Home >News >World >Georgia’s two runoff races become focus for Senate control

While the nation is focused on the outcome of the presidential election, political insiders and activists are turning their attention to Georgia where a set of runoff races likely will determine control of the U.S. Senate and whether President-elect Joe Biden will have a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress when he begins his administration.

The partisan breakdown in the Senate is currently a tie, with 48 Republicans and 48 Democrats. Four seats are still outstanding: In addition to the Georgia runoffs, Republicans are leading and expected to win in Alaska and North Carolina, but those races haven’t been called yet by the Associated Press because votes are still being counted.

If Republicans hold their seats in Alaska and North Carolina, Democrats would need to win both of the Georgia runoff races on Jan. 5 to control 50 seats in the chamber. That would give their party majority control since Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, could cast any tiebreaking votes. The House is expected to remain in Democratic control, albeit with a smaller majority.

The Georgia runoffs will test how far the political landscape has shifted in a state where Mr. Biden was leading President Trump on Sunday by about 10,000 votes out of almost 5 million cast. A recount is expected in the state’s presidential contest because of the narrow margin, currently the closest in Georgia since the Civil War. If Mr. Biden ultimately succeeds in winning Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, he will be the first Democratic presidential nominee to capture the state since 1992.

While the presidential candidate with the most votes in the general election is the winner, Georgia’s election law is different for Senate and House candidates. If no candidate in those races gets more than 50% plus one vote, the two top vote getters, regardless of party, compete in a runoff. That’s what happened Tuesday in both the re-election bid of GOP Sen. David Perdue, and in a special election to complete the term of retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican.

In one runoff, Mr. Perdue, a former chief executive of Dollar General Corp., is facing Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker who has never held political office. In the other, Democrat Raphael Warnock, pastor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, aims to oust Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Ms. Loeffler is a businesswoman appointed last year by Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to fill Mr. Isakson’s seat.

Messrs. Ossoff and Warnock have been critical of President Trump, while Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler have allied themselves closely with Mr. Trump.

Republicans have dominated Georgia politics for decades, but the Democratic Party is resurgent, bolstered by an influx of younger people and minorities, many of whom moved to metro Atlanta from the North. Voter-registration drives and lawsuits to change state election processes, led by organizations founded by former state House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams, have also brought in hundreds of thousands of new voters.

A key question is whether Democrats will show up for the runoffs in the same numbers that they did in the general election. A nonpartisan study of the history of runoffs in Georgia found that, going back to 1988, there have been seven statewide runoff elections. Democrats won only one of them—and that was more than 20 years ago, in 1998.

Democrats are aware of that history and already are working to bring out their voters again in January. At a Saturday celebration in Atlanta’s Freedom Park after Mr. Biden was projected to win the presidency, members of the New Georgia Project, a voter registration organization founded by Ms. Abrams, passed around sign-up sheets in an effort to find new volunteers ahead of the run-off elections.

“We want to make sure we amplify and mobilize voters at this very moment," said Maggie Bell, a volunteer coordinator for the group. “We can’t have anyone who voted November 3rd and not come back January 5th."

Some at the rally worried the current enthusiasm will wane by January.

“If they can take the momentum and push it that would be amazing, but I just don’t know," said 31-year-old Kalin Foster of Atlanta, a longtime Democrat. “I’m skeptical. I’m tired of getting my hopes up and then getting my heart ripped out."

Greg Leopold, a 26-year-old Trump supporter who questions the presidential-election results, said the prospects of a Democratic-controlled House, Senate and White House would motivate Republicans to vote in the runoffs.

“If it is the case that they hold the House, Senate and presidency, I don’t know how many justices they will put on the Supreme Court. I don’t know how many states they will bring into the union," said Mr. Leopold, in a reference to claims by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) that Democrats would pass statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, giving each two new Senate seats that Mr. McConnell says would likely be filled by Democrats.

“I’m going to be very motivated myself. I believe the Democrats are going to be very motivated as well," Mr. Leopold said. “It’s going to be a nasty fight."

Ms. Abrams is pushing back against what she calls the “anachronistic" notion that Democrats can’t win runoffs in her state.

She said Georgia Democrats will have an unprecedented level of unity, investment and resources for January’s runoffs. “This is going to be the determining factor of whether we have access to health care and access to justice in the United States," Ms. Abrams said on Sunday on CNN. “Those are two issues that will make sure people turn out."

GOP strategists predict a $200 million fight over the Georgia seats. An antiabortion rights organization, the Susan B. Anthony List, on Thursday committed $4 million to help Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue. Some Republicans are pushing for Mr. Trump to headline rallies in Georgia to galvanize his base and help raise money.

Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue on Saturday went on Twitter seeking donations. “If we don’t win on January 5th, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren will gain control of the Senate and be able to fast-track their radical socialist agenda," Ms. Loeffler said in a tweet. “America simply can’t afford to let that happen."

On Saturday Mr. Perdue and other Republicans began circulating a clip from Twitter that showed Sen. Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, telling celebratory crowds in his home state of New York, “First we take Georgia, then we change the world!"

Messrs. Warnock and Ossoff offered congratulations to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris. “Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we work," Mr. Ossoff tweeted. “The future depends on victory in Georgia."

Both Democrats have begun airing ads for the runoffs. Mr. Ossoff’s commercial doesn’t mention his party, his opponent or Messrs. Biden or Trump. Instead he pledges to work on helping the state recover from Covid-19 and invest in infrastructure. “We need leaders who bring us together to get this done," he says.

Mr. Warnock’s ad anticipates the deluge of advertising about to hit the state. “Raphael Warnock eats pizza with a fork and knife. Raphael Warnock once stepped on a crack in the sidewalk. Raphael Warnock even hates puppies," a narrator intones. “Get ready, Georgia," Mr. Warnock says to the camera. “The negative ads are coming."

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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