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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

The curious history of Georgia’s runoff election

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1923, according to the Associated Press, President Coolidge’s address to a joint session of Congress became the first presidential speech broadcast on radio.

The big idea

The curious history of Georgia’s runoff election

It’s crunchtime in Georgia, as voters head to the polls to decide whether Democrats will keep a 50-50 Senate (with Vice President Harris breaking ties) or get a 51-49 majority that gives them quite a bit more latitude to run the place, without a power-sharing deal with the GOP.

The short version of how-did-we-get-here is that neither the incumbent, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D), nor his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, won 50 percent of the vote back in November, setting the stage for this high-stakes runoff contest.

The history

But the longer version, my colleague Matthew Brown detailed on Monday, is worth looking at because of its origins, with the unusual system “pushed by a powerful Georgia segregationist who sought to blunt the power of Black voters in the 1960s,” Denmark Groover.

“While 10 states use runoffs in primary elections, Georgia and Louisiana are the only two that do so in general elections. Georgia’s system was created in 1964 after the urging of Denmark Groover, who blamed Black voters for a reelection loss and proposed runoffs. Groover later acknowledged the runoff system was intended to suppress Black political representation,” he reported.

Matthew quoted Ashton Ellett, a political historian and archivist at the University of Georgia, as saying “[a] runoff makes it harder for folks who have less resources to vote. This was before advanced in-person voting or [voting was offered] by mail and when we had many other unfair, iniquitous, undemocratic policies. It wasn’t for a partisan advantage so much as an ideological and cultural one.’”

Beyond Groover’s defeat, which he pinned on Black voters backing a less hard line segregationist, an earthquake in Georgia politics helped solidify the runoff structure, Matthew reported in his read-the-whole-thing history of the process.

“The system was codified in the state constitution through a 1968 referendum after Georgia’s political machine was shocked by the chaotic 1966 election of Lester Maddox, a populist arch-segregationist, as governor. Much of the state’s political establishment believed Maddox would have lost in a runoff to a less outspoken segregationist, Bullock said, but the governorship was the only office the 1964 changes hadn’t applied to because of a 19th century legal quirk,” Matthew found.

Neither Warnock nor Walker, locked in just the 12th statewide runoff since the system took root, has discussed these origins on the trail. And neither responded to requests for comment, Matthew said.

The power

Democrats were obviously thrilled to hold the Senate. But there really is a universe of difference between a 50-50 chamber and one in which President Biden’s party has a 51-49 edge.

Mary Clare Jalonick of the Associated Press laid much of this out last month.

  • It’s easier to move nominees, notably judges. At 50-50, committees are evenly split, enabling Republicans to force additional votes that slow down business on the Senate floor. At 51-49, they could have one more seat per committee than the GOP.
  • That applies to legislation, too.
  • It waters down slightly the power of centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). In the face of lockstep GOP opposition, they’ve forced Biden to leave some of his priorities by the wayside. They’re both up for reelection in 2024, which may make them even tougher customers.
The latest

Here’s how Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution frames today’s contest: “The outcome will shape whether Georgia has decisively swung back to GOP territory or retains its purplish hue.”

“Unlike the November midterm, Walker won’t have Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans on the ballot to help as he appeals to swing voters. And Warnock, who has been on five ballots since November 2020, must persuade supporters to rally for him one more time.”

  • Warnock is thought to have the edge in early voting. Walker does better with older (more reliable) voters and is counting in a big election-day showing, Greg reported. 

The question is whether the GOP base will turn out in big numbers for Walker, whose history of erratic and violent behavior — as well as blunders on the campaign trail — have alienated many in the party,” Greg wrote.

  • Warnock hopes split-ticket voters — notably independents and moderate Republicans — will turn out for him. He wooed them with relative success in 2022, Greg noted.
  • Will Kemp’s campaign-trail help make the difference for Walker, who lagged behind him in key parts of the state in November?
  • Will Warnock be successful in turning out voters who skip runoffs — like college students?

Another question that may get answered is what happens when neither party leader — Biden or former president Donald Trump — campaigns on the ground in a race both know is pivotal to the next two years and the 2024 presidential contest. 


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What’s happening now

Georgia voters to decide hard-fought Senate runoff between Warnock and Walker

On Dec. 6 Georgia voters will decide who represents them in the Senate between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican Herschel Walker. (Video: Michael Cadenhead/The Washington Post)

Today, Georgia voters are headed to the polls to resolve the last outstanding Senate race in the country. Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) faces Republican Herschel Walker in a hard-fought runoff in which more than 1.8 million people have already voted early,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

More: When to expect results from Georgia’s Senate runoff

Ex-Rep. Rivera charged with conspiracy over Venezuela work

David Rivera, a former Republican congressman from Florida, has been arrested as part of an ongoing probe into his alleged dealings with the government of Venezuela,” Annabelle Timsit reports.

Federal authorities charged Rivera, 57, with conspiracy to launder money and with failing to register as a foreign agent, among other alleged offenses, the Associated Press reported, citing an indictment against him that was unsealed Monday. Rivera was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport the same day, the AP added.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Lawmakers press Pentagon for answers about veterans’ foreign jobs

Members of Congress said they were alarmed by a Washington Post investigation that revealed hundreds of retired U.S. military personnel have taken high-paying jobs as contractors and consultants for foreign governments, mostly in countries known for political repression,” Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones report.

