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The night the GOP’s lights went out in Georgia: Democrats gain Senate control

Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeat Republican U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won Georgia’s two hotly contested U.S. Senate runoffs Tuesday, handing Democrats control of the U.S. Senate and removing a significant impediment to President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

In the last act of a long and contentious political season, Warnock — the senior pastor of Atlanta’s iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church who was making his political debut — defeated Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, leading by about 564,000 votes, or margin of 50.3% to 49.3%.

Ossoff defeated U.S. Senator David Perdue by a smaller 25,000-vote margin, or 50.3% to 49.7%, a sweep of both races in a state that had not elected a Democrat to the Senate in 20 years.

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia

In a victory video posted on his campaign website, Warnock said “we were told that we couldn’t win this election, but tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”

“I am going to the Senate to work for all of the people of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election.”

Warnock will make history as the first African American ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia.

Loeffler, the multimillionaire Atlanta businesswoman appointed to the Senate last year by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, did not concede during brief remarks to her supporters, who gathered in person Tuesday night despite the COVID-19 pandemic: “We have a path to victory, and we’re staying on it.”

In a video post Wednesday morning, Ossoff, who narrowly lost a U.S. House race in 2017, thanked supporters and said he would focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic once he gets to Washington.

“This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state,” said Ossoff, who, at 33, will become the youngest person to serve in the Senate in the last 40 years. “They will be my guiding principles as I serve this state in the U.S. Senate.”

Perdue’s campaign released a statement saying that “this exceptionally close election that will require time and transparency to be certain the results are fair and accurate.”

“We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are counted,” the statement said. “We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”

However, Ossoff’s margin was more than twice as large as Biden’s win in November, which held up through two recounts.

Perdue, who was seeking a second term, had been in quarantine and off the campaign trail in the closing days of the race after a campaign staffer tested positive for COVID-19.

Tuesday’s results are yet another electoral rebuke to President Donald Trump, who lost Georgia in November and roiled the Senate runoffs with unsubstantiated claims of fraud and biting criticism of Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused to validate Trump’s fraud allegations.

The Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats control.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will lose his leadership perch, although he will remain as minority leader in a Senate divided 50-50.

With Senate control on the line, the four candidates and outside groups poured more than $882 million into the races — about $83 for every man, woman and child in the state.

The unprecedented spectacle of two Senate runoff elections on the same day in Georgia was the result of a Senate vacancy and an unusual feature of state law that requires candidates in general elections to secure an outright majority to win.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year by Kemp to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. That triggered a special election to fill the two remaining years in Isakson’s turn, which featured an all-party contest in November in which the top two vote-getters — Warnock and Loeffler — won spots in a runoff.

Perdue defeated Ossoff in November’s vote but narrowly missed winning an outright majority, which Georgia law uniquely requires. So the two men faced each other again Tuesday.

With the Democratic victories in Georgia, the number of senators representing Southern states will rise from three to five, compared with 23 Republicans.

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Georgia runoffs will decide control of U.S. Senate Tuesday

President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden both rally the Peach State faithful on campaign’s closing day

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — With control of the U.S. Senate and the legislative prospects of the incoming Biden administration hanging in the balance, voters across Georgia will go to the polls Tuesday to decide two U.S. Senate runoffs, after both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden made last-minute appeals to supporters Monday.

Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide. In the other race, Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church making his first bid for elected office.

From top left: Ossoff, Perdue, , Loeffler, Warnock

In-person polling runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, although more than 3 million people have already cast their ballots through early and absentee voting.

If Ossoff and Warnock win, the Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats control.

If either Loeffler or Perdue win, Republicans will control the upper chamber, giving them a check against Biden’s legislative program and approval of his nominees.

With Senate control on the line, the four candidates and outside groups have poured more than $882 million into the races — about $83 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Biden emphasized the unusual impact that voters in a single state can have during an address to a rally Monday in Atlanta, where he told Peach State supporters that they “can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation.”

“Georgia — the whole nation is looking to you,” Biden said. “The power is literally in your hands, unlike any time in my career.”

The president-elect spent most of his 16-minute speech touting Ossoff and Warnock, saying their election will help move coronavirus relief through Congress, “restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now.”

He also had harsh words for what he termed the Trump’s administration’s “God-awful” rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, using the issue to take a swipe a Trump for his singular focus on election fraud claims since his loss in November.

“The president spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem,” Biden said. “I don’t know why he still wants the job. He doesn’t want to do the work.”

Trump, in what was likely the last campaign rally of his presidency, spent much of his 80-minute speech in Dalton relitigating his November election loss and railing against what he termed a “rigged” process in Georgia, where he lost after the vote was recounted twice.

He also promised that he would produce new information that would change the election outcome and gave a lengthy recitation of fraud allegations that have been repeatedly rejected by elections officials in several states and in every court where lawsuits have been filed.

Trump also cast the consequences of Tuesday’s vote in Georgia in apocalyptic terms, casting Ossoff and Warnock as radical socialists who don’t reflect Georgia values.

