Why is Georgia holding elections?
The state of Georgia is holding run-off (re-race) elections on January 5 for its two seats in the U.S. Senate, a day after the 117th Congress was sworn in. The two seats were contested on Election Day, November 3 2020, but no candidate won more than the required 50% of the vote needed to win an election as per state law.
Who is running?
One of the run-offs is between former businessman (and Reebok CEO) Republican David Perdue , who began his term in 2015 and 33 year old Jewish documentary film maker Jon Ossoff. The other is between businesswoman and co-owner of a women’s basketball team Kelly Leoffler - who was appointed to the Senate by Georgia’s governor in January last year (after her predecessor stepped down due to ill health) - and her Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock, an African American pastor who preaches at the same church where Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
What is at stake?
The Georgia elections are especially significant this year as the outcome determines which party will control the U.S. Congress for the next two years. If Democrats win both races, they will control the Senate, because it will be split 50-50 and Democrats will also have (future) Vice President Kamala Harris’s deciding vote. Since Democrats already control the House of Representatives, winning the Senate will make it significantly easier for the Biden administration to advance its policies. Republicans just need to win one race to retain the Senate.
Georgia is also important to both parties as it is integral to longer term shifts in voting based on changing demographics across the country. The southern state has been Republican for almost two decades, but in November Democratic candidate Joe Biden won it on the back of support from Georgia’s diverse and populous metros (Mr. Biden is scheduled to campaign in Atlanta on Monday and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris campaigned in Savannah over the weekend).
How have the campaigns been going?
Some 2.8 million people have voted early or used mail-in voting ( a total of 5 million cast their vote in November). Democrats typically vote early. Republicans, concerned by the early turnout among black voters (at 33% of all early votes), are counting on turnout on January 5.
The elections have attracted a lot of money – Democrats have broken fundraising records, with each candidate raising over $ 100 million by the end of December ( their opponents had each raised between $60-$70 million).
As for campaign themes, Ms. Leoffler and Mr. Perdue have characterised their opponents as radical liberals pushing “ socialism” and sought to use this to motivate the Republican base, i.e., U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters. Interestingly, both candidates support Mr. Trump’s $2000 cheques to Americans in coronavirus reliefs – a proposal supported by Democrats. The Democrat candidates have run on healthcare, jobs and racial justice themes.
What is Trump’s role in all of this?
Mr Trump will campaign with Ms. Loeffler (Mr. Perdue is isolating due to exposure to the coronavirus) in Northern Georgia on Monday. However, the focus of Mr. Trump’s concern is not the run-off but trying to overturn the results of the presidential election in the State, which has already been reconfirmed with a recount in November. On Saturday he had an hour-long call with Georgia’s (Republican) Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where he appeared to threaten him and his official lawyer saying a “criminal offence” had been committed in delivering these results.
“..I just want to find 11,780 votes …,” Mr. Trump said at one point in the call.
Mr. Trump called the runoffs “illegal and invalid” in a tweet last Friday, potentially demotivating Republicans from voting on Tuesday.