The fate of America, and to no small extent of the whole world, now rests upon the narrow shoulders of five million odd voters in Georgia. Somehow, what gets done about such crucial problems as the COVID pandemic and climate change all comes down to little old Georgia. Georgia, nowadays the Peach State, but one of the original members of the Confederacy, traditionally Red enough to make the cause look almost hopeless, but these days Purple enough to give you just a wee little bit of hope. Just a scintilla. Miracles do happen.
In a way, we’ve already had a couple. In a prior post, when I was still smarting over how the overwhelming Blue Wave had never really emerged, leaving us down a few seats in the House, still not in control of the Senate, and not nearly far enough ahead in the contest between Donald and Biden to show the whole world that stinking Trumpism was forever banished to the ash heap of history, I managed a faint, half-hearted stab at optimism:
And listen, this isn’t over. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Georgia could still flip. Mitch could still lose the Senate. Both remain possible – just. Maybe when the dust settles and the votes are all counted, it will be like the 2018 mid-terms, with the Dems winding up far better off than seemed likely on Election Day. It could happen.
Well waddayaknow? Georgia did flip, looks like, and Mitch really could still lose the Senate. All we have to do is win both run-off elections in that same, newly flipped State, and the prize will be ours. Why not? Who says that can’t happen? The majority voted for Biden, albeit by only a wispy 13,000 votes and change, and subject to a recount (which is unlikely to overturn the result). Why can’t a majority likewise vote for Democratic Senate candidates too, if only by a whisker? It’s the same electorate, right?
Well, yes and no. The pool of eligible voters is the same, sure. However, who among them shows up to vote is quite another matter, and how much of Trump’s odium sticks to the two Republicans still another.
Run-offs are held under some State laws (not all of them, of course, but let’s pretend that America’s disorienting crazy quilt of an election system is a feature, not a glitch) when none of the candidates in an election attains more than 50% of the vote. This can happen when some spoilsport of a third party candidate, or one or more write-ins that get lumped under the irritating “Other” category, are along for the ride and siphoning off votes. In a nation accustomed mainly to two-party politics it apparently rankles, in some jurisdictions, to simply go “first past the post” like we do in the Westminster parliamentary model, and hand the prize to somebody who couldn’t even get half the electorate to vote for him/her. That’s what just happened in Georgia, as luck would have it, in both Senate races:
So run-offs it is. The candidate(s) with the fewest votes get tossed aside, and the two with the highest totals are pitted against each other.
The run-offs are thus “special elections” in American parlance, and the voting patterns in special elections tend to be a little off-kilter, other things being equal. Republican voters seem to have an instinct to turn out whenever there’s political power up for grabs, and show up to vote in healthy numbers. Democrats, as if oblivious to how their country is actually governed, are usually quite enthused about the Presidential race, but fail to vote in special elections, or even in the crucial mid-terms, which arguably matter more than anything within the U.S. system. This is one reason why you can end up with Republican majorities in Congress strangling stone-dead anything a Democratic President tries to get through the legislature, and was a particular tragedy during the Obama years, when Democratic voters stayed home just when their President needed them most, and handed Congress to the Tea Party. The whole world might be different today, if only they’d had the gumption to get out and vote in the 2010 mid-terms.
Why this pattern? Why are Democratic voters ambivalent in those crucial “off year” elections when the power to govern is often determined? Beats me. Any factor you might cite, like election fatigue, or diminished excitement when the Presidency isn’t at stake, ought to apply equally to Republicans.
So what’s it going to be this time? Will the pattern hold?
There are reasons to think that this time it’ll be different. For starters, these aren’t going to be just any dreary small-ball backwater contests. They might be the most important special elections held in the whole history of the Republic. Control of the Senate is riding upon their outcomes this year, and thus whether Joe Biden has any ability to get anything done in the first two years of his administration, pending the next mid-terms; this in a political system in which nearly everything a President, even a two-term President, manages to achieve in his whole administration is accomplished in the first year, after which all momentum tends to dissipate. You’ll hear American pundits talking about the crucial “first 100 days”, a psychological time limit within which to push through an agenda in the euphoric aftermath of that first victory, before everybody grows weary of the current administration and the general obstructionism re-emerges. When, in our lifetimes, has it been more important that an incoming President achieves meaningful things, as America tries to crawl out from under the wreckage of four years of Trump? Surely, given the stakes, Democratic voters won’t stay home this time!
