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Why the Democrat's 51st Senate seat matters

After a hard-fought runoff, Democrat incumbent Raphael Warnock won back his seat against Republican Herschel Walker, giving his party a coveted 51st seat.

ATLANTA, Georgia — In a year when many analysts were expecting a "red wave," Democrats have actually gained a seat in the Senate. This was finalized with a victory in the Georgia Runoff for Sen. Raphael Warnock. 

The Democratic incumbent defeated controversial Republican challenger Herschel Walker, a former football player, who received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. 

“After a hard-fought campaign -- or should I say campaigns -- it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken,” Warnock, 53, told his jubilant supporters who packed a downtown Atlanta hotel ballroom.


What are the impacts of this Democratic victory in Georgia?


  • Casey Burgat, Director of Legislative Affairs Program and Assistant Professor at The George Washington University
  • Mark Rom, Associate Professor of Government and Public Policy at the McCourt School of Public Policy and the Department of Government, Georgetown University


The Democratic victory in Georgia gives the party a true majority with 51 seats. Previously, the party had just 50 seats, which meant they relied on total support from all of their members. In a 50-50 split, the Vice President was needed to break the tie. 

The extra seat is likely to weaken the position of moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema, who will no longer have the power to stop legislative action on their own. 

"The biggest difference in terms of policy-making is that you can lose a vote and still get a policy passed," said Casey Burgat from The George Washington University.

Most legislation requires 60 votes to pass, due to the filibuster. However certain legislation can be passed with a simple majority, including budget reconciliation bills and votes on judicial and executive nominations. 

"The big spending bills that the Senate passes -- they can pass those with 50 votes," said Mark Rom, from Georgetown University. "That funds the government. So that's a big deal for the Democrats." 

A simple majority could also vote to eliminate the filibuster altogether, although it's unlikely Democrats would have the 50 votes to take such an action. 


With a 50-50 split in the Senate, the two parties were forced to follow a power-sharing agreement, leading to an evenly-divided government in each of the Senate committees. 

With 51 seats, Democrats will now be able to take a majority in every committee. For example, on the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats will be able to take 12 seats, compared 10 Republicans. Previously, each party had 11 seats on the committee. 

"Democrats don't have to go through that power sharing agreement," Burgat said. "They can have more power or more leverage in determining how many seats go on to certain committees, who serves in those seats, and you're less dependent on Republicans basically agreeing with you."

Democratic control in the Senate Judiciary Committee is especially important, because it will speed up the party's ability to confirm judicial and executive nominees.

"You can bet that they're going to be confirming a lot of judges and other federal appointees in the next two years," said Rom.


Warnock's victory epitomizes the changing politics in the previously deep red state. In 2020, the Georgians voted not only for two Democratic Senators, but also they elected President Joe Biden. Warnock's victory demonstrates that this may not have been a one-time thing. 

"Democrats have to feel pretty good about Georgia," said Burgat. "Given the last couple of elections - two Senators - one of whom has won basically four elections in his two years, President Biden carried the state." 

That's not to say that Georgia has gone "full blue." Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp was re-elected decisively in 2022, beating Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams with over 53% of the vote.

"Republicans did very, very well in the state except for one exceptionally weak candidate," said Rom. "On the other hand, the Democrats can beat weak candidates in Georgia. So we know that in 2024, there is going to be a lot of money from both Republicans and Democrats poured into Georgia."


Herschel Walker was one of many Republicans endorsed by Former President Trump, who lost their election bids. Other high profile endorsements include Pennsylvania candidate Mehmet Oz and Arizona candidate Blake Masters. 

Trump did endorse several successful Senate candidates as well, including Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, JD Vance in Ohio, and Ted Budd in North Carolina. 

The poor performance of many high-profile Trump endorsed candidates is leading some former Trump-allies to turn against the former president. 

"Maybe we're seeing a little shine coming off the polish of Trump's endorsement right now," said Burgat. "Where his candidates were not successful." 

President Trump has already announced his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, although it's unclear if he'll face any GOP challengers. Some Republicans have indicated they'd support new blood, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

Rom said it's possible that these high-profile losses may embolden other Republican candidates to enter the race for the highest office. 

"Just as politicians flocked to him when they said he was a winner," said Rom. "They will abandon him when they decide he's a loser." 

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