Control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress had been decided before early voting even began in the second round of Georgia’s Senate elections. But the country’s two largest parties treated the vote as a decisive battle.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on the run-off — more than any other contest in 2022. The U.S. news media focused on the peach-growing southern U.S. state ahead of the vote — and when Senator Raphael Warnock was declared the winner on Tuesday came out against Republican Herschel Walker, his Democratic Party declared the outcome a victory for the country.
The race may not have changed the balance of power in an already divided incoming Congress, where Republicans narrowly control the House of Representatives and Democrats will have a slim majority in the Senate, but it will have political implications for years to come.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised Warnock on Wednesday. “The people of Georgia are better off, the Democratic Senate caucus is better off, and America is better off because it ran and won,” Schumer told reporters.
Democrats will now have a 51 to 49 majority in the next Senate, the 118th since the country was founded, which takes office early next month. For the past two years, the chamber has been evenly split, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as a tiebreaker to ensure Democratic control.
By tightening their grip on the Senate, Democrats now no longer have to rely on their most conservative members to confirm judges and pass legislation.
Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have wielded excessive power since 2021, often withholding their votes on key legislation to gain concessions.
The Democrats can also ensure they have a majority on every committee, making it easier to introduce bills and conduct investigations.
In an evenly split Senate, Republicans and Democrats had equal numbers on committees, making it difficult to advance 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 bench. We are so proud of our record with judges. It’s one of the most important things – maybe the most – that we’ve done.”
Federal judges, including Supreme Court judges, are nominated by the president, but they must be confirmed by a simple majority in the Senate.
Senators serve for six-year terms, meaning Warnock’s victory improves Democrats’ chances of retaining the chamber after the next Congress whose term expires in January 2025.
“It just gives us the lift. The fact that we got 51 votes just gives us a great feeling — enthusiasm, unity, encouragement that way,” Schumer said.
Politically, victory in Georgia seals what has been an impressive 2022 election performance by Democrats, who defied historical trends favoring the party outside the White House to make big gains in Congress during the midterm elections.
It was the first time since 1934 that any sitting senate from the party in power managed to win re-election.
Conversely, it’s another setback for Republicans, especially former president and 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump, who had supported several high-profile losing Republicans, including Walker.
Warnock was first elected in 2020 in a special election that also went to a second round. Another statewide victory in Georgia, a fast-changing former Republican stronghold, bodes well for future Democratic candidates for president. Joe Biden had won the state from Trump in 2020 by a razor-thin margin.
Biden said late Tuesday that he called Warnock to congratulate him, characterizing the vote as a rebuke to Trump’s brand of far-right politics.
“Tonight Georgia’s voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and most importantly, returned a good man to the Senate. To six more years,” the US president wrote, referring to Trump’s motto Make America Great Again (MAGA).
Other leading Democrats, including Harris who no longer has to spend regular time on Capitol Hill to cast the tiebreaker vote in the Senate, also rejoiced in Warnock’s victory.
Georgia voters said they wanted a senator who would fight for them – and it came true when they were re-elected @ Reverend Warnock to the US 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, Congress and 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 means “good news” for Biden.
“In terms of legislation, not much will likely be achieved because the Republicans control one chamber, the Democrats control the other, and the White House is 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, which were typically Republican-controlled states, now leaning toward the Democratic Party and looking favorable in terms of his re-election chances two years from now. ”