“The stakes of this election should not be higher,” Trump said. “The radical Democrats are trying to capture Georgia’s Senate seats so they can wield unchecked, unrestrained absolute power over every aspect of your lives.”

Hanging over the last day of the campaign was a controversial phone call Trump made to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a recording of which was obtained by the news media on Saturday.

In it, the president asks the state’s top election official to “find” more than 11,000 votes to flip Georgia into his column; a local prosecutor in Atlanta says she is looking at possible criminal charges.

Neither Biden or Trump brought up the phone call in his speech, but Trump took a shot at both Raffensperger and Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who has also refused the president’s entreaties to overturn the Georgia election results.

“I’m going to be here in a year and a half, and I’m going to campaign against your crazy governor and secretary of state,” Trump said.

Also looming over Tuesday’s vote is an effort by Republicans in Congress to challenge Biden’s Electoral College win on Wednesday, turning what is normally a ceremonial event into a last-ditch effort to prevent Biden from winning the White House.

Hours before the Dalton rally with Trump, Loeffler finally announced the she would back the challenge, after refusing to take a position for several days. Perdue also said he backs the challenge, although, because his Senate term ended when the new Congress convened on Sunday, he will not vote on it.

Taking the stage next to Trump, Loeffler told the crowd that “this president fought for us. We’re going to fight for him.”

But during his speech in Atlanta, Biden hit both senators for taking a stand that he said was in defiance of the Constitution.

“You have two senators who think their loyalty is to Trump, not to Georgia,” Biden said. “You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump, not to the United States Constitution.”

In his speech, Trump also alluded to the fact that Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the session Wednesday where the Electoral College votes will be counted.

“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” he said, then joked that “of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him as much.”

The unprecedented spectacle of two Senate runoff elections on the same day in Georgia is the result of a Senate vacancy and an unusual feature of state law that requires candidates in general elections to secure an outright majority to win.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year by Kemp to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. That triggered a special election to fill the two remaining years in Isakson’s turn, which featured an all-party contest in November in which the top two vote-getters — Warnock and Loeffler — won spots in a runoff.

Perdue, running for a second term, defeated Ossoff in November’s vote but narrowly missed winning an outright majority, which Georgia law uniquely requires. So the two men are facing each other again Tuesday.

Perdue has been off the campaign trail in quarantine after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and he did not appear with Trump at Monday’s night rally.

The four candidates in the race have, combined, raised more than $445 million, with outside groups adding at least another $437, according to figures from OpenSecrets.org.

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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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Decision 2020: Georgia’s presidential contest heading to a recount

Joe Biden pulls slightly ahead of Donald Trump in Peach State

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CNN) — With unofficial results within 7,300 votes, Georgia election officials said Friday they will recount the ballots in the state’s presidential contest between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

“Interest in our election obviously goes far beyond Georgia’s borders,” said Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensburger. “The final tally in Georgia at this point has huge implications for the entire country.”

Trump built a significant lead as results of in-person voting came in on election night. But as mail-in ballots were counted in Democratic counties in metro Atlanta, Biden closed the gap and then surpassed the president.

Trump, Biden neck-and-neck in Georgia results

Saturday, Biden’s lead stood at just 7,264 votes, out of nearly 5 million cast, a close enough margin to trigger an automatic recount.

If Biden prevails in the recount, he will be the first Democrat in 28 years to carry the Peach State and win its 16 electoral votes.

However, the result in Georgia will not affect the outcome of the presidential race, as Biden captured the White House when Pennsylvania was declared on Saturday.

While the Trump campaign has vowed to pursue legal challenges in other Democrat-controlled states that he appears to have lost, that could be more difficult in Georgia, where the governor and secretary of state are both Republicans. The state’s voting manager, Gabriel Sterling, said Friday that “we’re not seeing any widespread irregularities” in the vote count.

In addition to the presidential race, the late count of mail-in ballots also affected one of the two U.S. Senate races. Republican incumbent U.S. Senator David Perdue still leads over his Democratic rival, Jon Ossoff, but he has fallen below the majority he needs to win under state law.

That will set up a January 5 runoff between Perdue and Ossoff, which will take place at the same time as a special election runoff for the state’s other Senate seat between Democrat Ralphael Warnock and incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler.

If Biden wins the presidency and both Democrats win in Georgia, control of the Senate will shift from Republican to Democratic hands.

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Decision 2020: Has Georgia finally arrived at a political tipping point?

Democrats are in contention in presidential, U.S. Senate races, poised to pick up another U.S. House seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — When the smoke clears from the 2020 election, a whole new political day may have dawned in Georgia.

Democrats appear ready to capture another U.S. House seat, which would give them six out of 14 seats in the state delegation, nearly at parity with Republicans. They also have a shot at both U.S. Senate seats and an outside chance of capturing a majority in the Georgia House.

And, in perhaps the biggest surprise of all, Joe Biden could become the first Democrat to carry the Peach State in 28 years.

That’s a best case, rosy scenario for the Democrats, one which Republicans would no doubt dismiss as wishful thinking. But even if this optimistic scenario doesn’t all pan out, 2020 is likely to go down as the best year state Democrats have had since they suffered a collapse in 2002, losing the governorship and control of the legislature after a decade in which they had lost their grip on the state’s federal offices.

