As I write this, it is almost midnight in Georgia, the Peach Tree State, whose voters are in the unusual position of having ended up with the ability to decide whether the United States should have a functioning Congress for the next two years or an obstructionist Senate controlled by Mitch McConnell.
Georgia law requires that candidates receive a majority of the vote in the November general election to win. If that does not happen, the top two vote getting candidates advance to a post-November runoff.
In both of the state’s 2020 U.S. Senate races, no candidate received a majority of the vote, whilst in other states, Democrats knocked out two Republican incumbents while losing one of their own. That left the Republican caucus with fifty seats and the Democratic caucus with forty-eight, with Georgia’s two seats alone left to be decided before Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ inauguration.
Georgia has long been a solidly Republican state that votes Republican in federal races. It voted for Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump in 2016. But last year, Georgia voters narrowly backed Biden for President, delivering a long-awaited triumph for Democrats in the South.
That victory — which stunned Republicans — set the stage for these Senate runoffs to be as fiercely contested as any federal elections ever have been. Enormous sums of money were committed to the contests and both sides deployed large armies of field teams to turn out their supporters.
So far, the result has been a near draw. With close to one hundred percent of the vote in, the candidates in each race are locked in a near tie. Republican David Perdue has a slight advantage in his race over Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff; Republican Kelly Loeffler is losing to her challenger, Reverend Raphael Warnock.
Over 4.2 million votes have been counted, yet neither candidate in either race has more than 50% of the vote. And, remarkably, hundreds of thousands of ballots are still awaiting tabulation/reporting, most of them from Democratic counties.
That the Democrats could even make a pair of runoff elections in a southern state this close is something many political prognosticators would have dismissed as an utter fantasy just a few months ago, or even a weeks ago.
But as Joe Biden likes to say, America is about possibilities, and that’s certainly true of American politics. The reality is that what is considered “reality” can be changed through hard work and strategic investment. Democrats have always been capable of blazing their own paths and seizing their own destinies.
Yet, only recently has the party started to truly embrace the notion of every race, every place and fund the year-round, big organizing work required to allow the party to properly compete in elections such as these Georgia Senate runoffs.
Biden and Harris’ extraordinary victory in November was crucial in helping to liberate Democrats in Georgia and beyond from the kind of self-defeating mindset that has plagued them in the past. Instead of simply going through the motions, the party committed itself to victory. Democratic activists did the work. Democratic donors committed resources. And Democratic voters turned out.
Should Warnock and Ossoff succeed in pulling this out, it will go down as one of the biggest triumphs in the history of the Democratic Party.
After lackluster performances downballot in the November 2020 election, the party will have risen to the occasion in the eleventh hour and secured for the country a bare Senate majority capable of sweeping Mitch McConnell out of power and allowing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to get their new administration up and running more quickly than they would have been able to otherwise.
That’s still an if, of course. Predictions and forecasts are not results.
But Democrats have already proved something just by getting this far in Georgia.