It would be hard to overstate the stakes in Georgia’s Jan. 5th runoff elections, which could elect two Democratic senators for a 50-50 tie in the U.S. Senate and make Vice President Kamala Harris the deciding vote. Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the invisible face on the ballot, and whether or not he will continue to serve as obstructionist in chief is an overriding issue that will be decided on January 5th.
Thus far, the two Democratic candidates have emphasized the Covid-19 insider trading profiteering of their Republican opponents, both of whom provide an irresistible target, with their shameless personal enrichment in stock trading, following their confidential briefings as incumbents. Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Ossoff and Warnock are right to raise hell about it. Otherwise they would be guilty of political malpractice.
Corruption is an issue that can flip even conservative voters who have high ethical standards and are paying attention. So there is reason to hope that educating voters about the extent of Covid-19 profiteering by GOP Sens. Perdue and Loeffler after downplaying the threat of the virus, will have a beneficial impact for Democrats.
Yet, both Democratic Senate candidates, Warnock and Ossoff, received fewer votes than Biden/Harris got at the top of the ticket. Ossoff received nearly 100,000 fewer votes than did Biden. Warnock received about 857,000 fewer than Biden/Harris, but there were 20 candidates on the ballot in his race. In the runoff, it is likely that Ossoff and Warnock will receive close to the same number of votes on January 5th.
No doubt some of the 100,000 vote gap can be attributed to deliberate ticket-splitting, a misguided belief that divided government is always a good thing. But some of it is the result of apathy about the Senate races, and another share of it comes from undecided voters, who just didn’t have a strong enough opinion to vote for a senate candidate of either party.
Many of these gap voters just wanted to get rid of Trump. It seems reasonable that some of them would be open to appeals rooted in the argument that it makes little sense to vote for Biden, then cripple his effectiveness by allowing Mitch McConnell to continue to exercize his veto over hundreds of bills passed by the House of Representatives, many of which are now languishing on McConnell’s desk.
Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. put it well in a recent column:
And voters must understand that as long as Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the Senate majority leader and the base of the Republican Party is dominated by the far right — including “Stop the Steal” Trumpists — a divided government is not a recipe for compromise. Instead, it’s a ticket to obstruction and the very sort of partisan brawling that moderate voters can’t stand.
The belief that divided government guarantees moderate outcomes might once have been true when there was a solid moderate bloc in the Republican Party. But it should now be clear that it’s a destructive myth.
By all means, Ossoff, Warnock and Democrats should keep their Republican opponents’ pandemic profiteering front and center. But their campaigns should also appeal to gap voters to help the presidential candidate they voted for have at least a chance to enact needed legislation, including measures that can help end the pandemic and provide urgently needed economic relief.