Georgia voters are deciding the balance of power in the U.S. Congress in a pair of high-stakes Senate run-off elections that will help determine Democratic president-elect Joe Biden’s ability to enact what could be the most progressive governing agenda in generations.
More than three million Georgians voted before Tuesday. That’s more than 60 per cent of the nearly five million who voted in November’s presidential election. Some precincts in metro Atlanta showed light-to-steady turnout on Tuesday morning with no lines and voters taking just a few minutes to complete their ballots.
Republicans are unified against Biden’s plans for health care, environmental protection and civil rights, but some fear that outgoing President Donald Trump’s brazen attempts to undermine the integrity of the country’s voting systems may discourage voters in Georgia.
At a rally in northwest Georgia on the eve of Tuesday’s run-offs, Trump repeatedly declared that the Nov. 3 election was plagued by fraud that Republican officials — including his former attorney general and Georgia’s elections chief — say did not occur. At the same time, Trump encouraged his supporters to show up in force for Tuesday contests in Georgia.
“You’ve got to swarm it tomorrow,” Trump told thousands of cheering supporters, downplaying the threat of fraud.
High stakes for Democrats
Democrats must win both of the state’s Senate elections to gain the Senate majority. In that scenario, the Senate would be equally divided 50-50, with vice-president-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaker for Democrats.
The Democrats secured a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, along with the White House, during November’s general election.
Georgia’s January elections, necessary because no Senate candidates received a majority of the general election votes, have been unique for many reasons — not least because the contenders essentially ran as teams, even campaigning together sometimes.
One contest features Democrat Raphael Warnock, who serves as the senior pastor of the Atlanta church where slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. grew up and preached. The 51-year-old Warnock was raised in public housing and spent most of his adult life preaching in Baptist churches.
Warnock is facing Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state’s Republican governor. She is only the second woman to represent Georgia in the Senate, although race has emerged as a campaign focus far more than gender. Loeffler and her allies have seized on some snippets of Warnock’s sermons at the historic Black church to cast him as extreme. Dozens of religious and civil rights leaders have pushed back.
The other election pits 71-year-old former business executive David Perdue, who held the Senate seat until his term officially expired on Sunday, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. At just 33 years old, Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member if elected. He first rose to national prominence in 2017 when he launched an unsuccessful House special election bid.
Wins no guarantee for Biden agenda
Even a closely divided Democratic Senate wouldn’t guarantee Biden everything he wants, given chamber rules that require 60 votes to move most major legislation. But if Democrats lose even one of Tuesday’s contests, Biden would have little shot for swift up-or-down votes on his most ambitious plans to expand government-backed health-care coverage, strengthen the middle class, address racial inequality and combat climate change.
A Republican-controlled Senate also would create a rougher path for Biden’s cabinet picks and judicial nominees.
“Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you. The power is literally in your hands,” Biden declared at his own rally in Atlanta on Monday. “One state can chart the course, not just for the next four years, but for the next generation.”
Despite fears among some Republicans that Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud could depress turnout, the two Republican candidates strongly support him. Perdue on Tuesday said that Trump would “of course” deserve credit if the Republicans won.
“What the president said last night is, even if you are upset about all of that, you’ve got to stand up with us and fight,” Perdue told Fox & Friends. “We’ll look back on this day if we don’t vote and really rue the day that we turned the keys to the kingdom over to the Democrats.”
The Current15:53Georgia’s high-stakes elections to determine control of U.S. Senate
Loeffler pledged Monday to join a small but growing number of Republican senators protesting Congress’s expected certification of Biden’s victory on Wednesday.
Democrats have hammered Perdue and Loeffler, each among the Senate’s wealthiest members, for conspicuously timed personal stock trades after members of Congress received information about the public health and economic threats of COVID-19 as Trump and Republicans downplayed the pandemic. None of the trades has been found to violate the law or Senate ethics, but Warnock and Ossoff have cast the Republicans as self-interested and out of touch.
Perdue and Loeffler have answered by lambasting the Democrats as certain to usher in a leftward lunge in national policy. Neither Warnock nor Ossoff is a socialist, as Republicans allege. They do, however, support Biden’s agenda.
Finale to 2020 election
This week’s elections mark the formal finale to the turbulent 2020 election season more than two months after the rest of the country finished voting. The stakes have drawn nearly $500 million US in campaign spending to a once solidly Republican state that now finds itself as the nation’s premier battleground.
“It’s really about whether an agenda that moves the nation forward can be forged without significant compromise,” said Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights icon. “There are a lot of things that are in the balance.”
The results will also help demonstrate whether the political coalition that fuelled Biden’s victory was an anti-Trump anomaly or part of a new landscape.
Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes out of five million cast in November.
Democratic success will likely depend on driving a huge turnout of African Americans, young voters, college-educated voters and women — all groups that helped Biden become the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 to win Georgia. Republicans, meanwhile, have been focused on energizing their own base of white men and voters beyond the core of metro Atlanta.