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Six things to look out for in Georgia's $420 million Senate-deciding election race

Georgians go to the polls today to elect two senators.

georgia-senate Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff (l) and Raphael Warnock (r). Source: PA Images

THE US STATE of Georgia was front and centre of the US presidential race in November, when President-elect Joe Biden turned the state blue for the first time in almost 30 years. 

Now, the politics of the state is even more crucial as two election races today will determine how much freedom Biden will have to pursue his legislative agenda. 

This is because there are two Senate run-off elections that will decide whether the upper house of Congress is in Democrat or Republican control.

Biden and current president Donald Trump both campaigned in the state overnight, when they urged voters to turn out for the crucial vote.

Biden told a rally in Atlanta that “one state can chart the course, not just for the next four years but for the next generation”.

Appearing in the city of Dalton hours later, Trump told crowds that the stakes in the election “could not be higher” and called on supporters to “make sure your vote is counted”.

Can the Democrats flip it? 

The Senate has been in the hands of the Republicans since 2014, with the party stretching its lead in 2018. Democrats closed the gap in November but the two seats outstanding in Georgia will decide the balance. 

As of now, Republicans hold 50 Senate seats while Democrats (with two Democratic-leaning Independents) hold 48. It means that if Democrats win the two Georgia seats there would be a 50-50 tie.  

In the case of a tie in the Senate, the casting vote is made by the vice-president, which will in two weeks be Kamala Harris. 

These margins make clear just how important the elections in Georgia are. While two wins wouldn’t give Biden much breathing room, they would certainly make passing laws much easier. 

Will Loeffler conquer all?

ahead-of-runoff-elections-in-georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler. Source: PA Images

The four people running for the two Georgia seats are a diverse bunch.  In one race, Republican Senator David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff. 

In the other, Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler faces Reverend Raphael Warnock.

Both of the Republicans have a corporate background. Perdue was first elected in 2014 after running as a political outsider and former CEO of Reebok. 

Loeffler worked at Intercontinental Exchange, a company founded by her husband that operates the New York Stock Exchange. Loeffler is also co-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA basketball team and has faced criticism from the league for her opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

On the Democrat side, documentary-maker Ossoff would become the youngest member of Congress at 33. He began in politics as an intern with the late congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis who died in July

Warnock is a pastor of the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached and is one of Georgia’s best-known black ministers.

Will early voting win the day once more? 

Both races are tight, with polls showing the candidates neck and neck. Trump and Biden both travelled to the state yesterday to shore up support but votes made over the past three weeks could already have tipped the balance.

Early voting in the two races began almost a month ago on 14 December. Mail-in ballots were key to Biden’s win in the state in November and are likely to be so here too. 

More than three million voters in Georgia, out of the seven million registered, cast their ballots early — a record for a runoff, but a lower number than seen at the same point in the presidential election.

Biden’s win in Georgia was built on the voter registration drives spearheaded by Democratic star Stacey Abrams and indeed Warnock.  

Will money talk? 

Source: The Hill/YouTube

With the importance of the race on a national level, staggering amounts of the campaign and advertising money has been flowing into Georgia. 

According to the Savannah Morning News, over $400 million has been raised by the four candidates, with Democrats raising most of it.

Ossoff and Warnock blew past fundraising records, which were set just earlier this year, by raising more than $100 million each in the course of only two months.   

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As of last week, Ossoff has raised almost $140 million with Warnock at about $104 million.  

On the Republican side, Loeffler has raised $92 million with Perdue at almost $90 million.   

A black senator from Georgia?

election-2020-senate-georgia Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock. Source: PA Images

The southern state of Georgia has never elected a black senator, so 51-year-old Warnock would be the first. 

The state is still marked by its segregationist past and was home to both Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis.

One out of every three of Georgia 10.6 million residents is African-American but what has changed is the increasing number of black voters, a figure that is now nearly 30% of the electorate. 

This is largely on the back of efforts by former Georgia lawmaker Stacey Abrams, who has been credited with galvanising the party in her home state.

Democrats have worked on mitigating what were seen as obstacles to minority turnout including long waits, difficulties in registering to vote and voter ID problems.

Is Trump an increasing liability for Republicans?

trump-returns-white-house-cutting-short-his-vacation United States President Donald J. Trump Source: PA Images

Only days before the runoffs, Sunday saw the release of a stunning audio tape in which Trump pressed Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in the state

The blatant interference in the democratic process by a sitting president would be almost unthinkable in any other era but with Trump, it underscores his increasingly desperate efforts to subvert the election.

The report has led to Democrats and even a few Republicans heaping scorn on the outgoing president. 

What effect it will have on the Georgia vote is unclear but Loeffler and Perdue are unlikely to be pleased to have to stand over the presidents actions.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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