Two runoff elections Tuesday in the southern state of Georgia will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control power in the U.S. Senate, dramatically shaping the legislative maneuvering for the first half of President-elect Joe Biden’s four-year term in the White House.
With the stakes high, both Biden and outgoing President Donald Trump are staging last-minute campaign rallies in the state on Monday, even as Trump continues his broadsides against Georgia elections officials for refusing to overturn his narrow loss to Biden in the state in the November 3 election.
The incoming president is stumping in Atlanta, Georgia’s biggest city, for the two Democrats: Jon Ossoff, a television documentary producer, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Baptist minister. Meanwhile, Trump was set to campaign in a heavily Republican enclave in Dalton in the northern part of the state for Senator David Perdue, a one-time business executive facing Ossoff, and for Senator Kelly Loeffler, one of the wealthiest of U.S. lawmakers, who faces Warnock.
Polls show the two Democrats with slight edges in the contests, both of which were made necessary because none of the four candidates won a majority in the November balloting. Georgia is a historically Republican state, with Biden the first Democratic presidential candidate to win there since 1992.
The eventual voter turnout for the Senate elections is expected to be exceptionally high, with more than 3 million ballots already cast in early voting, two-thirds in person at polling places throughout the state and a third by mail. Five million votes were cast in Georgia in the November balloting and beforehand, but about 100,000 people who did not vote then have already done so in the Senate runoffs.
None of the early ballots is being tabulated until Tuesday, and the official winners, depending on how close the vote counts are, might not be known on election night.
Officials say the early voting in the Senate races was particularly heavy in Democratic precincts that Biden won, but Republicans say they expect to do much better with in-person voting on Tuesday’s official Election Day. That was the scenario that played out in November in Georgia and across the country when substantially more Democrats voted early ahead of Election Day while more Republicans voted in person on the actual day.
The Senate elections are being closely watched in Washington by the Biden transition team and his Republican opponents as a sign of what leverage the incoming chief executive might have in advancing his legislative agenda once he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are inaugurated at noon January 20 on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
After this past Sunday’s congressional swearing-in ceremonies, Republicans hold a 50-48 advantage in the Senate.
A Republican victory in either or both of the Georgia elections would give the party an outright majority and the right to set the Senate agenda and hold a majority on all Senate legislative committees.
If both Warnock and Ossoff were to win, there would be a 50-50, Democratic-Republican split in the Senate, giving Harris the opportunity to break tie votes in favor of the Democrats in organizing the committees and controlling the legislative calendar.
Republican control would complicate passage of Biden’s legislative agenda over the next two years, likely forcing extensive negotiations on such issues as extending health care benefits, setting immigration controls and establishing climate regulations.
The lead-up to the Georgia elections has been marked by Perdue’s absence from the campaign trail, as he quarantines himself after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Trump has promised, when he visits the state Monday night, to again attack the outcome of his Georgia contest against Biden, which he lost by just under 12,000 votes. An initial vote count, and two recounts, all showed Biden won.
In a Saturday phone call, Trump pleaded with the state’s top elections official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find” another 11,780 votes to overturn his loss to Biden.
Raffensperger rebuffed Trump and told ABC News on Monday morning that the president was “just plain wrong” that there was vote- and vote-counting fraud in Georgia.
Despite his claims of fraud in the November voting, Trump is calling for Republicans to turn out to vote for Perdue and Loeffler to maintain the Republican majority in the Senate.