6 min read.Updated: 06 Jan 2021, 09:49 AM ISTBloomberg
There were reports of strong in-person turnout in some counties on Tuesday after almost 3.1 million Georgians cast ballots beforehand
The two Georgia runoff races that will determine control of the U.S. Senate and the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda were too close to call, amid record-breaking turnout and intense national interest under the specter of President Donald Trump’s push to overturn his Nov. 3 loss.
There were reports of strong in-person turnout in some counties on Tuesday after almost 3.1 million Georgians cast ballots beforehand. Because of the high number of absentee ballots, there is a chance the winners will not be determined for days if the race is close as all outstanding ballots are counted.
The two Georgia Senate runoffs with Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff trying to replace Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue were nationalized campaigns from the start.
The early results were favorable enough to Democrats to send Treasuries lower, and Nasdaq 100 E-Mini contracts paced declines for U.S. stock futures.
Democratic Senate Candidates Warnock And Ossoff Attend Hosea Helps Christmas Eve Meal Distribution
With more than 60% of the expected vote counted, according to the Associated Press, Warnock and Ossoff held slim leads as the races tightened from early returns. Republicans needed a strong turnout of voters on Tuesday to overcome an expected Democratic advantage in early and mail-in ballots. Trump held an early lead in Georgia in the Nov. 3 election, only to have Biden win by about 12,000 votes when the outstanding absentee ballots were tallied.
Indeed, Democrats were buoyed by early signs that turnout in some rural Republican districts appeared to be lower than the November elections, while the Democratic-heavy Atlanta area showed stronger-than-expected numbers.
“I think Republicans have a turnout problem," tweeted Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report.
Yet the race is still very close and the tallies being reported so far skewed heavily toward the early and mail-in voting, which favors Democrats.
Smaller counties are expected to finish counting Tuesday night and the majority should be done by Wednesday afternoon, depending on how close the margins are, said elections official Gabriel Sterling.
All polls were closed shortly after 8 p.m. New York time.
Fighting for party control of the Senate was huge enough. But against the backdrop of Trump’s baseless claims of vote fraud and corruption by Georgia elections officials -- topped by his extraordinary hour-long phone call demanding that officials “find" enough votes to overturn the presidential election -- the races also became a test of Trump’s continued hold on the GOP.
Residents Cast Ballots For Georgia Senate Runoff Election
Voters casts their ballot at a polling location in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.
The races also will determine Biden’s power to advance his agenda, as Democrats need victories in both seats to leave the Senate with a 50-50 split, enabling Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes. If either Republican wins, Biden faces a still-GOP-controlled Senate largely unwilling to back many of his plans to develop a federal response to controlling the coronavirus pandemic, deliver more economic stimulus, or raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
Perdue, 71, a first-term Republican Senator and former corporate executive, is seeking re-election against Ossoff, 33, a documentary filmmaker who gained national attention in a 2017 special election for an Atlanta-area House seat.
And Loeffler, 50, the wealthiest member of Congress, is trying to hold on to her seat against a challenge from Warnock, 51, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, a position once held by Martin Luther King Jr.
In an unusual joint statement issued about 3/12 hours before the polls closed, Perdue and Loeffler called on Republican voters in Georgia to turn out. After noting that they were “encouraged by reports of high voter turnout across the state," they pivoted to urge more Republicans to show up at polling places.
“This generational election will be decided by the votes cast in the next few hours -- no one should be sitting on the sidelines," they wrote in the statement sent at 3:39 p.m. “Go vote!"
Voter turnout in DeKalb County, a Democratic stronghold, on Tuesday exceeded levels seen in the Nov. 3 general election, a county spokeswoman said. While turnout numbers weren’t available early Tuesday evening, a strong total in the metro Atlanta county would likely benefit Warnock and Ossoff. The county supported Biden over Trump in November by a margin of 83% to about 15%.
Georgia’s rapidly changing demographics are making the state competitive for Democrats.
White voters opted for Loeffler with 72% and Perdue with 73%, according to AP VoteCast, a phone and online survey of more than 2,700 verified Georgia voters conducted over the past eight days. Black voters, who made up almost a third of the electorate, went overwhelmingly for Ossoff, 94%, and Warnock, 93%. Latino voters went for Ossoff with 55% and Warnock with 57%, the survey showed.
The Senate majority was the most important issue for 60% of voters and important for 34%, while only 6% said it was a minor factor or non-factor, according to AP VoteCast. Republican voters seemed to be more concerned about control of the Senate. Among the 60% voters who said control of Senate was “most important" factor, the Republican candidates lead 58% to 42%.
Democratic wins would mark the first time Georgia elected a senator from the party in two decades, and if Warnock defeats Loeffler, he would be state’s first African-American U.S. senator.
The races also smashed Senate-race spending records, together nearing a half-billion dollars spent since the Nov. 3 general election, on top of the $205 million spent before that, according to Rick Dent, a political consultant who tracks campaign spending.
Perdue and Loeffler, and Ossoff and Warnock, essentially ran as party tickets in their unprecedented all-or-nothing runoff, with good reason. History suggested they would be joined at the hip in the eyes of voters, anyhow.
In almost every way, Perdue’s and Loeffler’s calculations were to stick tightly to the president, or at least not alienate Trump voters and the party’s base. The duo both called for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign after he dismissed Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, and both have backed the effort in the Senate to challenge the election results when Congress certifies the November election on Wednesday.
Both Republican senators describe their foes as “dangerously radical" and warned Ossoff and Warnock would hand over power in Washington to “socialists" like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ossoff and Warnock depicted their wealthy Republican opponents as out-of-touch multimillionaires. Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, recently became a billionaire and is the chief executive officer of Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange. Loeffler co-owns the Atlanta Dreams WNBA team and some players have campaigned against her.
The Democrats both accused Perdue and Loeffler of using their offices for questionable stock transactions to cash in on the Covid-19 crisis, although investigations found no wrongdoing. And during the battle in Washington over a Covid-relief package, both accused the senators of not wanting to help out-of-work Georgians.
Early voting data showed a possible Democratic advantage heading into Tuesday, including a larger percentage of Black voters than there were in the general election. Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s Democratic political star and a former gubernatorial candidate, played a leading role in getting voters to the polls. Georgia Republicans tend, however, to vote in person on Election Day.
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