As the year of political madness in America draws to a close, get ready for more of it to begin in 2021.
On Tuesday, the state of Georgia votes in two Senate runoff elections to determine whether the Democrats or Republicans control that chamber and whether, therefore, Joe Biden’s agenda has a chance of being implemented.
Both Peach State races are remarkably close, which means the outcome may not be known for days or weeks. The stakes are so high that the verdict could well be contested via legal challenges or recounts or massive protests. When Mr. Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20, the result may still be in doubt.
If the Democrats lose either of the two contests, Mr. Biden will become the first newly elected Democratic president without a Senate majority in 136 years and face a Republican Senate led by the wily and obstreperous Mitch McConnell.
In his illuminating memoir A Promised Land, Barack Obama writes of a run-in that took place after Mr. McConnell blocked a Biden bill. When “Joe tried to explain the bill’s merits, McConnell raised his hand like a traffic cop and said, ‘You must be under the mistaken impression that I care.’”
That sums up the Kentuckian precisely. If he’s in the catbird seat, down goes many of Mr. Biden’s big plans. Down goes his hopes of rebalancing the judiciary, of an expansive economic rescue package, of tax increases for corporations and the super wealthy, of measures to reduce climate change, of a US$15 minimum wage, of an expansion of voting rights, of gun-control legislation.
With Republicans only having to win one of the two races to maintain Senate control, the Democrats face a stiffer challenge. U.S. President Donald Trump, who will appear in Georgia for a rally Monday, is a wild card. With his typical torrents of vitriol, he has created a rift among state Republicans, splitting with Governor Brian Kemp, who refused to support his bid to overturn the general-election verdict in Georgia won by the Democrats by 12,670 votes out of almost five million cast.
Mr. Trump has divided the party further with his changing positions on a US$900-billion stimulus package for coronavirus relief. Some, like veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz, say his shenanigans are likely to depress Republican voter enthusiasm and turnout.
If the Senate is lost, Mr. Trump’s hold on the party will be weakened. But if the GOP wins in Georgia, he will cement his grip. It will be further evidence, given yet more disruptions he has provoked in recent weeks, of his indomitable standing in the party.
One race pits Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, a former digital finance company chief executive officer, against Democrat Raphael Warnock, a Black pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached. To boost her conservative credentials, Ms. Loeffler has run ads saying she is to the right of “Attila the Hun.”
The other contest features Republican incumbent David Perdue, a wealthy businessman who went against the wishes of the governor in supporting the Trump bid to undo the election result, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old investigative journalist who narrowly lost a race for Congress in the state in 2017.
Typical of the Perdue campaign was a stop at a gun-shooting range Monday where, with firearms blazing in the background, he pledged to save the country from the socialist hordes.
Amounts of money being spent on the campaigns is nearing an astonishing US$500-million. The Democrats are relying heavily on a surge in Latino voter support, as well as increased backing from college-educated white voters.
The Republicans are being aided by the new force in American politics: right-wing misinformation superspreaders. The human-rights group Avaaz, which conducted a study, says Georgia voters are being inundated with falsehoods, including allegations of Democratic foul play in the voting process.
A majority of Republicans have accepted Mr. Trump’s specious allegations that the election was stolen from them. Should the Democrats win the seats in Georgia, there is likely to be similar charges and accompanying turmoil.
Turnout will decide the outcome. With so much at stake, Democrats appear to have an edge in voter motivation. They’re hopeful that Mr. Trump’s actions have dampened his party’s prospects. They’ve thought that way in the past, beginning in 2016.
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