On the other hand, control of the Senate might also drive Republicans to the polls.
Then there’s the candidates themselves. On the Democratic side you have Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, two very impressive and appealing politicians. Ossoff is a former investigative reporter with a masters in science from the London School of Economics, who has worked as a Congressional staffer with a top-secret security clearance on national security matters. As a teenager he interned with Congressional lion and civil rights legend John Lewis. He’s smart as whip and ran rings around his Republican opponent in the debates. While progressive, particularly on women’s issues, he comes off as a moderate, and is often described as “Obama-like”. Warnock, meanwhile, is a novice politician with an all-American, pulled-himself-up-by-his-own-bootstraps bio, the eleventh of twelve children who grew up poor in public housing, a former Baptist preacher with a B.A. in psychology and a doctorate in philosophy. He scores high in the crucial “understands the problems of people like me” index, and he’s a very nice gentleman to boot. The Dems are definitely putting their best foot forward, as is vital in any race held in the Sovereign South.
The Republicans? The Republicans are rank Trumpanistas and, perhaps not coincidentally, low-down crooks. Kelly Loeffler, running against Warnock, is a good little right wing soldier who’s always proud to tout her “100% Trump” voting record, and whose main claim to fame is a scandalous history of insider trading; she left a private Senate briefing on the COVID-19 threat and its likely impacts last January, and promptly began dumping millions worth of stock in companies vulnerable to the pandemic, while buying shares in outfits that might thrive, like Citrix, which produces the sort of collaborative software that’s especially useful when working from home. For his part, Perdue has a history of campaign finance violations, and likewise dabbled in insider trading following private Senate briefings, feathering his own nest while doing as little as possible, like all Senate Republicans, to mitigate the pain suffered by his constituents as the pandemic raged. The both of them, cowed by their tangerine dictator, have chimed in with Donald’s ridiculous claims that the election was fraudulent, and have gone so far as to demand the resignation of the Georgia Secretary of State, a fellow Republican, for his supposed role in the fake election rigging. Their bullying has prompted a hand recount covering the whole State, which will only muddy the waters and add to the Republican “lost cause” narrative when it doesn’t change anything. Frankly they’re disgusting, the both of them.
Should be no contest then, right?
Well, folks, remember: this is America.
We might hope that as loyal MAGA monsters and witless Trumpian mouthpieces, both of the Republicans on offer will have the retch-inducing stink of Donald all over them. Maybe, but in many Senate races this year the voters seem to have repudiated Trump while continuing to vote for Republicans down-ballot. Besides, unconditional obeisance to Donald cuts both ways, as he maintains a considerable base in this neck of the woods. It thus may help, rather than hinder, if Trump was actually to show up and hold more of his execrable rallies to support them, supposing he’ll stop pouting in his bunker and come out to play. The Democrats, meanwhile, could expect a boost if Obama showed up to stump for them, as well he might. Scads of money will be spent by both sides, and our team does have one very important ace up its sleeve in the form of the redoubtable Stacey Abrams, whose organizational prowess is mostly to thank for flipping Georgia in the general election. She might just tip the balance again.
So here we are. Oy, the suspense! The whole ball of wax down to Georgia, and we only grab the brass ring if the Dems take both Senate seats. That’s a tall order, and either way it’s going to be close. Plus, dag-nabbit, it won’t happen until January. January!! We have to wait until next year to find out! It’s enough to drive you insane. Not me, of course. Indeed, all of you reading this would do well to emulate my cool detachedness, and unruffled equanimity in the face of an often cruel fate.
Here. This might help: