Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
5 January 2021updated 28 Jul 2021 6:18am

Georgia’s elections are about much more than US Senate control

If the Republican candidates win, they will take divisiveness and racism back to Congress with them.

By Emily Tamkin

US voters in the state of Georgia go back to the polls today. The outcome of November’s electoral races between Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and their respective Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock was too close: no candidate in either race reached the percentage threshold they needed to win. And so, on Tuesday 5 January, Georgians must cast their votes once again.

If both Warnock and Ossoff win their elections, Democrats will take control of the Senate, which the Republicans have controlled since 2014. Democrats currently control the House of Representatives, and whether they also manage to take the Senate will not only determine the kind of relief they can provide to Americans for the duration of the pandemic, but also how much else president-elect Joe Biden will be able to accomplish regarding healthcare, changes to Senate procedure and even having his chosen appointments confirmed.

If either of the Democratic challengers lose and Republicans continue to control the Senate, there is little to suggest they will try to work with Joe Biden for the good of the country. Roughly a quarter of Republican senators currently in Congress have said they are planning to vote down the recent certification of the electoral college results, siding with Donald Trump and his baseless allegations of fraud over the democratic process.

[see also: Republican senators have finally congratulated Joe Biden – but it’s too little, too late]

Accountability is on the ballot, too. Both Republican senators have come under scrutiny for their stock trading. Perdue’s stock trades have included companies that fall under the oversight of committees on which he sits. He was reportedly investigated by the Justice Department for insider trading, though prosecutors ultimately decided not to bring charges. Loeffler, thought to be the wealthiest member of Congress, also had stocks traded on her behalf shortly after attending a coronavirus briefing in January.

Select and enter your email address Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A quick and essential guide to domestic politics from the New Statesman's Westminster team. A weekly newsletter helping you understand the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But the very way in which these races have been run also gives us a sense of what, beyond control of the Senate, is at stake.

Ahead of the November election, Perdue ran a digital advert in which Ossoff, whose nose is enhanced in the image, appears with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer, like Ossoff, is Jewish. The campaign said the alteration of a nose was the result of a filter applied by an outside vendor, which, even if true, does not explain how a Jewish senator from New York also appeared. Perdue also appeared to mock the now vice-president-elect Kamala Harris’s first name. Since the election, Perdue has declined run-off debates. At one point, Ossoff debated an empty lectern.

Content from our partners
To truly tackle regional disparities, we need a new type of devolution
How smart meters helped a business thrive
The case for sustainable thematic investing

Then there’s the race between Loeffler and Warnock. Shortly after the run-off was announced, the Democratic reverend put out an advert in which he warns he would be the victim of an unusually high level of smears and attacks by Republicans during the campaign, and is also seen cuddling a beagle. In a later advert, he pointed out that such smear ads had indeed been released, and said he hoped Georgia voters would see those attacks for what they were. The statement was followed by a clip of Warnock throwing away his dog’s waste.

It was a savvy move by Warnock, but it doesn’t change how vicious the attacks against him by Loeffler have been. Loeffler has attempted to paint Warnock – who is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the former church of Martin Luther King Jr – as anti-white and radical. She has tried to insinuate that Warnock was connected to a child abuse scandal (in 2002, Warnock and another minister were charged with obstructing a police investigation into child abuse at a church-run summer camp; Warnock has maintained he wanted lawyers to be present during the interviews, and charges were later dropped). And Loeffler has said that Warnock “has a long history of anti-Israel extremism” and “has embraced the anti-Zionist Black Lives Matter organisation”, which appears to be an attempt to characterise her opponent as an anti-Israel anti-Semite.

This statement by Loeffler, who herself embraced the endorsement of a QAnon adherent and has been photographed multiple times with white supremacists (including a former Ku Klux Klan leader), has been denounced by 200 rabbis across Georgia, who asked that she refrain from trying to divide the black and Jewish communities. The racial politics – a white woman attacking a black man, who in turn is determined to show he loves puppies lest he seem aggressive – are all-American. There is, in this country, a long history of white women smearing black men. Loeffler didn’t invent these sorts of smears, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still damaging and divisive.

[see also: The world in 2020: Best of the New Statesman international]

It is possible that both Loeffler and Perdue will lose. Warnock, in particular, has been polling ahead. Some die-hard Trump Republicans may stay home, convinced that Georgia Republicans didn’t do enough to support the president in his claims of wholly unproven electoral fraud that he insists cost him the election. In a phone call on Saturday, just days before the run-off election, the president – instead of focusing on helping Republicans keep the Senate – chose to badger Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” 11,780 votes and swing the election. We do not know yet whether this phone call, news of which was published on Sunday, will help or hurt the Republicans.

But if Loeffler and Perdue win, they will not win alone. They will bring obfuscation, divisiveness and racism back to the Senate with them.