As Georgians headed to the polls on Tuesday, they were faced with an important choice.
After none of the four candidates seeking to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate received more than half of the votes cast in November, they faced off in runoff elections. Democratic newcomers Jon Ossof and Rev. Raphael Warnock challenged Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler for their seats in twin races that would decide which party controlled the Senate and, in turn, the country’s future.
Soon after Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States, the Ossof-Perdue and Warnock-Loeffler races drew national attention. The two races became the most expensive congressional races in history after both parties poured money into their respective candidates’ campaigns as Election Day approached. Ossof and Warnock were facing an uphill battle running as Democrats against two Republican incumbents in a state that has long-voted in favor of the GOP. Perdue and Loeffler were eager to keep the Republican majority in the Senate. Many wondered if Georgia would elect Warnock and Ossof after going blue for Biden—a feat largely credited to Black voting organizers such as Stacey Abrams—or if the state would remain red.
But on Wednesday morning, the results shocked the nation.
Warnock’s victory was declared early in the morning as the final votes were counted and Ossof’s win was called later in the day as Washington descended into chaos at the hands of a pro-Trump mob protesting the certification of Biden’s win.
Both Warnock and Ossof won by small margins, mirroring the state’s razor-thin results in the November presidential election. In Ossof’s case, he won by less than 1% of the vote, defeating the incumbent, David Perdue. Warnock won by a mere 1.6%.
Why is this important?
Both victories have effectively given Democrats control of the Senate and ended the Republican’s regime over the chamber since they became the majority party under Obama’s second term. The Senate now has an even ratio of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, leaving neither party with a traditional majority. However, the chamber will ultimately favor Democrats when soon-to-be Vice President Kamala Harris takes office. Her position gives her the power to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate. Given Harris’s staunch liberal voting record during her time in the Senate, it’s easy to guess which way she might lean in those decisions.
Warnock and Ossof’s wins have also, in turn, dethroned Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, the self-proclaimed “grim reaper” of Democratic legislation, and cleared the way for Democrats to enact their agenda for the next two years with partisan majorities in every legislative body. With Democrats having narrowly kept their majority in the House, the Senate was all that was left to decide whether or not Democratic legislation would make it to Biden’s desk.
Warnock and Ossof’s wins are also significant for the records they’ve broken. Ossof will be the youngest person to serve in the Senate at 33 years old. Warnock will be Georgia’s first Black senator.
The last time Georgia elected a Black representative to Congress was in 1986 when they elected the now-late John Lewis to the House of Representatives. Both of the newly-elected senators deeply admired Lewis for his work and even knew him while he was alive. Warnock, a reverend, served as Lewis’s pastor before he passed. Ossof interned for Lewis when he was 16 after reading the civil rights legend’s book Walking with the Wind.
What can we expect?
Ossof and Warnock will join their party on many of their policies regarding social issues—particularly the pandemic—and can be expected to vote along party lines as a result.
However, the continuous challenges to the November general election results in swing states like Georgia will most likely translate to Republican skepticism of the Senate runoff election results. Georgian Republican Party members already unsuccessfully challenged the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of the state’s voters before the runoffs took place, so it’s safe to assume similar objections will come in the following days.
But the fact still remains: Warnock and Ossof have made history and shaped the future of the nation.
By Raven Yamamoto