This election season isn’t quite over – in one state at least. And there are major implications for all Americans in the balance.
In other words, if Georgia isn’t on your mind, maybe it should be.
Jan. 5 is the runoff election day for both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats – a rare enough occurrence rendered particularly pivotal this year because control of that chamber hinges on the results. If Democrats win both seats, the Senate would be tied 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to break the impasse.
Democrats will continue to narrowly hold the U.S. House of Representatives, meaning depending on what happens next month, the party could have full control of the presidency and Congress. Biden’s nominations, and his priorities on such issues as the pandemic, the economy, the environment, and race relations are at stake.
Cognizant of the Peach State’s newfound power, people are very much taking notice. There has been hundreds of million dollars in ad spending alone. Brian Robinson, a Georgia Republican political consultant not working on the race, calls it “an intense interest.”
“I've done interviews in recent weeks with French media, with Swiss media. I just got off a podcast with Newt Gingrich,” he told Spectrum News.
And Georgians are already voting en masse. Turnout on the first day of early voting, Dec. 14, eclipsed participation on the first day of voting in the general election, when ultimately President-elect Joe Biden narrowly defeated President Donald Trump.
The runoffs are required under Georgia law because no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in the November general election.
In the race for one seat, it’s incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock – in the other, incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff.
Both President Trump and President-elect Biden have stumped in the state on behalf of their party’s candidates – but in some cases, they could be a drag on their chances.
Though Trump is the first Republican since 1992 to lose Georgia, he’s so far refused to concede; instead, in an extraordinary rebuke, he’s repeatedly disparaged Georgia’s Republican governor and secretary of state for not helping him throw out ballots. This week, he even retweeted that the pair are going to jail.
Since Nov. 3, Georgia has counted the election three times -- each time concluding Biden won. Trump’s unproven distrust in the vote – which Loeffler and Perdue are echoing, even calling for Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State to resign – could prompt others to distrust the Jan. 5 vote as well.
As for Biden, Georgians may want to balance a Democratic president and House of Representatives with a GOP-controlled Senate. Perdue, for instance, received slightly more votes than Trump in the November election, and is now using a Trump speech to warn in an ad about the “radical left” agenda if Democrats win.
“Republicans have the biggest motivator there is, and that is fear,” Robinson said.
“One would expect that a Republican controlled Senate would probably be a little bit more adversarial, at the least, to some of President Biden's cabinet picks, to some of his judicial appointments and other types of things,” added Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University.
“And we would expect a Democratic controlled Senate to be more congenial to them in terms of being more welcoming and more willing to cast votes.”
Apart from their party allegiances, there are specifics for each candidate drawing attention – and controversy.
Loeffler, 50, was appointed to the Senate after Sen. Johnny Isakson resigned. Called the wealthiest member of Congress, she is the co-owner of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream; her husband, Jeff Sprecher, is founder and CEO of International Exchange, which owns marketplaces like the New York Stock Exchange. Loeffler was cleared of wrongdoing earlier this year after she, and other lawmakers, sold millions of dollars in investments after receiving private briefings about the coronavirus.
Warnock, 51, is the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as co-pastor with his father, Martin Luther King, Sr. He entered politics by pressing for expanded Medicaid and is closely tied with voting rights activist and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Controversially, in 2019 Warnock signed a letter after a trip to Israel and Palestinian territories that described “heavy militarization of the West Bank” was “reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa.” Warnock has since said that he stands with Israel and does not believe it is an apartheid state.
Perdue, 71, is a former business executive; his experience included a stint as the CEO of Dollar General. An investigation from the Atlanta Journal Constitution found he has a mixed record -- in one case, a company paid $42 million to settle lawsuits alleging Perdue “lined his own pockets as part of a leveraged buyout deal, shortchanging shareholders.” A New York Times investigation also found Perdue traded stocks at a very brisk pace, including in companies under his committee’s oversight. He says that the Senate Investigations Committee cleared him of wrongdoing.
Ossoff, 33, is a media executive for a company that makes documentaries about corruption in foreign countries. He also is a former congressional staffer who unsuccessfully ran for a House seat in suburban Atlanta in 2017. If elected, he would be the youngest U.S. senator since 1981.
Republican advantages in Georgia’s statewide elections have slowly narrowed; Biden won by .26 percent of the vote, cheering Democrats who feel time is on their side to enjoy more comfortable margins.
Still, while much has been made of the Democrats’ Election Day performance in the Atlanta suburbs and largely Black counties, Gillespie, the Emory professor, says “the types of voters who are likely to turn out in run off elections are older, more experienced voters. And that does help the Republicans.”
To that end, supporters of Ossoff and Warnock are also trying to entice new voters, including those who haven’t voted before.
Way to Win, a self-described “homebase for progressive donors and organizers,” is spending $6 million to register and engage new voters, including the 20,000-some young people who turned 18 just between the general election and the runoff, said Tory Gavito, its co-founder and president.
Still, Gavito calls winning run-offs in Georgia “an uphill battle for Democrats.”
“Georgia for us is a long term project,” Gavito said.
Polling finds the race extremely tight, and the holidays – and a pandemic – notwithstanding, it’s unlikely that the intensity of the race will cease. Biden’s wishes, plus all kinds of legislation, hang in the balance of what happens Jan. 5.
For a few weeks, at least, Democrats and Republicans are focusing hard on winning just two of a hundred Senate seats.
Or, to put it another way, even at the risk of a cliche, Georgia is on America’s mind.