Rarely are the stakes so high in a special election as in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia on January 5. Incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue seeks another full term, against former House staffer and failed 2017 congressional candidate Jon Ossoff. Appointed Republican senator Kelly Loeffler runs for the last two years of her term against pastor Raphael Warnock. Republicans have 50 senators; if the Democrats take both seats, control of the chamber will flip to the Democrats once Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president on January 20.
That alone makes this double-runoff election crucial. It will determine the path of Joe Biden’s presidency. With a Democratic Senate, however narrowly composed, Biden can confirm any judge or Cabinet member he wants, so long as all Democrats are in support. With a Republican Senate, radical nominees can be stopped, and may not even be proposed. An early test of strength will come with Biden’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services: California attorney general Xavier Becerra, a culture-warrior with no experience in medicine or management. With a Republican Senate, judicial nominations will not be rubber-stamped, and Stephen Breyer might think twice about retiring in favor of a younger, possibly more left-leaning justice.
Biden can get tax and spending bills through Congress with 50 Democratic senators; with a Republican Senate, he would be compelled to start from a posture requiring compromise. Republican-run committees could also provide oversight, deterring executive adventurism. No committee run by Democrats will offer meaningful oversight of Biden.
A Democratic Senate could also abolish the filibuster, changing the face of the Senate forever. Even the threat to do so would give Democrats leverage that they would not otherwise be able to wield. Broader plans to reshape the system — Court-packing, voting legislation, adding new states — could be on the Democrats’ table. This is before we even get to the individual Democratic candidates in Georgia; Warnock’s record is particularly radical and alarming.
The setting in Georgia intensifies the danger to Republicans of losing these races. Georgia has long been a crucial Republican stronghold. Entering Election Day, Republicans held nine of the state’s 14 House seats and had not lost a major statewide election for president, senator, or governor since 2000. Yet, the state’s economic and demographic structure have been shifting in Democrats’ favor. Biden’s 0.25 percent margin of victory in Georgia could be written off as a fluke, and that has implications for how he may govern. If Democrats win both Senate seats, Republicans may need to take more seriously the prospect of losing both Georgia and Arizona from the Republican column in future elections.
Many Republican voters are still angry over the outcome in Georgia’s presidential race. President Trump has irresponsibly stoked that anger. Some of the lawyers pushing cases challenging the state’s presidential election have gone further and sought to discourage Republicans from voting again on January 5 as a way of retaliating against Georgia governor Brian Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger for the offense of accepting the results of a vote conducted on Raffensperger’s watch as legitimate. But even Trump and those around him recognize that the Senate races are too important to sacrifice to the quixotic quest to overturn the outcome of the presidential election. Every Georgia voter who is not on board with an unrestrained Democratic agenda should vote for Perdue and Loeffler regardless of their feelings about Trump, Kemp, or Raffensperger.