On an otherwise grey and dreary winter morning in Washington on Wednesday, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, was ebullient, raising his fists in the air as he told reporters on Capitol Hill: “They say, ‘All good things come to those who wait.’ And this outcome is absolutely worth the wait.”
Schumer was referencing Tuesday night’s result several hundred miles away in Georgia, where Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock narrowly defeated his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, in the state’s runoff election to hang on to his Senate seat.
The result cemented the Democrats’ better-than-expected performance in November’s midterm elections and strengthened Schumer’s hand in the upper chamber of Congress. But it also prompted another round of hand-wringing among Republicans about the party’s path forward and the enduring political influence of former US president Donald Trump.
Walker’s defeat by Warnock means that from January, the Democrats will now control the Senate by a 51-49 margin — an increase from the current 50-50 split, where vice-president Kamala Harris is often required to cast a tiebreaking vote.
Although Republicans will regain control of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber, the shift in the Senate will nevertheless have a significant impact on Schumer and the Democrats’ ability to advance their policy agenda.
In particular, the outright majority will make it easier for Democrats to confirm liberal judges to the federal judiciary, something that can be done in the Senate by a simple majority vote. It will also give the party the upper hand on each of the Senate’s committees, and dilute the power of any individual Democratic senator to hold up legislation — something Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, has done on several occasions in the past two years.
“Having one person that can put their foot down and say ‘absolutely not’, even when the rest of the caucus would go forward, was really troublesome,” said Meghan Pennington, a former senior Democratic staffer who is now a managing director at Penta Group in Washington. “Senator Warnock’s re-election gives Democrats a little bit of space there.”
The result also has big implications for both political parties as they look ahead to 2024, when several Democratic senators from swing states — including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Manchin in West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona and Jon Tester in Montana — will be forced to seek re-election.
At the same time, it has buoyed Democrats’ optimism about their future electoral prospects in Georgia, once seen as a Republican stronghold but which has emerged as a key swing state in recent years.
In 2020, Biden defeated Trump there by a narrow margin, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia in almost three decades. However in this year’s midterms, hundreds of thousands of voters “split” their ticket, backing both Warnock and Republican statewide candidates such as Brian Kemp, the state’s governor, and Brad Raffensperger, its secretary of state, both of whom cruised easily to re-election last month.
Walker’s relative underperformance has revived a debate in Washington about what the Republican party’s message should be heading into 2024, both at the presidential level and in congressional races.
“Democrats have done a pretty good job of picking issues that motivate their base and that have wider support among the public,” Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, said on Wednesday. “We need to be doing the same thing. I think a lot of people in the Republican party don’t see us doing it as emphatically as Democrats.”
The Georgia result also reopened a discussion about the enduring influence of Trump in the Republican party, in part because the former president has already filed paperwork for another White House bid and remains a favourite of the party’s grassroots, who will vote in primaries to elect the party’s next presidential candidate.
But his disappointing record in the midterms — all but one of his handpicked candidates for the US Senate lost their bids for Congress — and mounting legal troubles are leading more and more Republicans to openly call for a changing of the guard.
Walker campaigned as a staunch Trump loyalist — something analysts from both parties say ultimately led to his downfall in the state. Meanwhile Kemp and Raffensperger were staunchly opposed to the former president, who famously pressured both men to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election amid his unsubstantiated claims that the election was “rigged” and “stolen”.
“Trump has now lost 4 races in Georgia in two years. One of his own and 3 by proxy. Similar stories in AZ [Arizona] and PA [Pennsylvania],” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former chief of staff, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “He has a swing-state problem for 2024 that is real . . . those who win primaries, and lose general elections, are still losers.”
Source: Financial Times