US Democrats win back a Senate majority in Georgia

The Republicans lost control of the upper house. They only have themselves to blame.

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As a result of Georgia's Senate run-off elections, Republicans will lose control of the upper house. Democrat candidate the Reverend Raphael Warnock has been declared the winner of one of Tuesday's races by major US news outlets, with his fellow Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff declared the winner on Wednesday. 

The loss is one that Republicans have earned. That isn't to say that the Democrats didn't campaign hard. Black organisers in particular have worked tirelessly to elect their candidates. Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and president-elect Joe Biden both went to Georgia to campaign for the two seats that could bring the Senate back to a 50:50 split and swing it towards Democrat control (since the vice-president casts the deciding vote in the event of a tie). Collectively, they promised every voter $2,000 in Covid-19 relief, a policy currently being obstructed by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Theirs is a historic election. Ossoff is a Jewish senator in a state where, over the course of the 20th century, a Jewish man was wrongfully accused of murder and killed, and a synagogue was bombed. Warnock is the first black American to win in a former Confederate state without the advantage of incumbency, and only the 11th black senator in American history.

Controlling the Senate by such a narrow margin won't be enough to enact sweeping change – particularly since some Democrats in the Senate, like West Virginia's Joe Manchin, have already declared opposition to some more radical reforms, such as abolishing the filibuster and packing the Supreme Court. Yet it will mean that Biden's appointees are not held up in the Senate. It will mean some steps to address the nation's healthcare and climate change crises can be pushed through. And, in the more immediate future, it will mean that Democrats aren't haggling down the Covid relief they can pass.

But Republicans have cost themselves this election. There was nothing stopping senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler from supporting $2,000 in pandemic relief themselves. Nobody made Perdue take out a digital ad enhancing his Jewish challenger's nose, or mock the Indian American vice-president-elect's name. Nobody made Loeffler appear to smear Warnock as an anti-Semite, despite 200 rabbis asking her to stop dividing black and Jewish communities. Nobody made her insinuate that he was implicated in a child and spousal abuse scandal. Nobody, in short, made her run arguably the nastiest campaign Americans have seen all year.

[See also: Republican senators have finally congratulated Joe Biden, but it's too little, too late]

The Republicans had a good case to make to moderate Americans: a Republican-controlled Senate could serve as a check on a Democratic White House and House of Representatives. Unfortunately, making that argument would mean acknowledging that Donald Trump lost the election, which would mean incurring the wrath of the president. It would mean telling the president to stop disparaging the legitimacy of the election, and in particular the security of the electoral systems in Georgia. Just this week, Trump berated the state's election's officials and insisted in a rally that he had won the state. In response, Loeffler said that she would vote against the certification of the electoral college results.

Perhaps she was afraid. After all, Trump's youngest adult son, Eric, went on television on Tuesday night (5 January) to say that any Republican who did not try to keep Trump in office would be "primaried".

The great irony, of course, is that Loeffler and Perdue have managed to spare themselves from a primary challenge in the next round. But only because, in going along with Trump's claims, they lost this run-off.

[See also: Georgia's elections are about much more than just Senate control]

Emily Tamkin is the New Statesman’s US editor. 

She co-hosts our weekly global affairs podcast, World Review

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