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Democrats have power in Congress but they still have to move carefully

Democrats have power in Congress but they still have to move carefully
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The Democrats have won the Senate runoff elections in Georgia and now control the upper legislative body. The effects of a victory in a traditional red state are considerable, and the outcome raises two issues. First, what trends are behind the results? Second, how should the administration of Joe Biden and the Democrats govern with control?

With regard to this first issue, the outcome was indicative of the electoral shift that predated 2020 and has intensified in recent months. This is the rejection of Donald Trump and his party by suburban voters, notably from areas outside of Atlanta, which were once a conservative bloc in Georgia but are now more diverse and lean left with politics.

The rejection of Trump by suburban voters was on the horizon. Suburban voters rejected his party for the 2018 midterm elections and were central to the coalition built by Democrats in 2020. Biden won suburban voters in Georgia by 12 points, according to the Associated Press. However, in 2016, Trump won suburban voters in Georgia by 4 points.

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In the Senate runoff elections last week, Raphael Warnock won 53 percent of suburban voters to Kelly Loeffler at 47 percent, while Jon Ossoff carried 52 percent of suburban voters to David Perdue at 48 percent. As far as the electoral shift, Josh Holmes summed it up when he tweeted, “Suburbs, my friends, the suburbs. I feel like a one trick pony, but here we are again. We went from talking about jobs and the economy to election conspiracies in four short years. As it turns out, they were listening!”

Loeffler and Perdue had seemed like they would fare well with suburban voters. To be sure, Loeffler was likely appointed to the open Senate seat by Governor Brian Kemp in an attempt to bring women suburban voters into the party. Yet the losses of Loeffler and Perdue could be tied to the decision to cast their lots with all the conspiracy theories and baseless claims from Trump that the 2020 election was stolen.

With their embrace of Trump and his rhetoric, the Republican candidates deviated from the traditional stances with the economy and conservative values. This calculus proved to hurt their efforts to build a coalition in an increasingly diverse state. The electoral shenanigans of Trump may also have damaged the Republican turnout in red districts.

As the New York Times showed, turnout in precincts won by Biden was at 92 percent of 2020 election levels, compared to 88 percent in precincts won by Trump. This is not much of a difference, but it can swiftly change the outcome of a close race. Further, a greater portion of the Democrats and black voters returned to the polls in the Senate runoff elections than Republicans and white voters without college degrees.

Democrats outperformed in the largest urban centers and in the suburbs, and the robust grassroots efforts led by Stacy Abrams have also bolstered Democrats to register new voters in these areas, notably black voters and young people. So with Democrats now set to control the White House and Congress, how should Biden and party leaders govern?

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They must first account for the disgraceful events in the Capitol last week. The country is divided in a way we have never seen in modern history, as the foundation of our democracy is in jeopardy. So Biden and Democrats with Congress have the duty to govern in a moderate way. They will need to work with Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy to make this clear that the country can unite on reforms backed by both sides.

It is now critical that Biden and Democrats commit with Republicans to a peaceful resolution of differences and to a bipartisan strategy to end the coronavirus pandemic with mass vaccinations, more economic stimulus, and national reconciliation. With the narrow majority, Democrats have no choice but to tread slowly. Otherwise, we will continue a descent toward more division and even toward the end of democracy.

Douglas Schoen is a political consultant who has served as adviser to Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”