The Math Path to the Senate

Biden War Room
8 min readNov 16, 2020

Which voter were you in 2020, the one who would walk across broken glass to vote for Joe Biden (or anyone on a ballot who isn’t Donald Trump), or the sort of voter who can generally take or leave politics, and maybe even voting?

In every election, there are voters, Democrats and Republicans, of the first type. They don’t miss an opportunity to vote in any type of election, for President, or every two years for Congress, in primaries, or in state and local races. These are the voters who select the best candidate from disappointing options; they’re the ones that vote for a great candidate who has no chance of winning. If you’re that person, and you’re a Democrat in Georgia, we really need you now. Your vote is the foundation of Democratic progress. You already know the importance of these two Senate seats.

If you’re the second type, a person who votes once in a while, then we owe you an awful lot if you voted for Joe Biden this time around. Several of the states Joe Biden won could have gone either way. Yours was the incremental vote, the vote that beat the polling errors, the vote that kept Donald Trump out of cheating distance, and the vote that made the difference in November.

Now it’s time to focus on the Senate, Georgia’s Senators in particular. Two events placed Georgia front and center in November’s election. The first is that Joe Biden is the first Democrat to win Georgia since Bill Clinton and the first Democrat who is not a Southerner to do so since JFK in 1960. It’s hard to overstate how great that is.

The second event is that both races for the US Senate are going to a runoff. It’s a lot like a “blue moon”, which is technically when a full moon appears twice in the same calendar month. A blue moon actually happened on Halloween night. Two Senate elections on the same day in the same state is an even rarer occurrence. Maybe the blue moon will lead to a blue Senate.

The first of these Senate races began on a normal schedule, because Republican Senator David Perdue’s six-year term is up. His challenger is Democrat Jon Ossoff. Neither candidate crossed the 50% threshold of votes on November 3rd, so they’re trying again.

The second election is “special” because Republican Kelly Loeffler was appointed when another Senator from the state retired. The seat will come up again in 2022, but we’re focused on keeping it warm until then. Like Arizona’s Martha McSally, this Senator has not yet been elected. Let’s keep it that way.

This is an uphill battle for both Democratic candidates. Democrats are probably outnumbered by Republicans in the state, but voters don’t register with parties, so we only know partisanship by how they vote. It appears for now that Georgia is still a red state. Red states are a challenge up and down the ballot.

Not long ago, red-state Alabama’s Senate seat went (in another special election) to Doug Jones, an unblemished Democrat running against Roy Moore. Doug Jones, the Democrat, had successfully prosecuted two KKK members for a church bombing that killed four black girls. Roy Moore has a known penchant for sexually assaulting teenage girls. Doug Jones won the race by only 50–48 against the child molester. He lost in 2020 to someone who later misidentified the three branches of government, mischaracterized the reason for World War II, and thought that Al Gore had been president-elect for 30 days. Alabama is really red.

Georgia is pinker than that, maybe even peach-colored. But the challenge is there. Turnout was high in this election, but turnout isn’t the main reason Joe Biden won. We know that because Donald Trump also got better turnout in 2020 than he did in 2016.

Part of the reason Joe Biden won is that he was running against Donald Trump. This is a guy that increased the turnout from people who like him and from people who hate him. That’s an interesting accomplishment.

For example, he got some votes from disaffected Republicans and right-leaning Independents. That’s similar to the Doug Jones victory in Alabama against the child molester.

But we don’t have Donald Trump to run against this time. It shouldn’t matter, but it makes the job harder. One more thing that works against the Democrats: many voters prefer split government, which might favor the two Republicans in this election. Split government generally sounds fine in theory, but it has resulted in partisan gridlock for the last two years, including an unconscionable desert of economic stimulus after the first pandemic stimulus package ran dry in mid-2020. Some proponents of split government are having second thoughts.

If even one of the empty Senate seats goes to a Republican, Mitch McConnell runs the Senate, and getting the job done becomes a bigger challenge for Joe Biden. What’s the difference in Senate operations for these Georgia contests? Two seats don’t sound like a big deal. They are.

With a Republican majority, Mitch McConnell gets to decide what laws even make it to the floor or a vote. In its first year of a majority, the Democratic House passed about 400 bills, which have been lying around unattended on Mitch McConnell’s desk. A Democrat in that job would try to govern.

