President-elect Joe Biden and President Donald Trump will both visit Georgia on Monday, a day before voters in the state cast their ballots in dual contests that will determine which party controls the US Senate for the first two years of Biden’s presidency.
The runoff races between Democrat Jon Ossoff against incumbent Republican David Perdue and Democrat Raphael Warnock against incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler have gripped national attention in the weeks following the November 3 elections.
Democrats control 48 seats in the 100-member Senate and Republicans have 50. If either Loeffler or Perdue wins their races on Tuesday, Republicans will maintain control of the Senate.
Both Democrats – Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, and Warnock, a senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta – must win to give their party 50 seats in the chamber.
In that event, under the US Constitution, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will cast the tie-breaking vote.
A sweep for Democrats in the races would vastly improve Biden’s chances of passing his legislative agenda, as Democrats control the House of Representatives. Losses by either Ossoff or Warnock could portend legislative deadlock.
“We’re not having any conversations about whether there’s a value-add to have the president-elect be a part of this,” Biden’s incoming White House deputy chief of staff, Jen O’Malley Dillon, told The Associated Press on Sunday. “There is.”
Beyond legislative goals, Democratic control of the Senate would also help Biden shape the first years of his presidency, as cabinet nominees and federal judges – including Supreme Court justices – are confirmed by a simple majority in the chamber.
Impeachment trials are also conducted by the Senate.
Tuesday’s vote will be yet another step towards the end of a tumultuous election season that has seen Trump continue to allege, without evidence, widespread fraud and voting irregularities.
Trump continued his attempts to overturn the results in the state on Saturday, urging Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a phone call to recalculate the total to give him victory.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state,” Trump told Raffensperger in the call, the audio of which was obtained by US media.
Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes, according to the final total certified by the state.
Loeffler and Perdue have both tied their political fates to Trump’s baseless claims of election malfeasance, with the candidates calling Raffensperger to resign in the wake of the general election, citing “mismanagement and lack of transparency”, without offering further evidence.
In the waning days of the race, Ossoff, Warnock, and Loeffler have been on a campaign blitz, as Perdue waits in isolation after being exposed to a person infected with the coronavirus.
On Monday, Biden will campaign in Atlanta, a day after Vice President-elect Harris visits the city of Savannah. The president-elect had previously campaigned in the state on December 15.
Biden’s win in Georgia, a state that had not voted for Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, has increased hope for Warnock and Ossoff in the one-time Republican stronghold. The state has seen a flood of donations pour in for all four candidates and visits from high-profile members of both parties in recent weeks.
The races have drawn a whopping $490m in advertisement spending, according to the tracking firm AdImpact.
Like in the general election, early voting has shattered the total number of voters in previous runoffs, with more than three million votes cast so far. Such voting tends to favour Democrats, with a larger share of Republicans expected to vote on election day.
Both parties have conducted extensive get-out-the-vote drives, with Democrats hoping increased turnout from the sizable Black population will carry their candidates to victory.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2021
More than 110,000 voters who did not participate in the November general election have already cast ballots in the runoff, according to the AP. Biden’s team has said their internal analysis indicates those votes greatly favour Democrats.
The president-elect’s team has directed about $18m in support of the Democratic challengers, including about $6m in staff and voter data support and $12m in fundraising for the two campaigns.
Trump, who is scheduled to hold a rally on Monday night in Dalton, has walked a haphazard line in supporting Loeffler and Perdue.
On the same day as the phone call to Raffensperger, he tweeted that Tuesday’s runoffs are “illegal and invalid”. But shortly after, he urged Republicans to “get ready to vote on Tuesday”.
Trump has hinged his hopes of overturning the election results on a last ditch-effort by some Republicans in Congress to object to the certification of Electoral College votes in key battleground states.
At least 12 Republican Senators have said they will go through with the objection. About 140 Republicans in the House of Representatives also plan to do so.
However, the ploy is all but assured to fail, as both chambers would require a majority vote to block the certification. The House is currently controlled by Democrats, and several high-ranking Republican senators have said they will not join their colleagues in the attempt.
When asked on Sunday if she planned to object to the certification of Electoral College votes if she wins the race, Loeffler sidestepped.
“I said from the start, everything’s on the table here and I’m seriously looking at that,” Loeffler said on Fox News. “But my number one objective right now has to be winning on January 5, so that we can get to the bottom of what happened in these elections.”