Georgia runoff elections makes history in a tumultuous election year

Libby Chambers, Staff Writer

Any other week, Reverend Raphael Warnock’s historic win on Jan. 5, 2021, would have made headlines everywhere. Warnock’s win against Kelly Loeffler in Georgia’s special election to fill the remainder of the former Sen. Isakson’s term makes him the first black Senator from Georgia. Loeffler was chosen in 2019, after Isakson announced his retirement, by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. The decision went against Former President Trump’s endorsement of Congressman Doug Collins for the role and surprised most Georgian politicians as Loeffler, a long-time businesswoman, had not had any political experience. Because of Loeffler’s lack of political experience, many Georgian politicians thought Kemp was taking a risky wager in entrusting Loeffler to win the special election. A wager he lost, as Warnock has been certified as Georgia’s next Senator. Throughout his life, Rev. Warnock has taken in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: he attended  Morehouse College, and since 2005, he has been a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the same church MLK worked in. In the initial vote on Nov. 4, Rev. Warnock won the plurality of the vote, 32.9 percent, in second was Sen. Loeffler at 25.9 percent. In most states, that qualifies an automatic win, but Georgia is one of the few states to implement majority-runoff elections for local, state, and federal elections (save for the presidential election). The other 10 states are largely in the south, and this voting practice remains a lasting product of the Jim Crow Era. 

When Georgia first implemented runoff elections in the 1960s, proponents of this voting tactic were staunch segregationists such as one state representative of the time, Groover. According to the U.S. National Historic Landmark Program, Groover admitted later to want to suppress the ‘bloc negro vote’, and according to the U.S. Vote Foundation, Groover stated, “I was a segregationist. I was a county unit, man. But if you want to establish if I was racially prejudiced, I was. If you want to establish that some of my political activity was racially motivated, it was.” Not only did this affect Black candidates from winning, but this system also favored Republicans, as reported by the New York Times, before 2021, Republicans had only lost one runoff election race in Georgia. What’s more surprising is both Democrats won in both of Georgia’s runoff elections.

In Georgia’s second runoff race this year, Jon Osseff ran against the incumbent Sen. David Perdue. Ossoff was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and is the first Jewish senator elected from Georgia. Perdue, his opponent, is also native to Georgia and only recently began his senatorial career in 2014. Before his position in office, he served as an executive member of Reebok, PillowTex, and Dollar General. Perdue relied on older white voters, while Ossoff utilized the young vote. He reached out to younger audiences through apps like TikTok and Snapchat. In the primaries, Ossoff took 47.9 percent of the vote compared to Perdue’s 49.7 percent, so he needed a strong campaign going into the runoffs, which he accomplished with a historic amount of campaign spending, raising 138 million dollars, 45 percent of that contributed by individuals. Likewise, Perdue raised 89 million dollars, with nearly 22 percent contributed by individuals. According to the Center of Responsive Politics, outside contributions from Democratic Party groups spent nearly 104 million dollars on the campaign, while GOP groups spent about 230 million dollars. After the most expensive senatorial race to date was finished, Ossoff, just as Warnock, narrowly won the election with 50.6 percent of the vote. 

Georgia’s turn to blue seems sudden to most, as it doesn’t fit the stereotype that we’ve been taught about ‘the south.’ But this sudden change isn’t due to most voters changing their political party; rather, it’s due to the expansion of the voting masses thanks to Stacy Abrams. After Abram’s loss of the Governor’s race in 2018, she committed to signing up eligible voters in Georgia, largely black voters. She committed to helping the disenfranchised vote. The number of registered voters in the state of Georgia rose 11.4 percent from 2018 to 2020. In effect, this caused the state to ‘turn blue’ during the presidential election as well, which had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Clinton in 1992.

The two democratic wins in Georgia put the Senate at a slim divide of 50 Republican and 50 Democratic representatives, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris being the tie-breaker vote.