Democrats, seizing on momentum after President Trump’s shocking phone call urging Georgia state officials to “find” votes for him to reverse his election loss, scored a win Tuesday night in a run-off election in Georgia for two U.S. Senate seats, disrupting the narrative Democrats are unable to win in the Deep South.
Raphael Warnock defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler, making him the person Black person elected as U.S. senator in Georgia. The Associated Press declared victory for Warnock at 2 a.m. after votes were tabulated throughout the evening. Jon Ossoff holds a narrow lead over Sen. David Perdue, although the race wasn’t called as of Wednesday morning.
If Ossoff pulls off a win, he and Warnock will make history as Democrats in the Deep South and set up a 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate weeks after Biden became the first Democrat in a presidential election to win Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992.
The loss for Loeffler was a particular win for the LGBTQ community: The Republican senator had introduced the Protection of Women & Girls Sports Act, legislation that would bar transgender girls from participating in school sports under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1952. Outgoing Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Warnock won 50.6 percent of the vote against Loeffler, who captured 49.4 percent. Meanwhile, Ossoff captured 50.2 percent of the vote in his race against Perdue, who claimed 49.8 percent. The run-off races were triggered after none of the candidates won a majority of the vote on Nov. 3 in the general election.
No data directly correlates Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Sunday, which was criticized as an illegal attempt to overturn the 2020 election, with the loss of Republicans during the run-off election.
In fact, the call arguably energized Republicans who turned out to vote in the run-off, 75 percent of whom said they believed Trump’s loss in the election was fraudulent, according to a poll from the Associated Press. Each of Trump’s claims over voter fraud have been rejected as false and baseless.
But as the votes were counted, analysts said turnout made the difference. Ossoff and Warnock did better than even Biden in predominantly Black areas of the state, such as Macon County, where voters came to the polls at nearly the same rates as they did on Nov. 3. Meanwhile, Republican turnout was depressed in comparison to the general election when Trump narrowly lost the state.
“It turns out when your coalition depends so much on one person (Donald Trump) driving turnout, there are some big downside risks when that person isn’t on the ballot,” wrote Dave Wasserman, editor of the Cook Political Report, on Twitter.
According to an internal memo with the Human Rights Campaign shared with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, voters in Georgia who prioritize LGBTQ rights, called “Equality Voters,” also turned out at higher rates compared to the general public in the state, at least in terms of early voting. A majority of “Equality Voters” voted, 52 percent, took part in early voting, compared to 40 percent of the general public.
If Warnock ends up being the only Democrat who wins in the run-off and Ossoff’s lead is reversed, the Senate will be 51-49 with a Republican majority and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in charge and able to substantially block Biden’s agenda.
But if both Democrats end up winning, the Senate will be split 50-50. When Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in on Jan. 20, she would cast the deciding vote in Senate leadership, forcing McConnell to hand over control to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Democrats, at that point, would have control of both chambers of Congress, if narrowly in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and the White House, giving President-elect Joe Biden a real opportunity to enact his legislative agenda.
Among the bills on Biden’s agenda is the Equality Act, which would expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Biden has said the bill would be his No. 1 legislative priority and he’d sign it into law within the first 100 days of his administration.
Currently, the legislative filibuster has remained in place, despite elimination by both Democratic and Republican leaders of the filibuster for judicial nominees. As a result, 60 votes are needed to move forward with debate on any particular bill in the event a single senator objects. Even with Democratic wins in Georgia, senators could invoke the filibuster to thwart Biden’s legislative agenda.
Democrats, including former President Obama, have proposed eliminating the filibuster, calling it a relic of structural racism that has been used to thwart civil rights legislation. It remains to be seen if Democrats will pull the trigger and put an end to the filibuster, which would require a majority vote in the Senate.
Talk has also emerged about not eliminating the filibuster, but changing the Byrd rule, which allows the Senate to vote on budget reconciliation matters with a simple majority. Under this proposal, the rule change would allow more policy related items to be eligible for the Byrd rule.
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the LGBTQ media watchdog GLAAD, commended the Democrats for their apparent shared win in a statement.
“It’s clear the voters of Georgia support a pro-equality agenda at the White House and in the U.S. Senate,” Ellis said. “We congratulate Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and we look forward to working with them and President-elect Biden to secure comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people that an overwhelming majority of Americans already support. We are counting on their commitment to support the Equality Act, protecting LGBTQ people in Georgia and across the country from discrimination.”
Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights