By Aron Solomon | LegalX

Solomon: Was 51-49 ever going to be safe for Democrats?

Posted 12/30/22

If anyone needed a reminder of how vital the Georgia Senate runoff election was, it hit soon after. Arizona “Democrat” Kyrsten Sinema announced she was leaving the party and would sit as …

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By Aron Solomon | LegalX

Solomon: Was 51-49 ever going to be safe for Democrats?


If anyone needed a reminder of how vital the Georgia Senate runoff election was, it hit soon after. Arizona “Democrat” Kyrsten Sinema announced she was leaving the party and would sit as an independent. She did not specify whether she would join Bernie Sanders and Angus King, the other two independent senators, in caucusing with the Democrats.

Meanwhile, Georgia is mercifully over.

The Georgia runoff went as it should. Thinking they were putting forward an undefeatable state superman in Herschel Walker, the GOP failed to do any due diligence on Walker. With every week that passed in the campaign, it became clear that he was a historically weak and deeply inappropriate candidate.
Walker (or, more accurately, the GOP machine) made the race close enough to force the runoff and kept the runoff itself far closer than it ever should have been. But the race is over, and Rafael Warnock, through his victory, made what we thought was the final Senate tally — 51 to 49. Oops.

We all know that in a 50-50 Senate, as the one ending has been, the tie-breaking vote goes to the vice president, Kamala Harris, a Democrat. So why was Georgia’s result important for at least the next two years, until the 2024 election, which will also have 33 senators up for re-election?

In part, it’s because the Senate may prove to be more unpredictable than usual over the next two years. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Sinema will be up for re-election in 2024. Theirs are Senate votes the Democrats have not always felt to have been comfortably held over the last two years. So, a 51-49 Senate allowed for the defection of one of these votes on any given issue. Sinema’s news presented the Democrats with the worst-case scenario of a return to a functional 50-50 on many issues.

There is also an important optical issue that would have come along with 51-49. It’s one thing for either Manchin, Sinema or any other Democratic senator to try to make a stand on an important issue where they know that the vote they’re dissenting/breaking on would have caused a 50-50 tie-breaking vote. Now, if Sinema votes with Republicans on any issue, all it takes to give the GOP the win is a Manchin defection, which is always seemingly up for grabs.

There is definitely an important psychological factor that, until today, would have given the Democrats a lot more margin for error over the next two years than one simple vote would seem to indicate. That is the notion of momentum, which has been discussed extensively since the November election.

Both parties, given a choice of whether to end the midterm election season with a win, or a loss, would choose a win. That’s what the Democrats caught in Georgia, then lost with Sinema’s defection. While pundits will spend the next two years making excuses, many of which will be valid ones, why the Democrats won and the Republicans lost in Georgia, the only thing that could have negated the reality that the Democrats are ending this election season with that great intangible — momentum — happened. While some will argue that this doesn’t constitute a GOP win, even a tie, momentum-wise, is very disappointing to the Democrats.

Momentum is something we don’t talk about enough in politics because it’s difficult to quantify. Momentum can often make a political party more hopeful than it would have otherwise been as it scans the horizon. When we look at the midterm elections, from the prediction of many pundits that we would have not just a red wave but a red tsunami — and the eventual end result that was quite favorable for the Democrats — you can’t help but feel deflated if you are a Democrat.

As to Georgia, if there is a lesson to be learned, and I believe there is, it is a straightforward one: Do not put forward candidates for any office who are fundamentally and deeply flawed.

That needs to be the ultimate lesson with Herschel Walker. For as outstanding and unique as he was as a football player, he has proven to be equally disappointing as a person. This is not the kind of political role model that should be held out to anyone. From what has been reported over the campaign about his past to what became an obvious inability to serve the people of Georgia well and properly as a senator, this is a nomination the Republicans genuinely wish they had back.

Aron Solomon, JD, is the Head of Strategy for Esquire Digital and editor of Today’s Esquire. He was the founder of LegalX, the world’s first legal technology accelerator.