Just as the Georgia Senate runoff elections in January carry implications far beyond the state’s borders, what happens in Washington DC over the next few weeks will frame how voters in the Peach State view their choices.
The president-elect, Joe Biden – who has a 10,000-vote lead and appears on his way to victory in the state – and Donald Trump will surely be spending time in Georgia over the coming weeks stumping for their respective parties’ candidates.
Mr Trump is still refusing to concede the presidential election over baseless claims of voter fraud and election tampering. The Republican incumbents, senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, have echoed the outgoing president’s comments casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election results in their state.
The senators even issued a joint statement on Monday calling for Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger – a Republican – to resign over alleged “failures” in the conduct of the election.
“There have been too many failures in Georgia elections this year, and the most recent election has shined a national light on the problems,” Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler said in their statement, which did not enumerate any actual data points to support their claims.
“The secretary of state has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections. He has failed the people of Georgia, and he should step down immediately,” the senators said.
How will Georgia voters react: will the posturing from Mr Trump and the GOP senators shore up support among the party’s conservative core that gives credence to such unsubstantiated allegations? Or will raking a member of their own party, Mr Raffensperger, over the coals to side with Mr Trump turn off moderate Republicans in the state enough to compel them to cast ballots for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock?
“I think there is a real chance that moving from broad-scale ‘we support Trump and his efforts to ensure the election is fair and all votes are counted’ to targeted attacks on a state-level official of the same party does risk blowback from more moderate voters,” said Amy Steigerwalt, a professor of political science at Georgia State University.
Georgia Republicans have increasingly lost their grip on the state’s suburban enclaves in recent elections, including two House seats in the suburbs north of Atlanta that flipped blue in 2018 and 2020.
Attacks from the right against other GOP elected officials make it even “more difficult for moderate/conservative-leaning folks to see their place in the party”, Ms Steigerwalt said.
“These types of attacks make that even harder, and risk tying both of these candidates to a president who has lost the election and may increasingly come across as a sore loser opposed to someone who is simply ensuring electoral integrity.”
Control of the Senate
Unless Democratic Senate candidates Cal Cunningham (North Carolina) and Al Gross (Alaska) pull off monumental comebacks against GOP incumbents in their as-yet-called races when all votes are counted, the Georgia Senate races will decide which party controls the Senate majority.
Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock both have to win for Democrats to pull even with Republicans in the chamber, 50-50. The vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, would cast any decisive votes in the event of 50-50 ties.
That means Georgia’s choices in January have massive implications on how much of his platform Mr Biden can actually enact.
If just one of Mr Perdue or Ms Loeffler wins in January, and Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell remains majority leader, Mr Biden can kiss the following agenda items goodbye:
- his sweeping plan to update the US tax code, levying higher taxes on corporations and Americans who make more than $400,000 per year
- adding a public option to the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare to compete with private insurers
- lowering the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 60
- sweeping criminal justice and policing reform
Senators and party leaders from both sides of the aisle know the national stakes of the Georgia runoffs.
“Now we take Georgia, then we change the world,” Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, announced in the middle of a crowd in Brooklyn celebrating Mr Biden’s presidential election victory on Saturday.
In a statement from his office later that day, Mr Schumer made his position clear: Mr Biden will only be able to follow through on his campaign promises if Georgians elect Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock, clinching a 50-50 tie in the Senate, with Ms Harris’ tiebreaker giving Democrats the edge.
“A Democratic majority in the US Senate would be the biggest difference maker to help president-elect Biden deliver for working families across the country and in Georgia where, for too long, they have been denied the help they need by president Trump, Mitch McConnell and a Republican-led Senate,” Mr Schumer said. “The best way to ensure that positive agenda can be carried out and deliver help to working families in Georgia and across the country is to elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the Senate,” he said.
Republicans on the attack
Several Republican lawmakers immediately seized on Mr Schumer’s remarks to urge conservative Georgians to help them construct a Senate-sized sand pit slowing down Mr Biden’s presidency.
“A Democratic majority in the Senate would cinch the radical agenda of the left,” senator John Cornyn of Texas wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “They must be stopped on 5 January in Georgia.”
In his opening remarks at his final debate with Mr Ossoff in October – before even the general election – Mr Perdue acknowledged their contest had broad national consequences.
“This race is bigger than me. It’s bigger than Jon Ossoff. It’s about the future direction of our county. And make no mistake that the radical extremist socialist part of the Democratic party is in charge,” Mr Perdue said.
“Jon Ossoff … would be an absolute rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi as they perpetrate this outrageous and dangerous agenda on our country. Don’t let him fool you,” Mr Perdue said, noting that Mr Schumer held the party together so that no Democrats voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett in October.
Only one lawmaker crossed partisan lines on Justice Barrett’s confirmation: GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who agreed with Democrats that her Republican colleagues should have held the empty seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg open so that the winner of the presidential election could decide who would fill it.
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