Trump, Biden neck-and-neck in Georgia polls

In 2016, Donald Trump carried Georgia by 5 points–enough to get the state’s 16 electoral votes but the weakest showing by a Republican since Bob Dole in 1996. The biggest shock in that race was Hillary Clinton carried both Cobb and Gwinnett counties, which had for decades been impenetrable Republican redoubts in the Atlanta suburbs.

These suburbs, which continued to swing toward the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, are key in the presidential race. Trump should get a sizable win in rural areas and small towns; Biden will easily carry the urban cores of the Atlanta and the state’s other cities; so the suburbs will be where this contest is won or lost.

Polls now show the race between Biden and Trump within the margin of error. The biggest sign the state is truly competitive: Both Trump and Biden are making October campaign stops in Georgia, which rarely gets a glimpse of presidential candidates outside of the primary season.

U.S. Senate

Because of the retirement of Republican Johnny Isakson at the end of last year, both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats are up this year. Republican David Perdue is seeking a second term, and Republican while Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta businesswoman and political newcomer appointed to fill Isakson’s seat by Governor Brian Kemp, will try to keep it in an all-party special election.

Perdue is facing Democrat Jon Ossoff, who rose to national prominence in an expensive but ultimately unsuccessful U.S. House race shortly after Trump’s election. At the beginning of the race, Perdue wasn’t thought to be in much trouble, but Ossoff has closed the gap, with polls showing the race within the margin of error.

A major source of contention in the race has been the coronavirus epidemic, with Ossoff hitting Perdue for downplaying the severity of the disease during the early days of the pandemic and voting to dismantle Obamacare, which Ossoff says has provided a lifeline to virus victims.

Perdue has hit Ossoff over his fundraising from out-of-state sources, charging that Ossoff’s contributors support a “radical socialist agenda” that he would pursue as a senator.

Ossoff has raised nearly $33 million, much of it in small dollar online contributions from Democratic donors across the country. Perdue has raised about $21 million.

Because of a quirk in Georgia law, if neither Perdue or Ossoff break 50%, they will face each other in a January runoff, which could happen if a Libertarian candidate also in the race draws off enough support.

In the special election, 20 candidates are running, and polls show three are competing for spots in a January runoff: Loeffler; Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins from Gainesville, who has been trying to run at Loeffler from the right; and Democrat Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, a pulpit once held by Martin Luther King Jr.

Warnock has surged to the front in the latest polls, consolidating Democratic support with an ad blitz. Loeffler and Collins are running neck-and-neck for the second spot, in a race that has divided state Republicans into two camps.

Collins, one of Trump’s most vocal defenders during last year’s impeachment fight, decided to challenge Loeffler after Kemp passed him over for the Senate appointment. But he has so far not gotten the president’s endorsement, and Loeffler has been battling him for supremacy on the right by firmly embracing Trump and taking conservative stands on social issues.

One key metric to look at on election night will be whether the Republicans in the race collectively attract more votes overall that the Democrats, which could be a sign of things to come in the runoff.

Warnock has raised the most money, at $22 million, but Loeffer has more money to spend, after tapping her considerable personal fortune for $23 million in loans. Collins trails at $6 million.

Depending on results in other states, control of the U.S. Senate could hinge on two runoff elections in Georgia in January — a circumstance that would attract massive amounts of money and national attention to the Peach State.

U.S. House

The focus in the U.S. House races with be the 6th District, in Atlanta’s near northwest suburbs, and the 7th District, in the near northeast suburbs.

Two years ago, Democrat Lucy McBath flipped the 6th District seat, defeating Republican Karen Handel, Handel is back for a rematch, but McBath — like other freshmen Democrats defending seats in districts Trump won in 2016 — has raised a mountain of money, nearly $8 million, to less than $3 million for Handel

Trump won this district by less than 2 points in 2020. Demographic changes, including more minority voters, are also contributing to its shift from red to purple, and most election handicappers are giving McBath the edge.

Handel will need a strong margin from East Cobb and North Fulton counties to offset McBath’s strength in more diverse areas such as Sandy Springs and Doraville.

In the 7th District, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who lost this race by just 400 voters in 2018,  is back for another try, facing Republican Rich McCormick, a physican and retired Marine pilot. (The Republican incumbent, Rob Woodall, retired.) Bourdeaux also enjoys a fundraising advantage, $4.7 million to $2.4 million.

The largest population center in this district is Gwinnett County, where Democrats have been winning legislative seats and county offices in recent years. White voters are also now a minority here, which should help Bourdeaux.

If both McBath and Bourdeaux win, the Georgia delegation will be split 8R and 6D, closer than it has been since 1994.

State Legislature

In the battle for the state House, Democrats need to pick up 15 seats in the 180-member House to gain control, after picking up 11 seats in 2018. The party is targeting seats in the Atlanta suburbs, where Democrats have been making gains in recent years, although it is unclear if enough flippable seats remain to get to 15.

Democrats would need to pick up eight seats in the 56-member Senate to take control, which is considered much less likely.

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