Why we should care about the Georgia Senate races -- and what we can do about it

  • Elliott Hartstein

    Elliott Hartstein

Updated 11/19/2020 5:20 AM

On Jan. 5, there will be two runoffs to determine who the U.S. Senators are from the state of Georgia. Democratic candidate Jon Osoff is in a runoff with David Perdue, the incumbent Republican Senator. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate, is in a runoff with Kelly Loeffler, the incumbent Republican Senator. These races not only affect Georgia, but also all of us here in Illinois and throughout the country!

The unique runoff rules in Georgia require a candidate to gain a majority of the vote to win, resulting in a second contest between the top two vote-getters if no one does. Georgia's runoffs stem from segregationist efforts to dilute Black voting power. Historically, such contests have heavily favored Republicans because of a drop-off among Democratic voters, particularly African Americans, after general elections. With enthusiasm running high in Georgia over the current election cycle, an opportunity exists to turn this segregation election concept upside down.


Who are these Democratic senatorial candidates? Jon Osoff is a graduate of Georgetown University and earned a Master's Degree from The London School of Economics. He has served as a national security staffer for a congressman and a former intern of congressman John Lewis, and went on to become a CEO and director of an investigative television production company. The Rev. Raphael Warnock received his Ph.D. from Morehouse College and has served for 15 years as the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. had served as pastor.

Both candidates have similar positions on issues. Both support expansion of the Affordable Care Act and a public option alternative under Medicare. Both support criminal justice reform and immigration reform with secure borders and path to citizenship. Both support a transition to clean energy and expanded infrastructure and related job creation. Both support a woman's right to choice and LGBTQ rights and universal background checks for gun owners. Both of their Republican opponents have been strong supporters for President Donald Trump, never questioned any of his actions or conduct, and have consistently opposed any Democratic proposals or reforms.

Why should this runoff election matter to us? Under the current state of the election returns, the Republicans in the Senate have 50 senators and the Democrats have 48. If the Democrats can win the two seats up for grabs in Georgia, that will create a 50-50 tie, which can be broken in party line votes by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. The first key vote will be to determine Majority Leader and determine if Mitch McConnell can continue to call the shots and prevent votes on a wide range of issues. Of immediate significance is the need for a Covid Relief bill like the bill passed months ago in the House. In May, the House passed the Heroes Act, which has been sitting in the Senate since May. That was the bill that gave further relief to small businesses, the unemployed, supplemental stipends to families and quite significantly needed funds to state and local governments here in Illinois and throughout the country. These needs are more compelling than ever with the current surge in COVID-19 in Illinois and throughout the country, and the need for funds to help insure distribution of vaccines when they become available.

Similarly, if you care about seeing action to improve health care, address climate change, voting rights, immigration reform, gun violence prevention, protecting women's right to choice, needed infrastructure and job creation, criminal justice reform, tax reform, equal rights for all and so much more, who is elected in Georgia can make a big difference. All of these issues for the nation are, in effect, on the ballot in Georgia in January.

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Of course, there is a diversity of positions even among the Democratic Senators, and there will not always be unanimity on votes. But the chance to see action on many issues will be significantly enhanced if we see both Osoff and Warnock elected in January.

If the majority leader is changed, we will at least get to see matters that matter voted upon, unlike the refusal of Mitch McConnell to call countless bills over the last few years. Though President-elect Joe Biden is committed to being a President for all Americans, whether they voted for him or not, and committed to reaching out to work across the aisle, his ability to get things done for the nation will be in a much better position if both Osoff and Warnock are elected to the Senate. It will also enable Vice President-elect Harris on an ongoing basis to cast votes in the Senate to effect real meaningful actions.

What can we all do about this? It will not be easy since President-elect Biden only won Georgia by about 14,000 votes. But similarly, it means that the votes are there if they are brought out to vote. It means there is a need for lots of hard work and support. We can start by making calls to increase the number of voters registered, which can help contribute to election victories. The deadline for voter registration is Dec. 7. That means those registration calls need to start now.

Early voting in Georgia starts Dec. 14, with Election Day Jan. 5. Supportive calls to encourage securing vote-by-mail ballots and early voting need to be underway in short order. Contributions to fund advertising and an effective ground game is another way to lend support. To have contributions split equally between the two campaigns, use this link: secure.actblue.com/donate/2020gasenaterunoff. To learn more about each of the candidates and volunteer, use these links: ElectJon.com and warnockforgeorgia.com.

• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is a former village president of Buffalo Grove.

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