Georgia win offers Democrats new opportunity -- plus a reality check: The Note

Not all victories amount to mandates.

December 7, 2022, 6:08 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

There was every reason for Democrats to feel great about Tuesday's Senate runoff in Georgia -- a more polished candidate with a vast spending advantage, distractions courtesy of their opponent as well as former President Donald Trump, a recent track record of winning similar races and just maybe a depressed or distracted GOP electorate, with control of the Senate not at stake.

The runoff wound up looking a lot like the first round of voting in Georgia. That's to say it was remarkably close, with red counties voting heavily for a flawed Republican and Sen. Raphael Warnock needing to squeeze every bit of juice out of Democratic parts of the state.

It worked, and Warnock won a full six-year term while Democrats nabbed a 51st Senate seat. It's another blow to Trump's political sway and also the effective end of the "President Manchin" era that gave outsized influence to any one Democratic senator.

But just how much it took to get Warnock elected -- and how close it came to not happening despite all of what was happening outside and inside of Georgia -- serves as a reminder of the deep political grooves that shape races in 2022 and beyond.

"Over a million voters in Georgia still voted for an incompetent, unqualified and damaged candidate," Yvette Simpson, CEO of the progressive group Democracy for America, said on ABC News Live on Tuesday night. "We have to talk as a country about what that means for our future."

On the other side, Republicans have officially failed to win even a single Democratic-held seat this year, despite midterm history, double-digit inflation and President Joe Biden's low approval rating. The GOP has now lost three Senate races in the space of two years in a single once-red state, and Trump remains dominant in the party.

Any new governing opportunity Democrats have is tempered by the fact that the House will change hands in a few weeks, as well as uncertainty about the political landscape ahead. A win is a win, but not all wins amount to mandates.

PHOTO: Georgia Democratic Senate candidate U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during an election night watch party, Dec. 6, 2022, in Atlanta.
Georgia Democratic Senate candidate U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during an election night watch party, Dec. 6, 2022, in Atlanta.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

The redistricting aftermath is set to reach the Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices hear arguments in Moore v. Harper, a case out of North Carolina that could upend voting laws across the country.

The case -- which legal experts see as having the potential to nationally disrupt the state-by-state process of voting administration -- stems from North Carolina Republicans' push for the Supreme Court to reinstate gerrymandered maps that were shot down by the state's highest court for violating North Carolina's Constitution.

Their argument centers around the so-called independent state legislature theory, which asserts that state lawmakers alone have the ability to determine the "time, places and manner" of elections. The theory effectively sees election administration as a process that does not have oversight from state election commissions, state courts or governors.

Although many legal scholars say the theory has a weak foundation, ABC News' Devin Dwyer reports that Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh all indicated openness to the theory in relation to various election-related decisions around the 2020 election.

During a recent call with reporters, Brennan Center Voting Rights and Election Law counsel Eliza Sweren-Becker said she believes that the petitioner's positions "will result in chaos."

"Their fundamental argument is that the state legislature and only the state legislature can regulate federal elections […] The theory would remove critical checks and balances on state legislatures when they regulate federal elections by eliminating numerous laws and rules in every state in the country," Sweren-Becker said.

Al Schmidt, who served as a city commissioner and vice-chairman of the board of elections in Philadelphia, warned that if the ruling favors the petitioners, it will add "a degree of uncertainty to election administration."

"The more that there is certainty, the less confusion there is. The more that election administrators and voters alike know what the laws are, and what the rules of the game are, makes it all the more important that this effort not succeed, and I'm happy as the others are to answer any questions you might have," Schmidt said.

PHOTO: The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., July 24, 2022.
The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., July 24, 2022.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

The TIP with Hannah Demissie

With the dust settled in Georgia, we have a finished picture of which political surrogates made it down to the Peach State to campaign for Warnock -- none of them being President Joe Biden.

Throughout the campaign cycle, Warnock has kept an arms-length from Biden, who has suffered from low approval ratings in recent months. But Warnock welcomed other politicians, such as rising Democratic star and Gen Z Rep.-elect Maxwell Frost.

Frost, 25, who won his Florida House race last month and has not even been sworn in as a member of Congress yet, spent the last two days down in the battleground state campaigning for Warnock and helping to push out the youth vote.

During a campaign visit, Frost joined Warnock at a rally at Georgia Tech, where he made the case that younger voters would be consequential in the Senate runoff.

"We know that young people don't make up the biggest voting bloc right now," Frost said. "But we are the bloc that matters. We are the bloc that decides the margins."

Frost was joined by some Democratic heavyweights like former President Barack Obama in campaigning for Warnock.

Frost is also running in a five-way race for the Progressive Caucus' vice chair at large, along with Reps. Cori Bush and David Cicilline, signaling his desire to be a prominent member in the progressive wing of his party.

PHOTO: Maxwell Alejandro Frost is pictured in an undated campaign photo.
Maxwell Alejandro Frost is pictured in an undated campaign photo.
Maxwell Alejandro Frost for Congress

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. "Start Here" begins Wednesday morning with takeaways from the Georgia Senate runoff election. ABC's Rick Klein leads us off. Then ABC's Aaron Katersky discusses the guilty verdict against the Trump Organization for tax fraud. And, writer Mireille Silcoff describes uneasiness among American Jews in the wake of the controversy with Kanye West, now known as Ye. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • At 11 a.m. ET, second gentleman Doug Emhoff hosts a roundtable "with Jewish leaders to discuss the rise of antisemitism and efforts to combat hate in our nation," according to his office.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris meets with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė at 1:40 p.m. ET.

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The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Thursday for the latest.

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