In a 50/50 Senate, bills that make it to the floor and then get to a tie vote are decided by the Vice-President (and VIce-President-Elect Kamala Harris will work with her former colleagues as did Vice-President Biden in the Obama administration.)

With a majority in the Senate, the committee membership makeup reflects their proportion. In a 50/50 split, the committees are balanced, and that means that their work activities are nuanced. With a Republican Senate majority, expect to see investigations designed to hurt Democrats instead of progress. In an evenly-divided Senate, the committee chairs are selected by the Vice-President.

A tie in the Senate is never a real tie. It’s effectively a majority for the President’s party. Put another way, these Senate races give Georgia a chance to turn Mitch McConnell into a senator that hardly matters.

If you want President-Elect Biden to get his choice of Cabinet members, as have all presidents until now, a Senate tie is the only way to muzzle McConnell. He has made it known that President Biden’s Cabinet nominees must be moderate enough to meet his tastes. (He didn’t think Judge Merrick Garland met that test.) Similarly, the Senate has traditionally given Presidents of both parties a wide berth in selecting qualified judicial picks. That’s where the future Supreme Court starts out. It goes without saying that a Republican Senate can craft a Supreme Court to its own specifications by manipulating the process (as Mitch McConnell did at the beginning and at the end of the last four years.). A tied Senate would improve that situation for Joe Biden, whenever judicial appointments occur.

So those are the stakes. How do we win?

Turnout, turnout, turnout.

Forget the catchphrases: red state, blue state, polls are even, polls are behind. None of that matters with enough turnout. That’s how Joe Biden won Georgia. The key is to register and turn out the sort of voter that generally chooses the Democrat. Youth voters made up more than a fifth of all Georgia votes, according to a group at Tufts University. About 800,000 new voter registrations, many enfranchising Black Americans, were made possible through the tenacious efforts of Stacey Abrams. The math is simple. More voters means more votes.

The opposite of this approach is voter suppression, either enticing your opponents not to vote or suppressing their opportunities. In the past, Georgia has been the poster child for suppression efforts in the past, through voter purges, long lines, and delaying voter registrations. To the state’s credit, the Republican-led management of the 2020 presidential election has been exemplary so far.

Here’s how turnout beats polling. Let’s say the state poll is even for two candidates, just to keep it simple. So half of voters like Candidate Blue, and half like Candidate Red. If the number of voters who cast ballots is also the same for both candidates, the result is a tie. Let’s say that Candidate Blue got 1000 votes, and so did Candidate Red.

But what if great campaigning gets 100 more Candidate Blue voters to turn out than Candidate Red does? Then Candidate Blue wins by a hundred votes, 1100 to 1000. Total turnout for Candidate Blue is 1000 + 100. That’s bigger than Candidate B’s 1000. It’s just math.

What can you do now to make this happen?

If you live in Georgia, it’s time to vote. If you aren’t registered, or if you know someone who will turn 18 by January 5, even if they aren’t 18 yet, register to vote or help them register. The deadline is December 7, but please don’t wait. If you know anyone who didn’t vote on November 3, or voted for a third-party candidate, make sure that they understand the importance of their vote now. Make sure your right-leaning friends understand that the job is not yet done, that the Trump enablers will still be tied to him with marionette strings tugged on Twitter. Voters make a difference.

Request an absentee ballot, or vote early (early voting begins December 14.) Learn more about early voting locations or ballots on Georgia’s My Voter Page.

Election Day is the day you get your ballot, or it’s the day you vote early in person (stay safe). But the very last Election Day for this runoff is January 5, 2021. Don’t forget: there are TWO Senate races, and you want to vote for Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock.

If you don’t live in Georgia, and even if you do, and you’d like to help more:

Donate to each campaign individually, for Jon Ossoff, and for Reverend Raphael Warnock. You might donate to national organizations like SwingLeft, or local groups like:

The campaign websites also provide volunteer links for events, text or phone banking, in-person opportunities, and more.

Some people think that only elections for President matter, but don’t underestimate these contests. They’re big, and the eyes of the nation are on them. Keep in mind, if Democrats vote by mail again and Republicans vote in person, an Election Night “red mirage” might again ripen into a blue victory.

Author Jim Butcher is credited with the following maxim, but no matter where it originated, it applies to the importance of turnout in these Georgia Senate races.

“You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you.”

Let’s outrun them.

Originally published at on November 16, 2020.



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