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2020 Overtime: Runoffs in 2 Georgia U.S. Senate races will decide party control

Democrats face uphill battle in flipping both Georgia seats in January 5 vote

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Attention, Georgians: Prepare to have your Thanksgiving interrupted by politics. And your Christmas. And your New Year’s.

Runoffs will be held January 5 for both of the Peach State’s U.S. Senate seats, with party control of the Senate hanging in the balance, which will nationalize these contests and draw an avalanche of money and advertising.

If Democrats win both runoffs, the party will control the White House and both the U.S. House and Senate starting next January 20. If Republicans win just one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will remain large and in charge — and standing in their way.

The stakes were summarized by one of the Republicans defending a Georgia seat, Kelly Loeffler, on Twitter after networks projected Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential contest: She said she and Republican seatmate David Perdueare the last line of defense against the radical left.”

Jon Ossoff and David Perdue

Perdue defeated his Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, on election night, but fell just below the 50% threshold he needed to win the seat outright and avoid a runoff. (Georgia is the only state in the country that requires candidates to win a majority in a general election.)

In a special election to fill out the remainder of Republican Johnny Isakson’s term, Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat last year, faces Democrat Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church making his political debut.

The runoffs take on additional importance now that Democrat Kamala Harris has been elected as vice president. Currently, the Senate Republican caucus has 50 members, the Democratic caucus, 48. If Democrats win both Georgia seats, the balance in the chamber will stand at 50-50; Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, will give Democrats control.

However, Democrats will have an uphill battle in both runoff races.

Perdue came in nearly 93,000 votes ahead of Ossoff in the November 3 vote, which the Democrat will have to find a way to make up in what is likely to be a much smaller electorate in January.

Raphael Warnock and Kelly Loeffler

In the special election, which had 20 candidates running in the first round, Warnock held a 140,000-vote lead over Loeffler. However, the six Republican candidates in the race drew nearly 415,000 more votes combined than the eight Democrats.

Over the last 30 years, Republicans have won six of the seven statewide general election runoffs, including two in 2018. Democrats lost runoffs for U.S. Senate in 1992 and 2008, contests where their candidates had finished in first place in the first round.

Meeting with a group of supporters Friday, Ossoff expressed confidence he could turn the vote around.

“We have all the momentum. We have all the energy. We’re on the right side of history,” he said. “We’re just getting started.”

But Perdue’s campaign manager, Ben Fry, expressed similar confidence, saying “If overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we’re ready, and we will win.”

He also took a dig at Ossoff, who lost a runoff for a U.S. House seat in 2017, noting that “[t]here’s only one candidate in this race who has ever lost a runoff, and it isn’t David Perdue.”

Speaking to her supporters on election night, Loeffler made it clear that she will cast the election as a battle between “conservative values” and the “radical left.”

“In January, I have one of the most radical opponents on the Democrat ticket in the whole country,” she said.

But Warnock, like Ossoff, is touting himself as a sign that Georgia politics have changed, an argument that could take on new resonance if Biden secures the state’s 16 electoral votes after an impending recount.

“Something special and transformational is happening right here in Georgia,” he said. “The people — everyday people, ordinary people — are rising up, and they are demanding change.”

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