“Citing concerns about undue foreign influence and risks to national security, several lawmakers from both parties said they will push the Pentagon and the State Department to improve their transparency and oversight for veterans who work for foreign powers.

Trump’s committee paying for lawyers of key Mar-a-Lago witnesses

“The witnesses include Kash Patel, who has testified in front of the grand jury and is key to Trump’s defense, along with Walt Nauta, a potentially critical prosecution witness, according to these people, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal probe,” Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Isaac Stanley-Becker report.

  • Nauta, a Trump valet, has told FBI agents he was instructed by the former president to move boxes at Mar-a-Lago, even as government investigators were trying to recover classified documents at that private club and residence, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Support slipping for indefinite U.S. aid to Ukraine, poll finds

While support among the American public for assistance to Ukraine remains robust, Republican backing for aid to Ukraine has slipped since the spring, with 55 percent of Republicans saying they support sending military aid, compared with 68 percent in July and 80 percent in March. Half of Republicans favored providing economic assistance to Ukraine last month, compared with roughly three-quarters in March, according to the Chicago Council’s findings,” Claire Parker reports.

… and beyond

Railroads focus on stabilizing workforce after strike is averted

Unions raised concerns about railroads being understaffed during negotiations, saying that their members are working irregular schedules more often and have less time off. They said that workers still need relief from having inadequate paid sick days stemming from railroads’ efforts at streamlining operations since 2017,” the Wall Street Journal’s Esther Fung reports.

What does disbanding the morality police mean for Iran?

Until now, the government’s response to the protesters has been to denounce them and use violence to deter them. Abolishing the morality police is the government’s first major concession to the protesters since the movement began,” the New York Times’s Cora Engelbrecht and Farnaz Fassihi report.

But it is not clear that the change will have much effect: Scrapping the force might be seen as a measure of the government’s desperation in the face of mass protests.”

The latest on covid

For the uninsured, covid care has entered a new stage of crisis

“Adding to the dilemma for the uninsured, the administration is planning to allow vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 to hit the commercial market by next summer — a move that could further hinder access for those without health coverage. The result, public health experts say, is the end of the universal access that Americans have had to Covid care during the pandemic, a rare exception in the fragmented U.S. health care system,” the NYT’s Noah Weiland and Sarah Kliff report.

The Biden agenda

Georgia official doubts Democratic plan for 2024 presidential primary

The office of Georgia’s secretary of state has all but closed the door on a plan by President Biden and the Democratic Party to make the Southern swing state an early nominating contest in the 2024 presidential election,” Michael Scherer and Amy Gardner report.

  • Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs told The Washington Post on Monday that Georgia would not change its historical primary schedule if it cost either party delegates and would not hold different primary dates for Democrats and Republicans in 2024.”

Biden’s efforts to protect abortion access hit roadblocks

The administration is shackled by a ban on federal funding for most abortions, a conservative-leaning Supreme Court inclined to rule against abortion rights and a split Congress unwilling to pass legislation on the matter,” the Associated Press’s Amanda Seitz and Colleen Long report.

Biden administration expands protections for Haitian migrants

The Biden administration announced on Monday that it would offer new special protections to more than 100,000 Haitians who were in the United States as of Nov. 6, including the permission to work and stay in the country for at least 18 months,” the NYTs Eileen Sullivan reports.

Biden will likely announce 2024 bid after holidays, Klain says

“The president will make that decision. I expect it shortly after the holiday,” said Klain on Monday at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council summit, Bloomberg News’s Justin Sink reports. “I expect the decision will be to do it.

Processing times for disability benefits from the the Social Security Administration, visualized

In Texas, it took 214 days on average in fiscal 2022 to process an initial application. Wisconsin took 227 days, up from 90 days in fiscal 2019. Florida’s average time has almost tripled to 225 days. Georgia is taking 246 days. And Delaware now holds the record for the longest wait: 261 days,Lisa Rein reports.

Hot on the left

Congress working to strike last-minute immigration deals

“Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) have outlined a potential immigration proposal that would provide a path to legalization for 2 million undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as ‘dreamers,’ in exchange for at least $25 billion in increased funding for the Border Patrol and border security,” Marianna Sotomayor, Liz Goodwin, Maria Sacchetti and Camila DeChalus report.

“The bipartisan framework, which is in flux, would also extend Title 42 for at least a year until new ‘regional processing centers’ provided for in the bill could be built, according to a Senate aide. ”

Hot on the right

GOP senators tune out House conservatives’ impeachment calls

“House conservatives want their party to go big on impeachment next year. Across the Capitol, Senate Republicans on their would-be jury are not ready to convict,” Politico’s Jordain Carney reports.

While House GOP leaders feel intense pressure from their Donald Trump-aligned base and colleagues to impeach President Joe Biden or a top member of his Cabinet, many of the party’s senators want nothing to do with it. In fact, some Republican senators are openly signaling that even if impeachment managed to squeak through the House, it would quickly die in their chamber — and not just at the hands of the Democratic majority.”

Today in Washington

At 2:40 p.m., Biden will arrive in Phoenix, where he will tour Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Biden will speak at 4 p.m.

At 6:05 p.m., Biden will leave Phoenix for D.C., where he will arrive at 10:20 p.m. He is due back at the White House at 10:40 p.m.

In closing

Georgia jests

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.