With a Senate majority hanging in the balance in Georgia’s two runoff elections slated for Jan. 5, Democrats must pick up both seats if they want President-elect Joe Biden's administration to have a chance of enacting any kind of meaningful legislation. Biden may have won Georgia, but his victory is no guarantee that Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock can edge out their Republican opponents in a state that has long had its runoff elections dominated by conservative voters.
Facing long odds, the Democratic party has a clear path to winning Georgia and winning the Senate: pin all of their hopes on raising the minimum wage.
If Democrats want to win control of the Senate and deliver on their promises to voters, they need to pledge to pass the Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, the day that Ossoff and Warnock are sworn into office. Make the race a referendum on the minimum wage, and Democrats will win.
For all the hand-wringing about progressives pushing the party too far to the left, progressive economic policies, like a higher minimum wage, are incredibly popular with voters across the political spectrum. Just a few weeks ago, voters in Florida voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by about 3.5 percent. Those same voters favored raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 20 percent.
These results should be branded on the arm of every Democratic strategist — the minimum wage is a winning issue, and it’s one that should be at the centerpiece of every Democratic campaign. The Democratic Party may have a bad brand among conservative voters, but their issues, especially the minimum wage, clearly don’t.
A ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage hasn’t lost at the state level since 1996. In just the last ten years, voters in red states like Arkansas, Missouri, Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota, and most recently and notably Florida, have voted by overwhelming margins to increase their state’s minimum wage. So overwhelming, in fact, that since 2002 only one out of 21 such initiatives put to voters has had a margin of victory of less than 10 percent.
Georgia is ripe for this kind of economic message. According to an analysis done by the Economic Policy Institute, 34.7 percent of Georgian workers would get a raise if the federal minimum wage were increased to $15 an hour. That’s over 1.5 million people earning on average an extra $3,700 a year.
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Politics can be complicated at times, but this should be a no brainer. If you focus your candidacy on giving 1.5 million people a raise amid one of the most economically uncertain periods in our nation's history, voters will return the favor and support you.
If the Georgia runoffs are a referendum on Democrats vs Republicans, or whether or not voters want a check on a Joe Biden presidency, then Ossoff and Warnock are likely going to lose. But if Georgia voters see the runoff elections as a question of whether or not they’re going to get a raise, there’s no question that both Democrats will win.
Both Warnock and Ossoff support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but neither has made it a centerpiece of his campaign. That needs to change. Their best hope for victory is to spend the next month and a half doing everything in their power to make their names synonymous with a $15 minimum wage.
It’s important to note that focusing on giving Georgia workers a raise isn’t just good politics — it’s good policy, too. There are tens of millions of people in America who work full time jobs yet are still barely able to afford their basic needs. This is a moral tragedy, but it’s also an economic one. Our economy is based on consumer demand, yet we have a massive portion of the population that is too poor to engage in our consumer economy in any meaningful way.
Take it from a business owner who’s employed hundreds of people — there would be no better economic stimulus than giving tens of millions of Americans more money to spend in their local economies.
As the Democratic party searches for a path forward after an underwhelming election, the answer should be clear. Double down on an issue that an overwhelming majority of Americans support, and win Georgia by offering Georgian workers the raise they not only need, but deserve.