All eyes on Georgia


As runoffs loom, control of the Senate hangs in the balanceOver the past 36 years, Georgia had voted for Republican presidential candidates in every cycle except 1992, when it backed Bill Clinton. In the past 20 years, it had voted consistently for Republican governors and senators.

But this year, Georgia helped elect Joe Biden the 46th president of the United States. Control of the U.S. Senate may also be decided in Georgia, as the voters forced two Senate races into runoff elections to be held Jan. 5, and Senate control hangs in the balance.

Biden’s Georgia margin was razor-thin and did not materialize until the morning of Nov. 6, as final votes were being tallied. A hand recount has been commissioned.

In Georgia, U.S. Senate races failing to deliver an absolute majority go into a runoff phase that pits the two leading contenders against one another.

Incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue faced challenges from Democrat Jon Ossoff and Libertarian Shane Hazel.

Perdue’s share of the vote dipped below 50% on Nov. 5 and did not recover. In the runoff, he’ll face Ossoff.

In the other Senate race in the state — a special election to fill the seat previously held by Republican Johnny Isakson — 20 candidates competed.

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, appointed to the seat by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, also failed to reach the 50% mark. She will face Democrat Raphael Warnock in the runoff.

In some ways, these two candidates couldn’t be more opposite.

Loeffler is a white, wealthy, suburban woman who campaigned on her close ties to Trump. Warnock is a progressive, grassroots, African American pastor serving at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached.

Regardless of the final outcomes of Georgia’s two Senate races, the results from the 2020 elections reflect just how much the state’s political landscape has changed in recent years. The key drivers are ongoing demographic shifts, combined with urban and suburban growth.

Since 2000, the population of the Atlanta metropolitan region has swelled to 6 million, accounting for almost two-thirds of Georgia’s total population. It is one of the three fastest-growing metro areas in the nation.

The rest of the state’s growth has been concentrated in smaller metro areas, such as Savannah and Macon. The population has been declining in large swaths of rural Georgia.

The bulk of that growth has been in the suburbs, which have become increasingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and class. In the suburbs that do remain majority white and middle class, women are now more likely to be college-educated working professionals.

These trends generally favor the Democratic vote. That’s why the suburbs – in Georgia and across the nation – have become important electoral battlegrounds.

It’s not just that many urban, historically Democratic, counties turned out the vote in 2020. It’s that many outer suburbs became much less red.

Take, for example, Fayette County, one of Atlanta’s large southern suburbs. Trump won Fayette by 19 point margin in 2016, but only 6 points in 2020.

No other state in the South has such large urban and suburban population relative to overall population. In moving away from neighboring Republican strongholds like Alabama and Tennessee, in both demographic and political senses, it is replicating the pattern of Arizona. There, the two major metropolitan regions, Phoenix and Tucson, make up more than 80% of the population, and Democrats have been improved their standing steadily in recent years.

This is not to overstate Georgia’s blue turn. Like Arizona’s, it is only the slightest shade of blue, based on the slimmest of margins.

The state may have helped the Democrats back into the White House, but could end up sending two Republicans back to the Senate, with the promise of federal government gridlock.

Over the next two months, all eyes will be on these two runoffs. If Democrats can pull off two victories, they’ll assume control.

In a 2017 special election, Ossoff ran for a House seat in Atlanta’s suburbs. It was seen as a referendum on Trump’s nascent presidency. More than $50 million was spent on the race, making it the most expensive House race in U.S. history.

With not one but two races — and control of the Senate at stake — money will likely pour into Georgia at an unprecedented clip over the next couple of months.

Perdue and Loeffler will find themselves the favorites, even if their close association with Trump may now be cause for some strategic repositioning. And Trump’s defeat will likely motivate Republicans to go all out to preserve their Senate majority.

To both Democrats and Republicans, it could feel like Georgia gives with one hand and takes with the other.

That would be a fitting finale from one of the most divided states in a deeply divided nation, but the outcome is far from certain. With Democrats energized, Georgia could flip the U.S. Senate.

 From The Conversation, an online repository of lay versions of academic research findings found at https://theconversation.com/us. Used with permission.



Winning those two Senate seats will admittedly be a long shot for the Democrats, but if they do win them they can thank Stacey Abrams for her GOTV efforts.

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