Voters have been going to the polls in Georgia ahead of a run-off election for the state’s US Senate seat. Julie M. Norman writes that while the Democratic Party maintained control of the Senate in the recent midterm elections, the outcome of the Georgia contest between incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker will still be very important to the party’s ability to govern for the next two years.
On Wednesday 6 December, Georgia will hold a run-off election for the Senate race between Democrat incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock and Trump-backed Republican candidate Herschel Walker. The run-off is happening because neither candidate gained more than 50 percent of the vote in the November 8th midterm election, as is required by state law. Democrats have already secured control of the Senate with 50 seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. But the Georgia run-off election, though not as high stakes as it was in 2020, still matters for both parties. Here’s why:
The additional seat would give Democrats breathing room within their caucus.
One additional seat may not sound like much, but it can help Democrats overcome the Manchin Effect, when any one senator can scupper a party-line vote. Indeed, the Senator from West Virginia arguably has the most to lose with a Warnock win, as his leverage on the party — exercised most notably in his opposition to 2021’s Build Back Better package — would be considerably weakened.
And it’s not just Manchin — the extra vote prevents any single Senator from holding that much sway. With a Republican-controlled House and most legislation in the Senate requiring 60 votes, don’t expect much game-changing legislation to come down to the wire. But if and when Democrats need their 50 votes, such as for approving federal judges, the additional seat will offer some welcome wiggle room.
Democrats holding 51 seats would alter the party balance on Senate committees.
While the Vice President’s vote gives the President’s party a crucial bump in a 50-50 Senate, the chamber itself is still procedurally split. That means that all committees must have equal representation from both parties, and rules and procedures need to be agreed through a power-sharing agreement between the leaders of both parties. An outright majority would change that, giving Democrats an extra seat on most committees, thus expediting votes and making legislating easier. For example, in 2021, confirmations of numerous Biden nominees for key posts were delayed as Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell took several weeks to hash out a deal on procedures.
Unexpected vacancies may arise.
A 50-50 split means that an unexpected death, resignation, or party switch could immediately tip the balance of the chamber. Democrats have only to look back to 2010 to remember when they lost their filibuster-proof majority after Senator Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat was filled by Republican Scott Brown in a dramatic upset. Many older Democrat Senators are currently from states where a GOP governor could appoint their replacement, or where the party would face a tough special election. And while it’s unlikely Manchin would switch parties, Democrats shouldn’t rule out the possibility.
Democrats will be clinging to any and all seats when they face a tough Senate map in 2024.
Democrats managed to hold on to the Senate in the midterms, but 2024 will likely increase their vulnerability in the chamber. Then, Democrats will be defending 23 seats in comparison to the GOP’s 10. The specific states in play will also present challenges for Democrats, including Montana and West Virginia, as well as states that saw close races in the 2022 cycle, including Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. While Democrats managed to hold on in three of those four tough races this year, they’ll be expecting another round of close contests in 2024. With that in mind, every seat matters for their odds of keeping the Senate.
Momentum matters, especially in Georgia.
The run-off also matters for the trajectory of both parties. Walker is the last of the high-profile Trump-backed candidates who has a shot at the Senate, after most of the candidates endorsed by the former president fell flat on Election Day. If Walker – who is frequently described as underqualified – loses the run-off, it will be another blow to Republicans in general and the pro-Trump MAGA movement in particular. This especially matters in increasingly purple Georgia, where both parties are eager to stake a claim going into 2024.
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