Georgia Race May Leave Senate Balance Hanging Until January
Election officials sort empty absentee ballot envelopes for the 2020 Presidential election by precinct for storage at the Dekalb County Voter Registration and Elections Office in Decatur, Georgia, U.S. (Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg)

Georgia Race May Leave Senate Balance Hanging Until January

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Both Republicans and Democrats are preparing for the possibility that both of Georgia‘s Senate races will go to runoffs, which would leave control of the the Senate in limbo until January.

Incumbent GOP Senator David Perdue was just shy of the 50% vote threshold needed to claim the seat outright, with most of ballots counted. If that holds, he would once again face off against Democrat Jon Ossoff, who trailed in the race by 107,782 votes out of about 4.9 million cast as of Thursday.

Georgia Race May Leave Senate Balance Hanging Until January

With Georgia‘s other Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler already headed to a Jan. 5 rematch against Democrat Raphael Warnock, Democrats would still have a narrow, if unlikely, path to win the control of the Senate by winning both Georgia seats.

That would set up an epic national battle over the state as outside groups and both parties pour money and other resources into swaying the vote. It also would prolong partisan rancor over the Senate races, alongside potential legal fights in the presidential contest between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden

The Senate totals from Tuesday’s election now stand at 48 Republicans to 48 senators who align with Democrats. In addition to the two Georgia races, Republican incumbents in North Carolina and Alaska are leading as the final votes are counted.

If Biden wins the presidency and Democrats win both of Georgia’s runoffs, the tie-breaking vote in the Senate would be held by Kamala Harris, as vice president. This would give Democrats full control of government -- albeit by the slimmest of margins -- since they also managed to hang on to control of the House.

Presidential Battleground

The state also is in play for the presidential race. As votes continued to be tallied early Friday, Biden took the lead from Trump by a narrow margin, 917 votes. The result is still too close to call in the state, with a recount and legal challenges possible and more ballots yet to be counted, including those from military personnel stationed overseas.

Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting systems implementation manager, said at a news conference that he hoped the count would be completed Thursday, though it could slip to Friday.

The unprecedented dual runoff in Georgia could attract more than $1 billion in political spending and bring in small armies of campaign volunteers, strategists and lawyers.

”You are talking about money in an unprecedented fashion,” said Rick Dent, a longtime political consultant who served as an aid to the late Zell Miller when he was Georgia’s governor.

All four candidates are preparing for the next phase.

“If overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we’re ready, and we will win,” Perdue’s campaign said in a statement.

Ossoff’s communications director, Miryam Lipper, said on Twitter that when the runoff is held in January, “Georgians are going to send Jon to the Senate to defend their health care and put the interests of working families and small businesses ahead of corporate lobbyists.”

Loeffler asked for campaign donations on Twitter and said, “Control of the Senate could come down our race.”

High Stakes

Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said Republicans have had the advantage in past runoffs. But the demographic changes in Georgia, which also are reflected in the close presidential race, mean some of the previous metrics may not apply.

“This is a different day,” she said.

Still, the odds favor the incumbent Republican Perdue in a head-to-head race against Ossoff, who lost a 2017 special election for an Atlanta-area House seat.

Loeffler, who was appointed by Georgia‘s governor to fill the Senate vacancy left by Republican Johnny Isakson‘s retirement, secured a spot in the runoff over another Republican, Representative Doug Collins.

In doing so, she cast herself as a staunch conservative, boasting in ad she is to the right of Attila the Hun. Now, she also will have to appeal to moderate voters to prevail n her one-on-one runoff against Warnock, a preacher from Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was once the pastor.

The get-out-the-vote operation will be intense, since new voters can be registered up until 30 days before the runoff.

The dual run-offs will be unlike any elections the state has seen before, said Kerwin Swint, a professor of political science at Kennesaw State University.

“These races are both going to be national campaigns now, with the stakes incredibly high,” Swint said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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