Electoral History in the Eye of the Beholder

Electoral History in the Eye of the Beholder

The apparent wins in the Senate runoffs by Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff prompt happiness, pride and concern on issues of particular interest to the Jewish community.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are making history in their own rights as the seeming winners of the recent runoff elections.
Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are making history in their own rights as the seeming winners of the recent runoff elections.

“A Black man and a Jewish man walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘Hey, senators.’”

That joke continues to spread on social media as Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Jon Ossoff, who became a bar mitzvah at The Temple, now are addressed as senators-elect.
Interim Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler conceded to Warnock Jan. 7, and the next day incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue conceded to Ossoff. The next markers are deadlines to certify the votes: Jan. 15 for Georgia’s 159 counties and Jan. 22 for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The margins in both races exceeded the threshold of 0.5 percent or less that allows candidates to request recounts under Georgia election rules.

As of Jan. 9, Warnock held a nearly 81,000 vote lead over Loeffler, a 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent advantage. Warnock will serve the two years remaining in the term of retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson and face re-election in 2022. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the seat when Isakson stepped down in December 2019 in ill health.

Ossoff held a nearly 43,000 vote lead over Perdue, an advantage of 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent. Perdue, a corporate executive before winning election to the Senate in 2014, was seeking a second term.

Dating back to 1992, Republicans had not lost a statewide runoff.

Dan Israel is concerned about Warnock and Ossoff aligning with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

The turnout of more than 4.45 million voters — 89 percent of the nearly 5 million who voted in the general election — bucked the national trend of significantly reduced turnout in runoffs.

The national headline out of Georgia was that, once Warnock and Ossoff are sworn in, Democrats will gain control of the Senate, at least on a numeric basis. With Democrats (including two independents in their caucus) and Republicans each holding 50 seats, Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would break tie votes.

From a Georgia perspective, the 51-year-old Warnock becomes the state’s first African American senator. He has been senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist since 2005, a pulpit once held by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Based on the available histories, the 33-year-old Ossoff is the first Jewish person elected to represent Georgia in the Senate. In 1932, John Sanford Cohen, whose father was descended from Portuguese Jews that settled in Savannah, was appointed to fill a Senate vacancy resulting from the death of William J. Harris. Cohen, who served for a year and did not seek election to the office, identified with his mother’s Episcopalian faith.

The first Jew known to have won a statewide partisan race was Republican Sam Olens, who was elected attorney general in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. “As I have said previously, Jon was not going to win or lose based on his religion,” Olens told the AJT. “Quite frankly, the Georgia Democratic Party had a great ground game and the Georgia Republican Party and President [Donald] Trump were still fighting over the unproven ‘rigged’ November election.” As Republican Sen. Mitt Romney stated Jan. 6, “It turns out that telling the voters that the election is rigged is not a great way to turn out your voters.”

Republican Sam Olens is the first Jew known to have won a statewide partisan race, elected attorney general in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

Olens continued, “I am very happy for both Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. I want them to succeed for our state and country. And I am proud that our state elected a Black minister and a Jewish person to this high statewide office.”

Also pleased was Michael Rosenzweig, a national board member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “The election of Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock reverberates with profound historical and symbolic significance,” Rosenzweig said. “Seeing the state of Georgia elect two Democratic senators is inspiring, but far more inspiring is the fact that one is Black and the other a Jew. In many ways, this election marks the culmination and, importantly, the continuation of the historically strong relationship between the Black and Jewish communities in Georgia, our mutual embrace of our shared legacies. Rev. Warnock expressed these feelings eloquently when he remarked that Martin Luther King, Jr. and [Rabbi] Abraham Joshua Heschel are smiling down on all of us.”

On the other hand, Dan Israel, an Atlantan active in Republican politics, was disappointed and concerned about the future. “I think it really demonstrates that the tight embrace of the Trump cult does not generate the victories that are going to get Republicans into office in Georgia,” Israel said.

He noted that in winning his runoff and re-election to the Georgia Public Service Commission, incumbent Republican Lauren “Bubba” McDonald received more votes than Loeffler or Perdue. “There were Republicans who hated Trump, who didn’t vote for the two candidates associated with him, but still stuck to a Republican that seemed to be identified by conservative values, but not by Trump,” he said.

Michael Rosensweig said the election of Ossoff and Warnock “reverberates with profound historical and symbolic significance.”

Israel said he worried about how closely Warnock and Ossoff might “hue themselves” to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, an element that he views as a problem facing President-elect Joe Biden.
Two issues topped Israel’s concerns about the new senators. First, “If they endorse a return to the Iran [nuclear weapons] deal, that is not acceptable.”

Secondly, while “overwhelmingly the Jewish community in the United States hates Trump,” Israel said that the administration’s success engineering diplomatic breakthroughs between Israel and Arab nations shows that “the path to peace in the Middle East is not through the Palestinians.” Furthermore, the Republican activist said that he feared “a return to the old Democratic playbook of thinking that peace in the Middle East comes through pressuring Israel to do a deal with the Palestinians.”

While the Democrats celebrate wins in Georgia by Biden, Warnock and Ossoff, the state government, from Kemp down through majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, remains in Republican hands. Republican officials have indicated a desire to tighten the rules on absentee voting and will control redistricting based on the 2020 Census.

Kemp and Raffensperger also will be up for re-election in 2022. Both Republicans have been repeated targets of Trump’s public ire, highlighted by the Jan. 2 hour-long phone call in which Trump pleaded with Raffensperger to “find” votes to reverse his loss to Biden in Georgia.

read more: