumer on the streets of NYC— Jesse Hunt (@JJHunt10) November 7, 2020
“Now we take Georgia, then we change America!”
David Perdue in May ‘19: “The road to socialism will never run through Georgia” pic.twitter.com/x1Wpeh3nU6
Schumer was caught up in the moment and told a left-wing New York crowd what it wanted to hear. I suspect part of this was about posturing for his base, as he continues to nervously glance over his shoulder for a potential progressive primary challenge. But in saying this, he's handed a gift to Republicans eager to drive a simple, potent, and accurate narrative heading into the runoff. And based on GOP over-performances in down ballot races elsewhere, this is also useful messaging from Georgia's most prominent Democrat:
On CNN, Stacey Abrams declines to criticize the “defund the police” message when asked if she agrees with Jim Clyburn.— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) November 8, 2020
It's very simple: Votes for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are votes to block Majority Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi from dominating the agenda. Votes for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are votes to empower the Left to impose its will. Georgians must decide which outcome they prefer. For Trump supporters disappointed or even furious at the outcome of the presidential election, defeating Democrats in Georgia can represent their very first test of resistance against the Biden administration. Preserving important pieces of the Trump legacy relies on divided government, with Republicans exercising an effective veto over major legislative changes revenge-minded leftists have designs to impose. For Trump-skeptical right-leaners and moderates, the Georgia runoffs can fairly be viewed as no longer about Trump -- but about checks and balances. Based on the nationwide results, the American electorate desires a return to normalcy, more cooperation, and the restraint of power. Handing the keys to the car entirely over to the Democratic Party will not achieve any of that. A new administration and a razor thin House Democratic majority, tempered by a Republican Senate, is by far the better path.
A number of factors suggest Republicans are favored in these contests. First, despite Trump slightly trailing in the state, Perdue leads by two percentage points over his challenger, and barely missed an outright win. In the special election, featuring a 'jungle primary' initial stage, the combined Republican vote topped the combined Democratic vote by about 76,000. In other words, in an election with unprecedented turnout -- with many people motivated to vote against Trump, Republicans are leading in both Senate races. Second, history shows that Republicans have generally prevailed in Georgia runoffs over the course of the decades after the state's existing election law was implemented:
Georgia’s general election runoff law dates back to the mid-1960s, and in the modern era the system has been largely unkind to Democrats. Georgia’s Secretary of State website keeps records of all statewide elections going back to 1988. In those 30 years, there have been seven runoff statewide general or special election runoffs. Democrats have won just one of them. Moreover, Democrats have not won a single statewide election in Georgia since 2006. But that doesn’t guarantee GOP success this time.
One particularly pertinent example that comes to mind is the 2008 Georgia Senate runoff. That was a Democratic wave year, in which Barack Obama won a commanding victory, narrowly losing Georgia by mid-single digits. Obama had major coattails, helping Democrats net eight seats across the country. Georgia GOP incumbent (Sen. Saxby Chambliss) emerged ahead by just three points, below the runoff threshold. By the time the December runoff was settled, Chambliss' margin expanded from (+3) to (+15). The energy, excitement and high turnout engendered by the Obama coalition dissipated in the runoff, and Georgia's fundamental redness reasserted itself. With such high stakes in 2020, I believe a similar fact pattern may emerge. But while Perdue and Loeffler are rightly considered clear but modest favorites, nothing should be taken for granted. If dispirited Republican-leaning voters decide to sit out the runoff election -- and overwhelming Democratic enthusiasm and spending help maintain much of their party's momentum in Georgia -- Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi could end up in total control of Congress, paving the way for a parade of harmful tie-breaking votes by Kamala Harris. The biggest risk Republicans face here is disillusionment coupled with complacency. Erick is a Georgia-based conservative and Trump supporter:
Trump is gonna cost the GOP the Senate. His supporters are internalizing that the election in Georgia was stolen so why bother even trying.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) November 8, 2020
Voting matters immensely. Votes in this election have already put a huge dent in Democrats' plans for one-party rule. More votes can crush the Left's dream. And it all literally comes down to two races in one state. I'll leave you with this. Hold the line:
Dems had quietly mapped out plans - how to quickly pass massive covid relief, then shoring up ACA, climate, taxes, etc.— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) November 5, 2020
Not to mention dreams of nixing f'buster, expanding SCOTUS.
All that ran ashore as McConnell still wields power.
By @ericawerner https://t.co/PvJAtYZUzn