Why Democrats won in Georgia

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Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock unseated Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in runoff elections for Georgia’s two seats in the Senate last week, ensuring their party would control both houses of Congress for the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency.

After two months of intense national focus on Georgia in the leadup to Tuesday’s runoffs, the outcome has been pushed off the front page by the assault on Congress the following day that left five people dead. Still, many political experts see the wins by Ossoff and Warnock — which create an even 50-50 split in the Senate and give Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tiebreaking vote — as among the most consequential down-ballot results in modern American history.

Had Democrats failed to flip either seat, a narrow Republican Senate majority may have stood in the way of Biden’s bold plans for everything from coronavirus relief to health care reform. Instead, a unified Democratic caucus can pass much of his agenda without any GOP support.

Both Democratic candidates represent a departure from historical election trends in Georgia.

Warnock will become the state’s first Black senator. Ossoff will be the first Jewish senator from Georgia.

Why there’s debate

On a practical level, Ossoff and Warnock won because they were able to turn out a larger share of their Nov. 3 election voters than Republicans were, early data suggests. Both Democrats appear to have improved on Biden’s margins in areas of the state with a large percentage of Black voters, thanks in part to the massive statewide voter mobilization effort spearheaded by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Those gains, combined with just enough drop-off in heavily Republican counties, appear to have tipped both races in Democrats’ favor.

Even though he wasn’t on the ballot, President Trump is believed to have played a potentially decisive role in the outcome. The president’s baseless allegations of election fraud and searing attacks aimed at Georgia’s Republican governor and secretary of state may have convinced a significant share of his supporters to sit out the race. Trump’s demand for $2,000 checks to be included in the most recent stimulus bill also created a political minefield for Loeffler and Perdue, some argue.

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