- Getting an outright majority — rather than a 50-50 split that saw Vice President Harris sever ties — would give Democrats more control over committees and move legislation faster.
- It would also make moderate Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) less influential than they have been for the past two years.
- Defending a 51-49 Senate majority instead of a 50-50 would make a tough 2024 map a little easier for Democrats.
- Finally, it would provide Democrats with some insurance in the event of a party change or vacancy, since many senior Democratic senators come from states where either a GOP governor could nominate their successor or where special elections would be held.
All this gives both sides plenty of motivation to win this race on December 6th. But how might this power dynamic affect the outcome? And what other factors could decide the race between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican Herschel Walker?
The 2020 Georgia runoff wasn’t the first time in recent years that a Senate race that continued beyond Election Day was crucial for control in Washington — nor was 2020 the first time Georgia played such a role.
In 2008, Democrats narrowly forced Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) into a runoff and had high hopes given Barack Obama’s overwhelming national victory on Election Day and the prospect of a historic, filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes if the Democrats win both Georgia and a contested Senate race in Minnesota. But Chambliss led his Democratic opponent by 15 percentage points in the runoff.
Thirteen months later, in early 2010, Democrats did has a majority of 60 votes but had to win the special election for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) seat to retain it. Republican Scott Brown’s shocking victory in the dark blue state ensured that 60 votes was a short-lived luxury.
Each result indicated that the prospect of such democratic dominance was adamantly rejected by voters. In both cases, turnout numbers showed that Conservative voters were far more enthusiastic about casting their ballots compared to the last general election. In Georgia in 2008, voter turnout in conservative and more rural counties exceeded that in Democratic strongholds. In Massachusetts in 2010, the picture was very similar.
The 2020 run-off election offered a different perspective, as it was about a mere Senate majority and not 60 votes. But the Democrats had won both the presidency and the House of Representatives, meaning voters there could have secured shared control of Washington by voting for the GOP. Instead, they sent two more Democratic senators to Washington and gave that party the trifecta of control — thanks in large part to black voters, who made up a larger proportion of the runoff than they did in the general election.
What does this mean for the 2022 runoff election? First of all, 2020 was in some ways the exception to the rule. There’s a lot of evidence that Americans like and vote for divided government, mostly shown by how poorly the president’s party did in the midterm elections. Perhaps that motivation was still there, but other variables overruled it – variables like Donald Trump’s unworldly efforts to reverse his own loss by baselessly challenging our electoral system. What we do know was that GOP turnout lagged in the runoff, which was both unusual for Georgia and contrary to many popular beliefs.
The question for the 2022 runoff is to what extent 2020 suggests that Georgia has fundamentally changed its approach to runoffs, and whether certain variables make these power dynamics less important to voters.
The 2022 runoff doesn’t raise the same power-dynamic issues, as Democrats have already won the Senate and control of Washington is already divided thanks to the GOP’s narrow recapture of the House of Representatives. To the extent that a voter wants Republicans to have a seat at the table, they already do, and perhaps that hurts Walker when it comes to motivating GOP voters.
That’s doubly so, as some Conservative voters have already had to turn a blind eye to support Walker and his troubled candidacy. Struggling after a series of ugly revelations about his family life, Walker trailed Warnock by about a percentage point in the first round of voting, despite eight other statewide GOP candidates all winning outright — by an average of more than seven percentage points. Walker received more than 200,000 fewer votes than Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who won re-election by a margin of 7.5 points.
But another view is that Walker appears to have more leeway to increase his share of the vote given the state’s overall leaning towards the Republican in this election. Kemp, for example, is doing more to help after previously balking at running. Add to that the fact that conservative voters have one last chance to voice their dissatisfaction with the Biden administration — and that Democrats don’t have a Senate majority to vote for either — and perhaps Georgia will return to its demonstrated history Republicans with above-average performance in runoff elections.
Clearly, Republicans will wish Walker weren’t their flag bearer. While he may not have been the proven burden that some other Republicans have been in key Senate elections, he still fell well short of his party, and there’s no question the party would be in much better shape if it had a more consistent candidate. Even in the last few days, Walker has grappled with the revelation that he was claiming a tax exemption that meant he claimed his Texas home as his “principal residence.”
The only quality survey on the runoff so far does not shed much light on the matter. The bipartisan AARP poll shows Warnock a four-point lead, which is both within error and similar to the poll the organization conducted in July (Warnock plus three). But it’s worth noting that the poll’s sample has a similar, if slightly more favorable, constituency (42-34 Republicans) than the general election (41-35 Republicans, according to Exit polls), and it doesn’t seem to help Walker much.
Democrats got a boost when state courts recently reversed a decision by the Secretary of State to allow early voting last Saturday, which could help Democrats by allowing them to collect more votes before the Dec. 6 deadline.
But we need to see which party is better at lining up their side for a less consequential election, and whether the results look more like 2020 (which would favor Democrats) or like the rest of the history of this type of race (which favored Republicans). ).