The Added Benefits of Warnock’s Win
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Author: Robert Kuttner
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The American Prospect

Raphael Warnock’s impressive win in Georgia not only gives the Democrats crucial control of committees in the next session of Congress. A 51-49 Senate will make it easier to run investigative hearings; it removes the power of Republicans in evenly divided committees to bottle up nominations; and it leaves corporate Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema less power to block.

Warnock’s victory also provides vital insurance for the 2024 Senate elections, when the Democrats face an unusually rough year. Due to the luck of the draw, the class of ’24 includes at least four vulnerable Democratic incumbents and no at-risk Republicans.

The vulnerable Democrats are Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Jacky Rosen in Nevada, Jon Tester in Montana, and Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Kyrsten Sinema also faces re-election and she could well be ousted in a primary fight.

Of these, Brown has won three elections but by diminishing margins as Ohio keeps trending more Republican. He was re-elected in 2018 with 53.4 percent of the vote. Unless Democrats have a very bad year, Brown is the most secure of the vulnerable group. The others are shakier.

In Montana, Jon Tester had his best performance in 2018, when he won with 50.3 percent of the vote. In his previous two elections, he failed to clear 50 percent and won thanks to the presence of a third-party candidate who drew off Republican votes. Tester is the sole surviving Democrat in a state that had two back-to-back Democratic governors and now has a Republican in Greg Gianforte.

In evenly divided Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto squeaked through this year, winning re-election by just under 7,000 votes. Jacky Rosen won in 2018 with 50.4 percent of the vote.

And then there is Joe Manchin. He is often the skunk at the Democratic picnic, but the alternative is a Republican. In 2018, Manchin was re-elected 49.6 percent to 46.3 percent for Republican Patrick Morrisey. But for the presence of a libertarian, who pulled 4.2 percent, Manchin might well have lost. Manchin will be 77 in 2024, and will be a top Republican target.

Manchin seems to have failed to win his top legislative priority, his side deal for expedited energy permitting, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia. His gambit of tacking this deal onto the defense authorization bill failed.

Republicans will be eager to deny Manchin any kind of achievement. Paradoxically, the Democrats’ 51-49 margin makes them less dependent on Manchin, but frees Manchin to be even less of a party loyalist when he finds that expedient.

Note that all these narrow Democratic wins happened in 2018, the best Democratic year in recent political history. If the Democratic presidential candidate doesn’t have coattails (Joe Biden, this means you), or even worse, loses the 2024 election, all of them could go down.

One ray of hope: If the kind of Republican nutjobs whom Democrats were able to defeat in 2022 run in 2024, things might look better. That sure helped elect Warnock. You might think Republicans would learn from Georgia, but never count out the stupidity of MAGA.

Warnock’s victory at least provides some insurance. The Democrats could lose one Senate seat and if they win the presidency they would hold the Senate 50-50, with the vice president as tiebreaker as in the current Congress. But they need a big presidential win and a good year to make any of this happen.

[Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School.]

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