After last week's elections, Republicans and Democrats started pouring resources into Georgia, the last big prize of the midterms. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) narrowly led Republican nominee Herschel Walker, but fell short of the 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright. The two will face off again in December, this time with no third-party candidate in the mix; it'll mark the second time Georgia has had to hold a Senate runoff in less than two years.
For a few days, it even looked like the December vote might decide which party controls the Senate, as Georgia's two runoffs did in 2020, but Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) has been projected the winner in a close race against Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, ensuring that Democrats will indeed hold onto their razor-thin Senate majority.
Since the Senate majority is no longer at stake, what is the biggest payoff Democrats and Republicans would get from a Georgia victory?
There's still a lot riding on Georgia
The pressure on Warnock has eased now that Democrats have locked up Senate control, says Tori Otten in The New Republic, but "winning would still be a huge boon to his party." The victories by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) gave Democrats 50 seats, so they will control the 50-50 Senate, even if only with Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote. But 51 seats would help them do a lot more.
It would let them move more forcefully, without constantly worrying whether moderate Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) will torpedo their plans. The extra seat also would "eliminate the unspoken power-sharing agreement between Senate Republicans and Democrats," giving them a majority on committees that have been evenly split in the current 50-50 Senate. That would empower Democrats to "approve moves such as judicial nominations without having to persuade Republicans to their side."
Democrats need the cushion
"There are ample reasons why improving on the bare-minimum majority of 50 Senate seats … is worth fighting hard for," says Jeet Heer in The Nation. Senate Democrats have "some very old members in their caucus." Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is 89, for example, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is 81. "It would be a terrible thing if health issues made it impossible for either of them to carry out their duties, creating a period when Democrats no longer had control of the Senate." If they get that 51st seat, they'll be less likely to be stalled by an illness or any unforeseen absence.
A Warnock win also would give Democrats "less to worry about in 2024," when the party's "incumbents will face challenges in GOP-leaning states like Montana and West Virginia." Democrats might very well hold those seats, but if they fall short in any races in what could be a tough year for them, getting an extra seat this year will give them some "breathing room" they otherwise won't have. "Georgia is not just gravy."
This seat is still crucial for the GOP
Republicans can't let up in Georgia, even though the majority is no longer at stake, says Karen Townsend at Hot Air. "If Herschel Walker wins … he goes to Washington and puts the brakes on the Democrats' actions." The power-sharing he would force the Democrats into would be a "big deal," because without it, "Democrats will be emboldened to push through whatever Biden wants," giving "the progressives he seeks to pacify" a lot more leverage.
Weakening Democrats' grip on the Senate also would help the incoming Republican majority in the House ensure that "Joe Biden's radical agenda can be held at bay in Congress. That's the best we can hope for after the red wave never materialized."
Every Senate seat matters in an evenly divided nation
"Republicans won't run the Senate in the next Congress," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, "but whether they have 50 votes or only 49 after the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff still matters a great deal to policy outcomes." Since committee assignments would no longer be split evenly in a 51-49 Senate, "Democrats would have less need to negotiate with the GOP." And unlike Warnock's 2020 runoff, which was to finish the two years of a term already underway, this vote is for a full six-year term, "which means this will matter to organizing the Senate for three Congresses."
"The GOP has a favorable electoral Senate map in 2024, and every seat will make a difference in how many Democratic incumbents Republicans would need to defeat to regain the majority in what could be a difficult presidential election year for the GOP." But the bottom line is that with the nation evenly and bitterly divided, "every Senate race now has major implications." And after nominating "so many bad candidates" in 2022, every Senate contest is a make-or-break situation for the GOP.