Warnock’s Victory in Small Increments

John Bazemore/AP

Victory In Small Increments. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s win in the Dec. 6 run-off against GOP candidate Herschel Walker was a product of many small improvements. Warnock’s 2.8% victory margin (51.4% to 48.6%) was a small improvement over his 1 point margin (49.44 to 48.49%) over Walker in the November general election and an even smaller improvement from his 51.04 to 48.96 (1.08%) win over Loeffler in 2020. The election was still tight but Warnock made small improvements across the board. I watched election returns on MSNBC and Steve Kornacki’s reports showed Warnock gaining a little here and a little there over his 49.44% November result–a little bit in deep red rural counties, a little in Atlanta exurban counties like Forsyth, and a little more in Atlanta metro counties like DeKalb and Fulton where Warnock built up big leads from early voting and sustained them.

Democrats dream of a wave election that establishes them as the dominant party in U.S. Those waves have happened in 1800 (Jefferson Democrats), 1828 (Jacksonian Democrats), 1896 (Gilded Age Republicans), 1932 (New Deal Democrats), and 1984 (Reagan Republicans). Democrats want the same kind of political and cultural ascendancy Reagan Republicans had from 1984 through Obama’s first term. The cultural ascendancy is certainly there. The U.S. is a multicultural, socially liberal society but the GOP also recognizes the trend toward multicultural diversity and has wired the political system to favor rural white conservatives. As a result, elections are closer than they otherwise would be and Democrats have to make progress in small increments rather than big waves. Given that Sen. Warnock is the first black man elected as a Senator from Georgia, his election is a huge leap forward but Warnock victory was also a result of many tiny increments.

The Battered Republican Formula. The Republican formula in close elections used to be to stay close and then finish the campaign by pumping an enormous amount of money into attack ads that often focused on creating or taking advantage of small vulnerabilities like a Democrats being “a lapdog for Nancy Pelosi,” part of “the Democratic establishment,” a “latte drinking liberal elite,” or someone who “smoked pot in college.” Much of the Republican idea was to create an element of uncertainty or loathing in relation to Democratic candidates and guide soft Republicans and swing voters “home” to vote for the Republican candidate as more “normal” in the sense of being a safe, white, conservative man.

But almost all elements of the GOP formula have lost steam since 2016 and Democrats have accumulated a number of small to moderate advantages that helped the Warnock campaign as well as Democratic candidates more generally.

Early Voting. Early voting, online fundraising, culture war pushback, and constant GOP scandals have undermined every element of the GOP formula for success. Early voting means that a significant chunk of the vote has already been recorded by the time GOP campaigns do their last minute blitz. The Trump campaign teed up a last minute Hunter Biden laptop extravaganza in 2020, but Hunter news was largely ignored by the media and probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway because so much of the vote had already been submitted. A last minute voting blitz doesn’t count as much if 50% of voters have already voted.

Online Fundraising. GOP candidates can no longer count on big money advantages either. I’ve seen claims that the Warnock campaign had a 2-1 or 3-1 spending advantage over Herschel Walker and that Democratic PAC’s (Political Action Committees) outspent GOP PAC’s as well. Much of the improved Democratic fundraising is due to the superiority of ActBlue as an online fundraising apparatus compare to the Republican Party’s WinRed. Divisions among Republicans also hurt GOP fundraising as Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis largely sat on almost $100 million in cash reserves leaving Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership PAC as the biggest source of GOP money. To the contrary, the Democrats have no such internal rivalry issues. Democrats don’t always have Warnock’s big advantage, but Republican candidates can no longer count on having piles of extra money for the last couple weeks of their campaigns.

Culture War Pushback. Another thing that created a small disadvantage for Republicans was that Democratic pushback was effective and the Republican culture war energy of 2021 and early 2022 was almost entirely spent by the time voting began for the November mid-terms. Soon after Joe Biden was inaugurated, GOP think tankers generated a culture war campaign against “critical race theory” that then became a campaign against “wokeness” and then devolved into campaigns against “groomers” and finally drag events. However, none of those themes were a plus for Republican candidates outside the Florida governor’s race and Democratic pushback and the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade turned culture war issues into a plus for Democrats. Herschel Walker tried to make “pronouns” a theme in his campaign but his efforts were drowned out by his family terrorism, unrevealed children, and efforts to encourage pregnant girlfriends to get abortions.

GOP Scandals. Another development reducing the ability to GOP candidates to catch up during the last week is the waves of Republican scandals. Herschel Walker had a particularly bad case of the scandal bug during the last week of his campaign as another women accused him of being violent toward her. In fact, Republican candidates had to deal both with their own scandals and the scandals of the man who sponsored so many of their candidacies–Donald Trump. In the case of PA Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, he was burdened early in the campaign by his residence in New Jersey, continually by his association with quack medicine, and later by his involvement in killing puppies for medical reseach. Where new Walker scandals continued into the last week of the campaign, the Oz scandals hobbled him as he entered the last week of the campaign and limited his ability to overcome the financial advantage Fetterman had aaccumulated from online fundraising (I sent Fetterman $10 myself).

It wasn’t like Walker or Oz could escape the specter of all the criminal investigations involving their sponsor Donald Trump either. The summer and fall were loaded with news from the Jan. 6 committee about Trump’s illegal efforts to stop the confirmation of Biden’s election, the various frauds involved in the Trump organization, his removal of classified documents from the White House, and the libel trial about one of his alleged rapes. All of these Trump scandals and others not only weighed on Trump himself but on the ability of Trump endorsed candidates to overcome early leads by Democratic opponents.

Conclusion. Democrats want bigger wins but antagonism toward the cultural changes of the last 70 years runs deep among about 1/3 of the voting public while another 10% still supports GOP policies of tax cuts and deregulation even though Republicans put little emphasis on that. In other words, the Republicans have something like a 45% minimum vote on a national basis and something like a 48% minimum in a long-time conservative state like Georgia. The Dems have room for improvement and could conceivably get up to 53 or 54% of the national vote. After all, Trump didn’t reach 47% in either of his presidential campaigns. But for the Democrats to maximize their votes, they need to continually create little advantages of their own and cash in on the current disadvantages of the Republicans.

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