With US Senate on the line, Georgia votes in runoff elections

Republican Senators try to hold off Democratic challengers after day of campaigning

Voters enter and exit a polling station at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on January 5th, 2021 in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Photograph: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/ Getty Images

Voters enter and exit a polling station at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on January 5th, 2021 in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Photograph: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/ Getty Images

 

Control of the US Senate – and with it the ability to block or advance Democratic US president-elect Joe Biden’s agenda – is on the line in a pair of runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday after a dizzying campaign that shattered spending and early turnout records.

Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to hold off Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff, a documentary film-maker, and the Rev Raphael Warnock, a pastor at a historic Black church in Atlanta, in a state Mr Biden narrowly carried on November 3rd.

The tumultuous contest’s final days have been dominated by US president Donald Trump’s continued effort to subvert the election results. On Saturday, he pressured the state’s Republican secretary of state to reverse Mr Biden’s victory, claiming massive fraud, contrary to evidence.

Illustrating the high stakes, both Mr Trump and Mr Biden campaigned in Georgia on Monday, Mr Trump in the state’s northwest and Mr Biden in Atlanta.

The president called the November 3rd election “rigged” and falsely claimed he won the state on Monday, as he used his speech to air grievances about his defeat.

“There is no way we lost Georgia,” Mr Trump said, ticking off a long list of unfounded conspiracy theories about election fraud.

Mr Biden’s November win, the first for a Democratic presidential candidate in Georgia in nearly 30 years, was not confirmed for more than a week. Two recounts and subsequent legal challenges from the Trump campaign pushed the state’s final certification into December.

“We won three times here,” Mr Biden quipped at Monday’s rally as he urged Georgians to vote Democratic. “This is not an exaggeration: Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you.”

A double Democratic win would split the Senate 50-50, with vice-president-elect Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote giving Democrats control of the Senate. The party already holds a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.

A Republican-controlled Senate would likely block many of Mr Biden’s most ambitious policy goals in areas such as economic relief, climate change and policing.

Ballots

Polls are open until 7pm (midnight Irish time). Some 3 million ballots have already been cast in early in-person and mail voting, mirroring a trend seen in November due to the pandemic.

The winners are unlikely to be known on Tuesday, and perhaps for days, as state officials are not permitted to start tallying early votes until after the polls close.

Opinion surveys have shown both races are exceedingly tight. Nearly half a billon dollars in advertising has blanketed the state’s airwaves, as dozens of independent political groups have descended on Georgia.

Democrats had been encouraged by the early vote, which included strong figures from Black voters, seen as crucial to their chances. But Republicans have historically turned out in higher numbers on Election Day.

Perdue and Loeffler have tried to strike a careful balancing act, offering support for Mr Trump’s rigged election claims while arguing they represent the last barrier to an era of unrestrained liberalism in Washington.

“We’ll look back on this day if we don’t vote and really rue the day that we turn the keys to the kingdom over to the Democrats,” Mr Perdue said Tuesday in an interview with Fox News.

At Monday’s rally, the crowd broke into a “Fight for Trump” chant as soon as Mr Trump mentioned Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue by name.

On Monday, Ms Loeffler said she would object to the certification of Mr Biden’s win when Congress meets on Wednesday to formally count the presidential vote, joining about a dozen other Republican senators. Mr Perdue, whose term technically ended on Sunday, has voiced support for the extraordinary move, which has virtually no chance of succeeding.

The campaign has seen bitter attacks, with Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue characterizing the Democrats as “radical socialists” and Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock calling the incumbents deeply corrupt.

Ms Loeffler said the country’s “way of life” was on the ballot, while Mr Warnock told supporters Tuesday is a “defining moment in American history.”

The runoff elections, a quirk of state law, became necessary when no candidate in either race earned 50 per cent in November. – Reuters