At last, the two most insane months in modern American political history reach their gonzo conclusion. Tonight the suspense over who’ll control the Senate this year will end. Tomorrow the “suspense” over whether Biden will be elected president will end. And then, at some point between January 7 and January 20, the suspense over how far Trump and his fans are prepared to go to try to keep him in power will end.
Prediction: It’s all gonna suck relentlessly because that’s just how things are now.
You’re already acquainted with this evening’s cast of characters. For the Democrats: Replacement-level progressive pencil-neck Jon Ossoff and Castro-curious Jeremiah Wright fanboy Raphael Warnock. For the Republicans: Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, two pols so bereft of charisma and an agenda that they’re running instead on their willingness to do literally anything Trump tells them, potentially up to and including committing murder if asked. It’s a microcosm of American politics in 2021, two dubious leftists versus two pretend-MAGA zombies. Good luck, swing voters.
In a sense, because of Loeffer’s and Perdue’s cartoonish unthinking loyalty to Trump, the president *is* on the ballot tonight. It’s similar to the November 3 race in Georgia but with three tweaks. One: The Senate rather than the presidency is at stake. Two: The Democrats on the ballot are considerably further left than Joe Biden is. Three: Trump is, at this very moment, trying to organize a soft coup in Washington that’ll overturn Biden’s victory and keep him in power. If you know what all of that adds up to in terms of Georgia turnout, fill me in. I haven’t a clue.
I think Republicans are slightly favored for two reasons. Perdue topped Ossoff by nearly two points in their first race in November and came within three-tenths of a point of winning outright, without needing a runoff. (The Libertarian candidate took 2.3 percent, probably denying Perdue a victory.) He also got slightly more votes than Trump did on November 3, suggesting that he’s plenty popular enough — or generically acceptable enough — to get it done tonight. Meanwhile, Perdue and Loeffler have spent the weeks since Election Day running the same playbook against Ossoff and Warnock that worked so well for the GOP downballot on November 3. They’ve spent every available hour hammering them as radicals, socialist sympathizers, and police-defunders. If that was good enough to win a bunch of close Senate races in other states in November, it should be good enough to win here, no?
Well, not so fast. The polls have brightened for Ossoff and Warnock lately, with each candidate leading their opponent by roughly two points in the FiveThirtyEight average. (I don’t blame you if you don’t trust polling anymore but the presidential polls in Georgia on November 3 were much closer to the mark than they were in some other states.) There’s no guarantee that tonight’s electorate will look identical to the electorate on November 3 either. In fact, more than 100,000 people who didn’t vote in November have already voted in this election, a disproportionate number of them black. Warnock may end up turning out enough African-American voters to change the game.
And of course there’s the “stop the steal” factor, which is completely unpredictable. Maybe Republican voters will turn out en masse to avenge the “theft” of the state on November 3. Or maybe they’ll listen to Lin Wood and conclude that only a sucker would bother showing up for another rigged election. Dems wouldn’t need many GOP voters to boycott for that boycott to become decisive.
I can’t wait to find out who wins tonight! Er, I mean tomorrow:
Georgia's Secretary of State tell CNN the same thing he told Fox this morning: he doesn't expect to know a winner until the morning. ("Tomorrow sometime.") pic.twitter.com/0ZZ5TctJoA
— Josh Wingrove (@josh_wingrove) January 5, 2021
Or maybe a few weeks from now?
The good news is that, no matter what happens, Republicans will be able to mine something useful from the outcome. If Loeffler and Perdue win, great. The GOP holds the Senate. If Loeffler and Perdue lose, great. Trump can use that as final “proof” that the November 3 results were rigged. What are the odds, after all, that Dems might finally win two elections in a state that’s been gradually trending Democratic for years? As for the rest of the party, writes Ross Douthat, a painful loss tonight might be healthy long-term by beginning to free the GOP from Trump’s iron grip:
Obviously, a runoff-day defeat won’t by itself prevent Trump from winning the party’s nomination four years hence or bestriding its internal culture in the meantime. (Indeed, for some of his supporters it would probably confirm their belief that the presidential election was stolen — because look, the Democrats did it twice!) But the sense that there is a real political cost to slavishly endorsing not just Trump but also his fantasy politics, his narrative of stolen victory, seems a necessary precondition for the separation that elected Republicans need to seek — working carefully, like a bomb-dismantling team — between their position and the soon-to-be-former president’s, if they don’t want him to just claim the leadership of their party by default.
[D]efeat for two Republicans who have cynically gone along with the president’s stolen-election narrative, to the point of attacking their own state’s Republican-run electoral system, feels like a plausible place for the diminishment of Trump to start.
In the unlikely event that we do know who won and who lost by tomorrow morning, though, a dual Loeffler/Perdue defeat is apt to make the mood in Washington even fouler and more fraught on a day that’ll be fraught enough already.
Whatever happens, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If Republicans prevail, squishy centrists Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney will become the power-brokers in the Senate and hardly anything will get done thanks to the filibuster. If Democrats prevail, squishy centrist Joe Manchin will become the power-broker and hardly anything will get done thanks to the filibuster. The fate of the country is on the line.
Polls close at 7 p.m. ET. Below you’ll find an auto-updated feed of tweets from worthy commentators and data nerds whose thoughts are always valuable on election night.