Control of both chambers of the US Congress had already been decided before early voting even started in the Senate run-off election in Georgia. But the country’s two major parties treated the vote as a decisive contest.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on the run-off – more than any other 2022 contest. The US news media fixated on the peach-growing southern US state in the lead-up to the vote – and when Senator Raphael Warnock emerged as the winner against Republican Herschel Walker on Tuesday, his Democratic Party declared the outcome a victory for the country.
The race may not have altered the balance of power in an already split incoming Congress, where Republicans will narrowly control the House of Representatives and Democrats will have a slim Senate majority, but it will have consequential political implications for years to come.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer heaped praise on Warnock on Wednesday. “The people of Georgia are better off, the Democratic Senate caucus is better off, and America is better off because he ran and won,” Schumer told reporters.
Democrats will now have a 51-49 majority in the next Senate, the 118th since the country’s founding, which will take office early next month. For the past two years, the chamber was evenly split, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaker to ensure Democratic control.
By tightening their hold on the Senate, now Democrats do not need to rely on their most conservative members to confirm judges and pass legislation.
Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have wielded outsized power since 2021, often withholding their votes on key legislation to elicit concessions.
The Democrats also can ensure that they have a majority on every committee, making it easier to advance bills and conduct investigations.
In an evenly divided Senate, Republicans and Democrats held equal numbers on committees, making it difficult to push forward their agenda.
“We can breathe a sigh of relief,” Schumer said of the expanded majority. “Obviously, judges and nominees will be a lot easier to put on the bench. We are so proud of our record with judges. It’s one of the most significant things – maybe the most even – we’ve done.”
Federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, are nominated by the president, but they need to be confirmed by a simple majority in the Senate.
Senators serve for six-year terms, meaning Warnock’s victory will boost Democrats’ chances of retaining the chamber beyond the next Congress whose mandate expires in January 2025.
“It gives us just the lift. The fact that we got to 51 votes gives us just a great feeling – enthusiasm, unity, encouragement in that way,” Schumer said.
Politically, the Georgia victory seals what has been an impressive 2022 election performance by Democrats, who defied historic trends that favour the party outside the White House to make major gains in Congress in the midterms.
It was the first time since 1934 that every Senate incumbent of the party in power managed to win reelection.
Conversely, it’s another setback for Republicans, especially former President and 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump who had endorsed several high-profile losing Republicans, including Walker.
Warnock was first elected in 2020 during a special election that also went to a run-off. Another state-wide victory in Georgia, a rapidly changing former Republican stronghold, bodes well for future Democratic candidates for president. Joe Biden had won the state by a razor-thin margin against Trump in 2020.
Late on Tuesday, Biden said he called Warnock to congratulate him, characterising the vote as a rebuke of Trump’s brand of far-right politics.
“Tonight Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and most importantly: sent a good man back to the Senate. Here’s to six more years,” the US president wrote, referring to Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) motto.
Other leading Democrats, including Harris who no longer has to regularly spend time on Capitol Hill to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, also rejoiced in Warnock’s win.
Georgia voters said they wanted a Senator who would fight for them—and made it a reality when they reelected @ReverendWarnock to the U.S. Senate. Congratulations, my friend. pic.twitter.com/uFKbyInyJL
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 7, 2022
“Your values, vision, and service to uplift working families and defend our Democracy are invaluable to Georgia, to the Congress, and to all Americans,” outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a social media post.
Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett said the Georgia result spells “good news” for Biden.
“In terms of legislation, though, not a lot is likely to be accomplished because you have the Republicans controlling one chamber, the Democrats controlling the other and the White House still controlled by Democrat Joe Biden,” she said.
“But what this means is that Joe Biden can look ahead to some of these states like Georgia that typically were Republican-controlled states now leaning towards the Democratic Party and looking favourably in terms of his reelection chances come two years from now.”