One Last Election Day: Georgia Deciding Control of US Senate

January 5, 2021 by Reece Nations
Voters mark their ballots at the Lawrenceville Road United Methodist Church in Tucker, Ga. during the Senate runoff election Tuesday morning, Jan. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

Georgia voters will decide the balance of power in Congress Tuesday in a pair of high-stakes Senate runoff elections that will help determine President-elect Joe Biden’s ability to enact his governing agenda.

Incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler will face Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively. 

Though Republicans are unified against Biden’s plans for health care, environmental protection and civil rights, some fear outgoing President Donald Trump’s brazen attempts to undermine the integrity of the nation’s voting systems may discourage the GOP’s base and inspire them to sit this highl-watched contest out.

As of 12:40 p.m. Tuesday, a Georgia election official said turnout appears light statewide as voters decide runoff elections for both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.

The outcome Tuesday will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate.

More than 3 million voters cast ballots before Election Day. That’s more than 60% of the nearly 5 million who voted in November’s presidential election.

Robust early voting helped President-elect Joe Biden win Georgia in November and is expected to benefit the Democratic Senate candidates as well. President Donald Trump held a rally in deeply conservative northern Georgia on Monday in hopes of driving large numbers of GOP voters to the polls Tuesday.

Perdue vs. Ossoff Seen As ‘Toss-up’ 

In November, Perdue tallied 49.7% of the vote compared to Ossoff’s 47.9%. Because neither candidate reached the 50% minimum threshold required by Georgia state law to win the election, a runoff was declared.

Prior to his 2014 election to represent Georgia in the Senate, Perdue served as CEO of Reebok and Dollar General. Endorsed by President Donald Trump, Perdue’s messaging on the campaign trail stressed the importance of denying a path for Democrats’ “radical, socialist agenda” to prevail in the Senate. 

“Ossoff, who has been plotting a career in politics since he was in grade school, speaks often about honesty, transparency, and putting people before politics,” Perdue wrote in an Op-Ed published by Fox News, “but he’s failed to live up to his own rhetoric.” 

Perdue continued, “As Georgia’s families and small businesses were being ravaged this year by COVID-19’s devastating economic impacts, Ossoff mocked critical relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program that saved more than 1.5 million of [sic] jobs at over 174,000 Georgia businesses.” 

Perdue served on the following Senate committees during the 116th Congressional Session: the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on Budget, and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. 

As a member of the 116th Congress, Perdue voted in favor a bill that would have prohibited doctors from performing an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a bill that renewed provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and a novel coronavirus relief bill that provided federal aid for coronavirus economic impacts. 

Perdue voted against a joint resolution that prohibited United States military actions against Iranian targets without congressional approval, a joint resolution that would have terminated the national emergency declaration by Trump related to the U.S.-Mexico border, and a funding bill that sought to avoid a government shutdown that also reauthorized the PATRIOT Act. 

In contrast, Ossoff’s high-profile endorsements have come from former President Barack Obama, President-elect Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Ossoff is currently the CEO of Insight TWI, an investigative media production company. 

On the campaign trail, Ossoff voiced support for adding a public option to health care exchanges, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and overturning the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

When Perdue declined to participate in a televised debate on Dec. 6, Ossoff capitalized on the opportunity to portray the decision as arrogant. 

“It’s a strange situation to be asking a question of a sitting United States senator who is not here to debate as he asks for the votes of the people to be reelected,” Ossoff said, alone on the debate stage. 

Ossoff continued, “It shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement for Georgia’s senior U.S. senator to believe he shouldn’t have to debate at a moment like this in our history. Your senator is refusing to answer questions and debate his opponent because he believes he shouldn’t have to. He believes this Senate seat belongs to him. This Senate seat belongs to the people.” 

The Cook Political Report rated the Perdue/Ossoff race a “toss-up,” and polling data from SurveyUSA was inconclusive as Ossoff’s slight lead fell within the pollster’s margin of error. 

Loeffler and Warnock Battle for Relinquished Seat 

Of the 20 candidates in November’s general election for Loeffler’s Senate seat, she received just 26% of the vote to Warnock’s 33%. 

Loeffler was appointed to the seat by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp following the resignation of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson due to health concerns. The election between Loeffler and Warnock will determine who will serve the remainder of the term won by Isakson in 2016, set to expire in 2023. 

Loeffler is co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and she previously served as CEO of Bakkt, a subsidiary of commodity and financial service provider Intercontinental Exchange. She has been endorsed by both Trump and Kemp ahead of the special runoff election. 

Similar to that of Perdue, Loeffler’s campaign described Warnock’s political philosophy as “radical” and promoting a “socialist agenda.” 

“The Democrats would usher in socialism,” Loeffler said to a group of supporters in Augusta, Ga. “And we know that because Chuck Schumer told us, now we take Georgia, then we change America. But what does that mean? That means changing America into a government-centered society.” 

Loeffler added, “We helped bring $47 billion of relief to Georgia. David Perdue and I just voted to pass an additional $900 billion to make sure we’re addressing those needs. Whether it’s the vaccine delivery, funding for small businesses, unemployment top-ups, eviction moratoriums. Helping our families and our small businesses get through this, we need to keep our focus on that.” 

Loeffler has adamantly maintained throughout her campaign that she opposes any proposed income tax increases. However, Loeffler said she supports adopting federal education standards and requiring businesses to provide paid medical leave during public health crises. 

As a senator, Loeffler voted alongside of Perdue in favor of an abortion regulation bill, the renewal of FISA authorization, and a bill that mandated federal aid for COVID-19 pandemic economic impacts. Loeffler likewise voted against the same joint resolution that prohibited military action against Iran without congressional approval. 

Loeffler, like Perdue, also voted to acquit Trump from abuse of office and contempt of congress when the matter was brought before the Senate last year. 

Warnock is a senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and he previously chaired the New Georgia Project, a voter registration group founded by former state Rep. Stacey Abrams, from 2017 to 2020.

In stark comparison to his opponent, Warnock supports maintaining the Affordable Care Act, the federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, and imposing income tax increases for wealthy taxpayers.

Warnock has said he supports revoking “tax breaks” for companies outsourcing jobs outside of the state, removing “burdensome” regulations on small businesses and dismantling pay gaps between male and female Georgians. 

“Protecting and expanding Georgia’s farm economy is important to me,” Warnock tweeted on Oct. 5. “As Senator, I will fight trade policies that harm Georgia farmers and expand our access to markets for Georgia grown products.” 

Like Ossoff, Warnock voiced his support for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Warnock was also endorsed by Obama, Biden and Sanders as well as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. 

As with the Perdue/Ossoff race, The Cook Political Report rated Loeffler and Warnock’s race as a toss-up. Warnock maintains a lead over Loeffler in pre-runoff election polls by a margin of 52% to 45%, according to SurveyUSA. 

Voting locations in Georgia opened Tuesday at 7 a.m. local time and will begin to close at 7 p.m.

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