Voters cast ballots on Tuesday in a pair of U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia that will determine control of the chamber – and with it the ability to block or advance Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda – after a contentious campaign that broke spending and early-turnout records.
Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are facing Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, and the Reverend Raphael Warnock, a pastor at a Black church in Atlanta, in a state Biden narrowly carried in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
The tumultuous contest’s final days have been dominated by President Donald Trump’s continued effort to subvert the presidential election results.
On Saturday, he pressured the state’s secretary of state, a fellow Republican, to “find” votes to reverse Biden’s victory, falsely claiming massive fraud. Trump’s ongoing efforts to undo Biden’s victory have caused a dramatic split in his own party and condemnation from critics who accuse him of undermining democracy.
The runoff elections, a quirk of state law, became necessary when no candidate in either senatorial race exceeded 50% of the vote in November.
Trump and Biden campaigned in Georgia on Monday, Trump in the state’s northwest and Biden in Atlanta. Trump called the November election “rigged” and falsely claimed he won the state as he used his speech to air grievances about his defeat.
“There is no way we lost Georgia,” Trump said, ticking off a long list of unfounded conspiracy theories about election fraud.
It remains to be seen whether Trump’s claims about election fraud will dissuade Republican voters in Georgia from casting ballots, as some in the party have feared.
Scott Sweeney, 63, said he was voting for Perdue and Loeffler as a way to block the Democrats from getting control of the Senate.
“I believe the two of them are consistent with my values,” Sweeney said at a polling place in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta. “Taxes for one, and traditional values.”
Andria Lang, 73, exited her polling place at a church in Atlanta voicing optimism that the Democrats would prevail.
“I feel great about my vote,” Lang said.
Biden’s victory in Georgia, the first for a Democratic presidential candidate there 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,” 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.”
Democrats need to win both races to gain Senate control from Republicans. 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 chamber.
Democrats hold a narrow majority in the House of Representatives. Democratic control of both chambers could give a boost to Biden’s legislative agenda in areas such as economic relief, climate change, healthcare and policing reform.
EARLY VOTE RECORD
Polls are open until 7 p.m. (2400 GMT). Some 3 million ballots have already been cast in early in-person and mail-in voting, mirroring a trend seen in November due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Fox News the election results will likely be known on Wednesday morning.
Opinion surveys have shown both races to be exceedingly close. Nearly half a billon dollars in advertising has blanketed the state as dozens of independent political groups have descended on Georgia.
Democrats had been encouraged by the early vote, which included strong numbers from Black voters, seen as crucial to their chances. 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 Trump’s unfounded election fraud claims while arguing that 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,” Perdue said on Tuesday in an interview with Fox News.
On Monday, Loeffler said she would object to the certification of Biden’s win when Congress meets on Wednesday to formally count the presidential vote, joining about a dozen other Republican senators.
Perdue, whose term technically ended on Sunday, has voiced support for the extraordinary move, which has virtually no chance of succeeding and has been condemned by Trump detractors as an attack on democracy.
The Georgia campaign has been marked by attacks, with Loeffler and Perdue characterizing the Democrats as “radical socialists” and Ossoff and Warnock calling the incumbents deeply corrupt.
Loeffler said the country’s “way of life” is on the ballot, while Warnock told supporters that Tuesday’s voting represented a “defining moment in American history.”