As White House officials reflected on the final Democratic victory of a history-defying midterm election cycle, one constant has been a sense of validation.
For President Joe Biden, the expanded Senate majority clinched by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection in Georgia on Tuesday night served as a capstone driven in large part by two years of cornerstone legislative wins.
“What you saw Senator Warnock do and what you saw Democrats do this past election is run on the president’s agenda – run on an agenda that was successful,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “This was a success for Democrats, but also for President Biden.”
Legislative success will be much harder to come by in the two years to come, even with an additional Senate vote, officials acknowledge. Republicans will soon take the majority in the House and have made clear their opposition to Biden – and his agenda – will serve as an animating feature of their policy and political priorities in the months ahead.
Still, the two years of unified Democratic control, even with the barest of majorities, played a critical role in not just blunting sweeping GOP wins, but actually gaining a seat in the Senate, according to Biden aides and congressional Democrats.
As Republicans grappled with the ever-present, disruptive and defining grip of former President Donald Trump, Democrats had an advantage in campaigns driven by legislative accomplishments. Even Democrats, like Warnock, who sought to distance themselves from Biden and his sagging approval ratings, pointed to their legislative successes.
The victories for Biden’s agenda included trillions of dollars touching nearly every aspect of the US economy, manufacturing, infrastructure and climate policy, all of which have been broadly popular when taken in isolation.
Biden used his campaign appearances as an opportunity to tick through the lengthy list of those policies. So did top Democratic surrogates – none more so than former President Barack Obama.
But as Democrats grappled with the possibility of sweeping GOP wins in the weeks before the November election, there were no shortage of questions about whether the tangible effect of the investment and policy changes had reached voters.
While White House officials dismissed the criticism, even Biden appeared to acknowledge the possibility.
“We’ve passed so many good things,” Biden said at a fundraiser a few days before the election. “They’ve been so good people haven’t realized how good they are yet.”
Yet Warnock’s campaign served as a window into a strategy built on Biden’s agenda, tailored around the most popular provisions – and those that could be broken out to show the direct effect on Georgia.
In television ads and speeches throughout his campaign, Warnock highlighted the core elements of Biden’s agenda including measures to lower the costs of prescription drugs, cap insulin at $35, and boost investment in US infrastructure.
“I want you to remember what your vote did the last time,” Warnock told voters during a campaign rally last week, listing bills passed by Congress to support domestic manufacturing and chip making, as well as cut health care costs.
Warnock’s message was one that was echoed in some form by Senate Democratic candidates in battleground states across the country, messages given a major boost by a late summer run of legislative success.
That success, which included the manufacturing and veterans legislation as well as Biden’s cornerstone economic and climate law, was a game-changer, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“The turning point really occurred this summer, where we passed six major bills – five bipartisan – all of which affected people’s lives,” Schumer told reporters during a victory-lap press conference Wednesday morning. “They were the things people wanted.”
Warnock used campaign ads to highlight $8 million he helped secure for the Port of Savannah from the bipartisan infrastructure law. His role in the push for provisions to lower prescription drug costs for seniors was both elevated by White House and Senate Democratic leaders and highlighted extensively at home.
“The truth is I’ve focused on doing whatever I can for Georgia. Working with Republicans to promote American technology and to expand health care for Georgia veterans,” Warnock said in another ad, referring to the sweeping $280 billion bipartisan law to boost US domestic chip-manufacturing and scientific research.
Warnock made his central behind-the-scenes role in pressing Biden to cancel student loan debt a key element of his public campaign.
The executive order is now stalled in the courts and has an uncertain future despite Biden’s insistence it passes legal muster. But its resonance as a voting issue, particularly among young voters critical to the Democratic coalition, was striking to White House officials in the months after its announcement.
White House officials are also keen to point out how Herschel Walker, Warnock’s Republican opponent, actively ran against Biden’s agenda, attacking investments in climate and battery manufacturing and criticizing the infrastructure law during the primary.
“This is a significant new testament, in an intensely competitive purple state, to how much the Biden agenda and mainstream values are resonating with the American middle class,” said Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson.
As Warnock closed out what amounted to his fourth election in two years, he was boosted by a significant cash advantage, the view among Democrats and Republicans alike that he had clear momentum and the help of top surrogates like Obama.
Biden himself didn’t set foot in the state this fall, maintaining his position that he would do whatever candidates asked of him, even if that meant avoiding states like Georgia where his low approval rating served as a potential hindrance.
But as Obama spoke beside Warnock in the final days of the campaign, his former vice president’s agenda was central to his pitch, much as it had been for candidates in the months prior.
“Because you did not act like everything was over, Democrats took back the Senate and were eventually able to translate that into people’s lives being better in concrete ways,” Obama said in a nod to Warnock’s runoff victory in 2021. He then ticked through Biden’s agenda, piece by piece.