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Leapfrogging over two crucial Georgia runoff races slated for January that will determine control of the U.S. Senate, much of the Beltway press is already assuming Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will oversee that chamber’s agenda for at least the next two years. Rushing into a narrative that has President-elect Joe Biden facing off against McConnell's GOP majority in the Senate, the press seems enamored by the idea of looming partisan battles, and possible Democratic frustrations.
A flood of media coverage in recent days has been built on the premise that Democrats can't win the Senate. But they can, if they win both Georgia contests in January. Why the manic desire to get ahead of the story and sidestep Georgia voters in January? Part of it might be because the Beltway press loves the "gridlock" narrative that comes with divided government.
We just witnessed a political earthquake in Georgia with the Blue Wave election results, and the Beltway press wants to pretend it didn't happen. They're insisting that the status quo remains in place and that Republicans will triumph in January.
"How a Biden presidency and McConnell-led Senate might actually get along," read a Politico headline this week, even though we have no idea if there will be a McConnell-led Senate next year. "In a Divided Washington, Biden Could Still Exert Economic Power" echoed a New York Times headline, despite the fact Democrats next year could effectively control the House, the Senate and the White House. Added a Washington Post headline, "In a divided Congress, Biden needs to build his own coalition."
Some of the Biden vs. McConnell coverage includes quick caveats that the Georgia races still have to be conducted — then the coverage quickly assumes Republicans will win and McConnell will reign as the Senate powerhouse, foiling Biden at every turn. "The likelihood of a Senate under Republican rule severely constrains Mr. Biden’s legislative and personnel agenda from the start, dashing the hopes of those anticipating a post-Trump opening for bold initiatives on health care, taxes and the environment and an administration populated by progressive icons," the New York Times stressed.
The rare run-off Senate elections are happening because in both Georgia races no candidate won 50 percent or more of the vote. Under Georgia law, there will be two run-off elections on January 5, 2021. In one, Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler who won 26 percent of the vote last Tuesday will face Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock, who won 33 percent. (A third candidate, Republican Doug Collins, picked up the remaining votes and will not be participating in the runoff.) In the other, Republican Senator David Perdue, who won 49.8 percent of the vote on Tuesday, will face Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, who won 47.9 percent.
If Democrats capture both seats, the Senate would be split 50-50, giving Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote in the chamber when necessary. It's rather stunning that neither Republican senator, even with the benefits of being incumbents in what had been a deeply red state for many years, was unable to land 50 percent of the Georgia vote last week. That alone should be a red flag for the press that these special elections are not gimmes for the GOP.
"No one knows what the composition of the electorate will be in January," noted Judd Legum in his Popular Information newsletter. "Republicans could be motivated by Trump's defeat and show up in droves. But they also could be demoralized and stay at home."
Note that Loeffler, a business executive who is married to the CEO of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange, was accused of dumping $20 million in stocks after a closed-door Senate briefing on the coronavirus in January. That’s an ongoing story that continues to complicate her re-election bid.
Still, the media assumption is that because Republicans usually win runoff elections in Georgia, they're going to win one or two of the contests in January, and maintain Senate control for the GOP. In the last 30-plus years, there have been seven statewide runoff elections. Democrats won only one of them—and that was more than 20 years ago.
That's helpful context. But things change. For instance, Republicans used to win presidential contests in Georgia with ease. It's a state George W. Bush won by 17 points in 2004. Today, Biden's sitting on a 12,000-vote lead as the state begins its automatic recount. Biden may soon become the first non-Southern Democrat to win Georgia in nearly 50 years.
"All this is happening in a state exploding with diversity, whose new politics are defined by young voters, suburban women alienated by President Trump, and minorities energized by Stacey Abrams and her near miss bid in 2018 to become the country’s first African-American woman governor," Time noted right before Election Day.
Something has clearly changed in the Peach State, as Democrats posted record turnout in counties outside Atlanta. The press ought to respect that and stop assuming Republicans are going to win the Senate before a single runoff vote is counted.
One of the key reasons Trump’s attempt to fight and litigate the election count has been a failure is because so many Republican election officials on the local level are debunking his claims of a “rigged” election. From Axios, “Georgia's Republican Lt. Gov.: No "credible incidents" of systemic voter fraud”
What he's saying: "My office has been in close communication with the secretary of state's office and the attorney general's office and made sure that if there's any sort of systemic examples of fraud or voter disenfranchisement across the voting base, to let us know."
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Blitzen Trapper, “Don’t Let Me Run”
Twenty-year veterans of the Portland, Ore. indie music scene, Blitzen Trapper celebrate their two-decade mark with a winning new album, punctuated by the enticing “Don’t Let Me Run.” I love the warm, unhurried pop pace, and lead singer Eric Earley’s hypnotic vocals, as the song spins around and around like a wheel coasting downhill.
Dreaming, dreaming I’ve been bleeding all night
At the screen door see my lover
Moving softly in the kitchen light
But she won’t see me