For the second time in as many years, voters in Georgia have delivered a Senate runoff victory for Democrats.
Incumbent Raphael Warnock, who won a runoff in January 2021 against Republican Kelly Loeffler, defeated GOP nominee Herschel Walker on Tuesday in a close contest that saw both candidates earn nearly 2 million votes.
Warnock’s victory underscored the major disappointment experienced by the GOP after pundits and Republicans anticipated a so-called red wave that never materialized.
Importantly, it gives Democrats a 51-49 edge in the U.S. Senate.
Despite already enjoying the majority in the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris carries the tie-breaking vote, the victory allows Democrats breathing room.
It also means that the Senate can quickly and more easily move on nominations for the federal bench.
“Democrats, with Mr. Warnock, could also be in position to replace a Supreme Court justice,” wrote Ross Barkan, a novelist and New York Times contributor.
Barkan said the 6-3 conservative majority makes this seem less pressing, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death “was a lesson that Stephen Breyer, who retired this year, seemed to heed: Once you’re of retirement age, it’s best to leave the court if an ideologically friendly president and Senate majority are in control.”
Barkan pointed out that Sonia Sotomayor is 68 and Elena Kagan is 62.
Both can serve for decades, but Democrats have to think seriously about the practical advantage of installing liberal justices who are in their 40s or early 50s.
The author noted that Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed at 48; Neil Gorsuch was 49.
“Justice Breyer wisely gave way to Justice Jackson,” Barkan wrote. “Perhaps Justice Sotomayor, at least, should give thought to stepping aside with Mr. Biden in the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer guiding the Senate.
“With 51 votes, Mr. Schumer could steer through a judge who is as progressive as either Justice Sotomayor or Kagan, helping to nurture a liberal minority that could theoretically expand someday,” Barkan wrote.
And then there’s 2024.
With a Walker win, Republicans would have enjoyed a huge advantage in their quest to not only flip the Senate but also build a durable majority that could last a generation or more.
Noting how foreboding the 2024 map is for Democrats, three incumbents represent states that Trump handily carried in 2020.
“A 51-49 majority is a better hedge against such a possible wipeout. It also gives Mr. Warnock a chance to shine on the national level and demonstrate whether he can become a formidable member of an expanding Democratic bench, the kind of senator who could end up president someday,” Barkan wrote.