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Progressive Push for $2,000 Checks in Georgia Shows Bold, Universal Policies Winning Strategy for Democrats

"In almost every respect, the campaigns that Warnock and Ossoff ran were closer to what progressives counseled than what moderates have counseled."

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Raphael Warnock (L) and Jon Ossoff wave to the crowd during an outdoor drive-in rally on December 5, 2020 in Conyers, Georgia. Ossoff and Warnock face Republican candidates Sen. David Purdue (R-GA) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a runoff election that will take place January 5th. (Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Rev. Raphael Warnock's electoral victory over Sen. Kelly Loeffler Tuesday night—and the apparent success of Jon Ossoff in his election against Sen. David Perdue—offered the latest evidence, progressives said, that candidates who embrace bold policy proposals aimed at providing real help to Americans will be rewarded at the ballot box. 

The two Democrats teamed up as their runoff elections approached, spending much of the last two months not only warning voters of the danger of allowing the Republican Party to maintain control of the U.S. Senate, but explaining the concrete benefits that would be afforded to families across Georgia and the U.S. if the Democrats take control—particularly $2,000 direct payments as part of coronavirus relief legislation blocked by the GOP.

Warnock's victory in particular, tweeted one observer, is evidence that progressive policies are popular in the South and other supposedly red areas, "no matter what centrists say."

As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) intensified his demand for $2,000 relief checks for Americans in recent weeks—a call he originally made in March 2020, just days after the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses and schools across the country to shut down—both Warnock and Ossoff made clear their support for the proposal, even as other Democrats in Congress and in President-elect Joe Biden's orbit hesitated to do so. 

"The conventional centrist wisdom about swing state campaigns tells us that we have to trade away anything with obvious persuasive appeal (attacks, bold promises, clear policy stands) in order to win a tiny number of centrist voters. This suggests... otherwise."
—Will Stancil, Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity

"$600 is a joke," Ossoff said late last month as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) kept the upper chamber from voting on larger direct payments. "They should send $2,000 checks to the American people right now because people are hurting." 

Ossoff also directly attacked Perdue for opposing the $1,200 checks which were sent out last March as part of the CARES Act and for obstructing more direct payments "when people can barely feed their families through no fault of their own."

The candidate's support for the proposal being aggressively pushed by Sanders as well as other progressives including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was a far cry from his unsuccessful 2017 Senate campaign, during which he described himself as "pragmatic" and expressed little enthusiasm for economic policies which would level the playing field for working families. 

Warnock also expressed support for $2,000 checks last month after President Donald Trump strayed from McConnell and most other Republicans and backed the proposal.

"As I've said from the start, the Senate should have acted on this months ago and support for Georgians should have been far greater. Donald Trump is right, Congress should swiftly increase direct payments to $2,0000," Warnock said on December 23. "Once and for all Senator Loeffler should do what's best for Georgia instead of focusing on what she can do for herself."

The two candidates' unequivocal support for the proposal provided voters with a stark contract between the two parties, as McConnell continued to block the legislation and insisted on including only $600 checks in the coronavirus relief package that eventually passed. On Monday night, Biden—who a month earlier reportedly urged Democrats to accept relief legislation that included no direct payments—offered a closing argument for Warnock and Ossoff centered on the promise of relief.

"Their election will put an end to the block in Washington on the $2,000 stimulus check," Biden told voters at a rally in Atlanta. "If you send Sen. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It's just that simple. The power is literally in your hands." 

The Democrats' turn toward the progressive messaging of Sanders and others came weeks after centrist Democrats including Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) warned that the party would suffer loses in Georgia and in future elections unless candidates distanced themselves from proposals that Republicans might attack as "socialism." 

Running on a centrist platform, Spanberger barely won her reelection campaign, while progressives including Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) won by wide margins embracing bold policy agendas. 

Warnock was also subjected to numerous accusations of "socialism" and "Marxism" by Loeffler, some political journalists noted—and won nonetheless.

Ossoff and Warnock also appeared to ignore the guidance of conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who reportedly fought bitterly with Sanders last month over the Vermont independent's insistence on larger checks, and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who has reportedly advised Biden following the election. Summers said late last month that sending $2,000 checks to Americans would be a "pretty serious mistake."

"In almost every respect," tweeted Will Stancil of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at University of Minnesota, "the campaigns that Warnock and Ossoff ran were closer to what progressives counseled than what moderates have counseled... They did NOT engage in the kind of Clintonite triangulation that political wise men always advise for red states."

According to Stancil, Warnoff and Ossoff won with turnout that exceeded typical runoff races and "on the back of a huge base surge, rather than by persuading the [political] center. Of course, you need both—but the base enthusiasm didn't seem to cost votes in the center!"

"The conventional centrist wisdom about swing state campaigns tells us that we have to trade away anything with obvious persuasive appeal (attacks, bold promises, clear policy stands) in order to win a tiny number of centrist voters," he added. "This suggests... otherwise."

On Monday of this week, fresh polling showed 65% of U.S. voters were in support of the push for $2,000 stimulus checks. 

Responding to the apparent victories in Georgia during a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that once Ossoff and Warnock's victories are certified it will be a top priority to pass the $2,000 stimulus checks into law and get them into the hands of the American people.

"One of the first things that I want to do when our new Senators are seated is deliver $2,000 checks to the American families," said Schumer. "Senate Democrats know Americans are hurting. Help is on the way. And we have two new senators coming to help."

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