(NEXSTAR) — Tuesday’s Senate runoff in Georgia is vital, even though Democrats have already secured control of the upper chamber.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) bested former football star Herschel Walker by roughly 36,000 votes in the initial round of voting on Nov. 8. But Warnock fell just short of getting the necessary 50 percent of votes cast in that contest, which also featured a Libertarian candidate.
This time around, it’s a one-on-one race between Warnock and Walker.
Early voting began on Thanksgiving weekend, and the following Monday saw the largest number of ballots cast on any single day of early voting in the state’s history.
Here’s why the runoff matters.
A Dem victory would reduce Manchin and Sinema’s leverage
The Senate was split 50-50 throughout President Biden’s first two years in office, with Democrats holding the majority only because Vice President Harris has the authority to break a tie.
The tight math gave huge leverage to the two Democrats most likely to dissent from their colleagues: Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).
Neither senator was shy about using that influence.
Manchin was the key figure in forcing the Biden administration to scale back its ambitions from a proposed $3.5 trillion social spending bill to the far more modest Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Sinema, for her part, won concessions on taxation in the IRA, including some exemptions to a corporate minimum tax.
A 51-49 Senate would not destroy the influence of Manchin and Sinema.
But it would significantly dilute it, since Democratic Senate leaders could afford to lose the support of one of the duo and still retain a majority.
Former President Trump has a lot at stake
The 45th president had a miserable midterm election, with many of his most high-profile endorsees losing and, in the aftermath, GOP critics openly accusing him of having deprived the party of an expected “red wave.”
Walker’s fate could ease or worsen that problem.
Trump encouraged Walker to get into the race and endorsed him more than a year ago, in September 2021.
But that level of involvement means that Trump will suffer a real political wound if Walker loses.
Such an outcome would also strengthen the hand of Trump foes like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who warned back in August about “candidate quality” — an implicit jab at Trump and his chosen candidates.
One key metric: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who won reelection on Nov. 8, received about 200,000 more votes than did Walker.
Trump had tried in vain to engineer Kemp’s defeat in a primary.
Senate committees are more important than they sound
Partisans on both sides have stressed the topic of Senate committees as they try to maximize turnout for the runoff.
They have a point.
Even though Democrats have had a de facto majority in the 50-50 Senate for the past two years, those numbers require committees to have an equal number of members from each party.
In practical terms, that makes it easier for Republicans to pump the brakes on Democratic priorities.
One more seat for Biden’s party would change all that, giving Democrats the majority in every committee.
This is especially important given the Senate’s role in confirming judicial nominees. A Democratic majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee would ease the way for anyone Biden selects.
Republicans, having already lost the chance to retake the majority, don’t want to lose their committee powers as well.
Walker himself told Newsmax in recent days, “Right now, we’ve got a chance to make all the committees even.”
Democrats face a grim Senate map in 2024
Democrats performed at the top end of expectations to keep the Senate this year. But they face an ever more difficult climb in 2024.
It’s not just that Democrats have 23 Senate seats to defend in the 2024 cycle compared to the GOP’s 10.
It’s that a whole host of those Democratic seats are in serious peril, while it is hard to see Republicans losing anywhere.
For Democrats, Manchin and Sen. Jon Tester would have to win reelection — assuming they choose to run — in two very red states: West Virginia and Montana, respectively.
There will also be a Senate race in Ohio, where Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) has defied a historic shift toward the GOP before, but who could face hurdles in doing so again.
There are another five competitive states where Democrats will be defending a seat: Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan.
Contrast that with the GOP’s position.
The most competitive 2024 race for a seat currently in Republican hands will likely be in Florida.
The Sunshine State has, for years, been considered a battleground.
But last month Sen. Marco Rubio (R) cruised to reelection by 16 points while Gov. Ron DeSantis did even better, winning by 19 points.
Facing such forbidding odds two years from now, Democrats would love to see Warnock notch a victory on Tuesday.
The result will reveal more about Georgia’s political transition
When President Biden won Georgia in 2022, he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.
After 1960, the only three Democrats to carry Georgia in a presidential election have been Biden, Clinton and native son Jimmy Carter.
Democrats have made big gains in the state in recent years, however.
They have been assisted by population movements, as Atlanta in particular has become a magnet for workers from other, more liberal states. There has also been a concerted effort to boost voter registration — a quest in which two-time gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has been heavily involved.
In January 2021, Warnock and fellow Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff won Senate runoffs, albeit by very narrow margins.
Many Republicans blamed their early 2021 losses on Trump, who almost certainly depressed GOP turnout with his false claims of election fraud.
Georgia isn’t about to become a Democratic state anytime soon — Kemp beat Abrams comfortably, for example.
But Tuesday’s result will go some way to showing just how competitive the state has become.
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