WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – Georgia voters will hear final arguments from two presidents on Monday (Jan 4), as Donald Trump and Joe Biden each make their cases ahead of high-stakes Senate runoff elections that will determine who controls the chamber and with it, Biden’s agenda.
The state’s two seats are both up for grabs and if Republicans manage to keep just one of them, the party would have a narrow majority in the Senate, giving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the power to block Biden’s initiatives, nominees to his administration and the judiciary.
If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock can take both seats from Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Senate will be split 50-50, giving incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.
Trump has linked the Senate races to his own fate in the state, pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a phone call to find a way to shift the state’s presidential results in his favour before Tuesday.
Trump suggested that if Raffensperger couldn’t find a way to turn the presidential results in the GOP’s favour, Georgia Republicans might hold it against the party in the Senate races.
“You know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam, and because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative because they hate what you did to the president. OK? They hate it,” he said.
The high stakes have sent a flood of cash pouring into the state. Spending in the two runoffs is approaching US$500 million (S$660 million), according to the Centre for Responsive Politics.
Vice-President Mike Pence was also in the state Monday, speaking at a rally at a church in Milner. He gave a slight chuckle when a “four more years” chant broke out during his remarks.
Pence briefly addressed the unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud that Trump alleges took place in November’s presidential election, saying that Republicans have “thousands of people” across Georgia, monitoring the election for instances of potential fraud.
“We’re on them. We’re going to secure the polls, we’re going to secure the drop boxes. You get out and vote tomorrow and you vote for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and be confident.”
Democrats are hoping that a surge of early voting in the state will give them an edge as Republicans traditionally go to the polls on Election Day in larger numbers. An early-vote advantage helped Biden defeat Trump in November by a 11,779-vote margin in the state.
Limited polling in Georgia shows both races extremely close, though Democrats have had a narrow edge. More than 70,000 new voters have registered in the state since Nov 3. Interest in the race is high – more than 2.8 million people had cast ballots as of Thursday, shattering the previous record for the December 2008 Senate runoff, when 2.1 million votes were cast.
It will likely take at least a few days to know the results and given the stakes, the counts are likely to face legal challenges that could further delay the determination of a winner in either race.
In his remarks, Pence alluded to fears from some Republicans that Trump’s post-election fight could deter Georgia Republicans from voting Tuesday.
“You know, I actually hear some people saying just don’t vote. Men and women of Georgia, if you don’t vote they win,” Pence said.
The unusual dual run-offs are taking place because none of the candidates captured 50% of the vote in the general election, a requirement for winning statewide elections in Georgia.