With President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris emerging victories in the November presidential election, all eyes have now turned to Georgia, which had the unusual circumstances of having two Senate races in the same year and seeing both those races go to January runoff elections. These two elections will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate and largely set the course of the country for the next two to four years.
As the competitions in Georgia heat up, here are eight things you need to know about the two races.
The Republican incumbents face challenges to their records and integrity
Republicans occupy both Georgia Senate seats and are facing off against their Democratic challengers. David Perdue, who is seeking his second term after being elected in 2014 is running against Jon Ossoff and Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to finish the last year of the term of Senator Johnny Isakson, is being challenged by Reverend Raphael Warnock. Perdue and Loeffler are multi-millionaires, having had successful business careers. Perdue has held several high-profile corporate positions, including a stint as CEO of Dollar General. Loeffler is a former executive of Intercontinental Exchange, the financial services company that owns the New York Stock Exchange among other operations.
Both Republican senators have been accused of using their positions in the Senate to improperly reap personal profits. Among other instances, Perdue and Loeffler have been accused of gaining information related to the COVID-19 pandemic to inform their personal stock transactions. Both senators strongly deny that they have committed any wrongdoing. Perdue was also investigated for insider trading related to the sale of $1 million worth of stock for a company for which he was once a board member, but he was ultimately not charged with a crime. Loeffler has also been criticized for her vocal opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.
As co-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team, her positions have placed her in direct opposition with the players on her team. As Blavity previously reported, Dream players went as far as wearing “Vote Warnock” t-shirts to games this year. In recent months, Loeffler has done herself no favors, first accepting the support of a QAnon conspiracy theorist and later having to explain a picture of her posing with a noted neo-Nazi and former Ku Klux Klan leader. Concerning the latter, Loeffler claims she did not know who the man was when she took a photo with him.
The Democratic challengers have strong backgrounds and messages
Perdue is facing a challenge from Ossoff, an investigative journalist who has produced a number of documentaries focused mostly on Africa, including serving as executive producer of the Al-Jazeera network series, Africa Investigates. Ossoff also once interned for the late Representative John Lewis. Loeffler, meanwhile, is running against Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Warnock, who presided over the funerals of Congressman Lewis and Rayshard Brooks this year, has long been an advocate of social justice.
Ossoff and Warnock have proved to be formidable opponents, backed strongly by the Democratic Party during the general election and now for the twin runoffs. Ossoff has slammed Perdue for the latter’s perceived corruption and for his refusal to debate Ossoff — the Democratic challenger recently appeared next to an empty podium for what would have been their runoff debate. Warnock meanwhile has similarly painted Loeffler as corrupt, even alleging that she “purchased” her Senate seat.
Rev. Raphael Warnock slams Sen. Kelly Loeffler: "She purchased that seat." pic.twitter.com/hM8oaJEkaU
— The Hill (@thehill) December 7, 2020
The stakes are high because the outcome will determine which party controls the Senate
The incoming U.S. Senate is set to be comprised of 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats, not counting the outcome of the two Georgia races. If Republicans win at least one of these contests, the resulting Republican majority will re-elect Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader, continuing his role in setting the agenda for the upper house of the U.S. Congress.
This would be particularly troublesome for the incoming Biden administration, as Senator McConnell was the architect of the strategy of Republican obstruction that prevented former President Barack Obama from achieving much of his agenda. For instance, McConnell refused to even allow a vote on Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee. There is little reason to believe that a McConnell-led Senate would not similarly obstruct Biden.
Alternatively, winning both races would create a 50-50 Senate tie, with Vice President Harris being the tie-breaker and thus giving Democrats a de facto Senate majority. Everything from economic relief and criminal justice reform to confirming cabinet nominees and federal judges hinge on control of the Senate, meaning that the two Senate races have emerged as almost as important as the presidential election.
Ossoff and Warnock have been attacked with Republican talking points
Senators Perdue and Loeffler have tried to paint both Ossoff and Warnock as dangerous radicals who will bring about socialism and defund police. During her recent debate with Rev. Warnock, Loeffler accused him of being a “radical liberal” more than a dozen times, inspiring several drinking games in the process.
