And the political map of the United States looks very different, too. Four years ago, it was unimaginable that Democratic control of the elected branches of the federal government would be cemented by victories in Senate races in Georgia. The Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won in a state that had not elected a Democrat to the Senate in two decades.
The outcome put an exclamation point on Biden’s success and a dagger into the Trump era. President Trump almost certainly hurt Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both directly and indirectly.
Trump’s insistence, against all the evidence, that the November vote in Republican-led Georgia was fraudulently counted, split his party and may have discouraged GOP turnout on Tuesday. Republicans will also confront the reality that some voters drawn to the polls when Trump is on the ballot have no interest in participating when he’s not. They are more Trumpublicans than Republicans. But in the wake of Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol, that Trump helped instigate, Republicans now face a moral obligation to break with Trumpism altogether.
The president did still more damage to his party in Georgia by denigrating the $600 stimulus checks in the recently passed economic relief package and calling for $2,000 payments instead. His unexpected veto threat played directly into the argument made by both Warnock and Ossoff: that only Democrats could be trusted to deliver relief to the economically ailing, including the middle class.
Ossoff was unabashed in appealing directly to voters’ immediate interests: “You send me and Reverend Warnock to the Senate, and we will put money in your pocket.” Biden was equally direct when he campaigned for the Democratic duo on the eve of the election. “If you send Jon and the reverend to Washington, those $2,000 checks are going out the door, restoring hope and decency and honor to so many people struggling right now,” Biden said. “If you send Sens. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It’s just that simple.”
Last November, exit polls showed that voters most worried about the pandemic tended toward Democrats, while those worried about the economy leaned Republican. This led critics on the Democratic left, but also from elsewhere in the party, to argue that its candidates had failed to define a clear economic message.
Warnock and Ossoff did not make that mistake when they were given a second chance in the runoffs. Their defining issues were economic, and their victories would make it far easier for Biden to enact a large new relief package, a major infrastructure program, and expansions in health-care coverage and child care — as well as democracy reforms and voting-rights protections.
Georgia also showed that the swing of middle-class suburban voters toward the Democrats was not a one-off reaction to Trump. Democrats feared and Republicans hoped that, with Trump defeated, at least some Republican-inclined anti-Trump voters would come home to the GOP on Tuesday. They didn’t — and were likely put off when Perdue and Loeffler embraced Trump’s efforts to nullify the November votes of their own state and elsewhere.
The contest also lifted up the power of organizing. Led by Stacey Abrams, the Democrats’ 2018 gubernatorial candidate, civil rights and voting rights groups registered hundreds of thousands of new Georgia voters. They helped Biden prevail in the state by 11,779 votes and then went back to work, registering more voters for the runoff and getting them to cast ballots. The result: turnout for the runoff that came remarkably close to matching November’s levels while Warnock and Ossoff secured margins larger than Biden’s.
Georgia’s choice will make an enormous difference in Washington — easing passage of Biden’s program, speeding the confirmation of his appointees and enabling the new president to fill empty court seats.
And Warnock made history on his own, becoming the first Black senator in Georgia’s history. In a campaign that was at once vicious and robotic, Loeffler repeatedly referred to her opponent — the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic congregation led during the civil rights era by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — as the “radical liberal Raphael Warnock.” Loeffler enraged many in the Black community by attacking his more progressive pronouncements as a preacher.
In his book “The Divided Mind of the Black Church,” Warnock was forthright in identifying himself with a church that is simultaneously “evangelical” and “liberationist,” shaped by “a memory of the cross and the tragedy of human brokenness.
Warnock’s victory seemed fitting after a tragic year of suffering and brokenness that fed a demand for change, which led to Biden’s election. And together, Warnock and Ossoff have opened the path for the rest of the journey.