The balance of power
The morning of January 5 was unusually tense with all eyes on Georgia. Georgia voters began to head to the polls with the weight of Senate control on their shoulders. Incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue faced off against 33 year old Democrat hopeful Jon Osoff. Senate Republican Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by the Georgia Governor to complete a retired Senator’s term, ran against Reverend Raphael Warnock, a pastor at a church Martin Luther King Jr. preached at, in the Georgia runoffs.
Georgia election law requires the winning political candidate in a primary or general election to receive 50% of the vote. If no candidate reaches this goal then the two candidates with the most votes advance to a runoff.
On November 3 Reverend Warnock received 32.9% of the vote, well below the needed 50%. Even so, the crowded special election race resulted in Senator Kelly Loeffler gaining 25.9% of Georgians' votes, enough to advance to the run off. Warnock’s fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff had a tighter race as he received 47.9% of the vote while incumbent Senator David Perdue just missed the 50% threshold at 49.7% of the vote in November.
These slim margins meant the Georgia runoff election would be a hard fought affair with millions in campaign contributions poured into the state from both parties.
This runoff election was unusual for several reasons. The first being the importance on the national stage. Control of the Senate rested on the race as a Democratic victory would create a 50-50 senate, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris casting any tie breaking votes. The second being the unusual circumstance of both Senators from a single state being up for reelection in the same year. This has resulted in the two Democratic Senate hopefuls tying themselves to each other and Loeffler and Perdue hosting campaign events together.
These factors also do not take away from the unusual voter turnout and demographics from the election. 4.5 million people voted in the runoffs, about 90% of the people who voted in the general election, a historic number in a system where voter turnout dramatically dips outside of presidential elections.
The upticks in turnout primarily surround African-American, Latino, and young voters. African-American turnout was on par with the general election with about 85% of Black voters casting a ballot on or before January 5. Latino voter turnout was higher than expected, with 65% of voters from the general elections returning for the run off. While this may appear unimpressive, only 10% of Latino voters who voted in the general election of 2018 returned to the polls. 18-29 year old voters came out in en masse with 360,000 early votes coming from this usually unenthused voting bloc. Much of this uptick has to do with non profit organizations who worked to get minority voters and young people to the polls, efforts that paid off.
The Associated Press officially called both races on January 6. Senator-elect Jon Ossoff becomes the first Jewish Senator from the Peach State. Senator-Elect Reverend Warnock’s win ushers in a host of firsts as the first Black senator from Georgia, the first Georgia Democrat elected to the Senate in 20 years, the second black Senator elected from below the Mason-Dixon line since reconstruction, and the 11th Black U.S. Senator.
The races mark a resounding victory for Democrats who have successfully made inroads in the traditionally red state. However, in the wake of this victory the increasingly divisive and tense political situation looms large.