The race between Loeffler and Warnock has proved especially contentious, on both an ideological and a personal level. Warnock is an unapologetic progressive who advocates for criminal justice reform and LGBTQ rights and calls himself a "pro-choice pastor." Loeffler, meanwhile, boasts of being the most conservative member of the Senate – quipping that she is "more conservative than Attila the Hun – and fights against abortion rights, "cancel culture" and the ability of trans student athletes to participate in sports based on the gender with which they identify. With such starkly different viewpoints, it's no surprise that the two candidates have clashed fiercely throughout the race.
Beyond Loeffler's personal jabs against Warnock, Republicans more generally have focused most of their attacks on the pastor, keying in on the content of several of his sermons and attempting to paint him as anti-military and anti-police. Republican attacks on Warnock’s sermons have placed the GOP in an awkward position given the Republican Party’s emphasis on religious freedom in recent years. Warnock has stood by his messages as consistent with the Bible while arguing that excerpts have been taken out of context and consistently stating that he does not support policies such as defunding the police.
Donald Trump’s influence on the race is strong, but Trump himself is checked out
Perdue and Loeffler have each been strong supporters of President Donald Trump, and their attacks against their Democratic challengers closely mirror themes that Trump unsuccessfully tried to use against Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. The two senators are even backing Trump’s spurious legal challenges to Biden’s victory. Given Trump's enduring popularity among diehard Republicans, the two Senate Republicans cannot afford to alienate the president's base.
Trump himself has given little attention to the runoffs, as he has been preoccupied with brazen attacks aimed at overturning the results of the election he lost in November. These efforts have included attempting to throw out 100,000 votes in Georgia and pressuring Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to overturn the election results in the state. Trump’s actions have pressured Perdue and Loeffler to support his anti-Democratic tactics and have distracted from the Senate race.
Trump supporters may cost Republicans the elections
Some Republicans, buying the horse manure electoral fraud allegations that President Trump has been shoveling, may be discouraged from voting because they truly believe the vote has been rigged. Many Trump supporters have even been threatening to boycott the runoff unless the two candidates or public officials in the Republican-led state reverse Georgia’s presidential election results. Democratic supporters have unsurprisingly encouraged these boycotters to carry out their threat. Trump belatedly urged his supporters to vote in the runoff during his first, and so far only, runoff campaign stop in the state, but he spent most of his appearance focusing on his own election woes, and Republicans fear that the damage has already been done to Republican voters who have been turned against the electoral system by Trump’s rhetoric and tactics.
Turnout is key for Democrats in the race
Even with the turmoil in the Republican Party, Democrats will need a massive turnout, including a very strong showing from Georgia’s Black youth to win. Biden’s narrow but convincing win in Georgia came as a bit of a surprise in what has been a reliably Red state since the 1990s. The victory was the result of massive organizing and voter turnout efforts by the Democratic Party, activists such as former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, thousands of volunteers and activists, and donors who contributed tens of millions of dollars to the state’s races. Additionally, even with efforts like Abrams’ registration of over 800,000 new voters, years of voter suppression and disenfranchisement efforts in Georgia have disproportionately targeted Black voters, most of whom tend to support the Democratic Party. This mass disenfranchisement, combined with the general trend of lower turnout in non-presidential elections and a fundraising advantage for Republicans, means that Democrats still face a significant battle to make sure that they have a strong enough showing in January to turn Georgia Blue.
The voting process has already begun
Georgia’s runoff election date is Tuesday, January 5. But much like the general election, the voting process has started long before then. Voter registration for the runoff elections closed on December 7. Georgia does not offer same-day voter registration, as is the case for some other states. Absentee ballots must be requested by January 1, 2021, and must be received by January 5, whether through mail or delivered by hand. Early voting opens in the state on December 14 and ends on January 1, though exact dates and hours vary by location. More details about how to vote in the Georgia runoff elections can be found here.