Two senate races in one state will decide the United States balance of power in 2021.
When officials finalize the vote in Georgia sometime after January 5, either a renewed Republican majority in the Senate will breathe a large sigh of relief, or a triumphant Democrat party will have leveled the playing field in the upper chamber of the United States Congress.
It's been over six years since the Democrat party last held a majority in the senate—a l’état des choses many pundits expected to repeat itself in November. But after an unexpected pair of runoff elections in Georgia extended what was supposed to be an open-and-shut vote, democrats suddenly found themselves with a chance to tip the scales of power in their favor.
When the dust settled after stressful night of voting on Nov. 3, Republicans came out with a razor thin lead in the senate: 50-48—a slight majority with two undecided seats out of the 100 total. One more seat would win the day for the republican party and secure their grip. By contrast, democrats need to flip both outstanding seats in order to tie representation at 50-50.
On paper, equal representation puts the balance of power ever so slightly in favor of the Democrats. Per the United States Constitution, Vice Presidents are responsible for breaking a tie when one presents itself in the senate. With Kamala Harris slated to fill that role, the Dems would have a slight but unrelenting edge.
On the Jan. 5 runoff election day, it will be up to the residents of Georgia to decide the nation's political trajectory. Democratic control of the Senate would give an impending Biden administration a wide range of power to push legislation through congress. A Republican majority, by contrast, could be a major deterrent to the new president—a legislative last line of defense against a democratic House and Oval Office.
Most immediately, the newly elected Senate would have the power to confirm or reject Biden’s nominees for his cabinet by a simple majority. And in a simple majority, a single seat makes a world of difference.
It's late in the game—it's overtime—and the stakes have never been higher. Bianca Keaton, the chair of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, told NBC News it's the race that no one saw coming.
"It’s a new day in Georgia," she said. "I never thought we'd be in this position where the state of our country and the Senate would depend on our state. And here we are," Keaton said.
Senate races should have been decided long before the new year. But because Georgia state election law, its two seats required a re-run after no clear winner could be declared. According to Georgia Code Title 21 § 21-2-501, state representatives in the senate may only win the seat if they have a majority of the vote—meaning that one candidate must take away at least 50 percent of the ballots cast. But because of a surprisingly large libertarian turnout, neither the Republican nor Democratic candidates made it over the 50-point mark.
Incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the both Republican seeking to renew and continue their terms, respectively, each came away with 49.7 and 25.9 percent of the vote, according to the Washington Post. Loeffler performed poorly after a Republican challenger, Doug Collins, took 20.0 points, significantly dividing the incumbent's support.
The state's Democratic candidates performed similarly. Jon Ossoff brought away 47.9 percent in his race against Perdue. Raphael Warnock, running opposite Loeffler, received 32.9 percent.
Georgia, has historically been a Republican state, at least since 2005 when Zell Miller, Georgia's last Democratic senator, was voted out of office. For the past fifteen years, Georgia has voted red. It voted red in the presidential election in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and in 2016.
But results from the 2020 suggest the state could end up going blue. In an upset to the reliably republican state, Joe Biden narrowly beat out Donald Trump in Georgia by a margin of .2 percent this past presidential election. It’s an outcome that could be cause for concern for republicans come January 5.