Two runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday will determine which party controls the Senate and offer clues to the influence of Donald Trump on the nation’s politics once he’s out of the White House.
Democrats are looking to prove that President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Georgia and nationally was not just a Trump backlash, but a permanent shift for a once-solidly Republican state. Their candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, have pushed to solidify Democratic gains among young voters in urban areas and younger suburbanites around Atlanta, along with strong Black turnout.
For Republicans, who’ve watched David Perdue and Senator Kelly Loeffler run as Trump loyalists, the question is how long embracing the president’s disruptive politics can deliver victories in battlegrounds.
“The party has a real choice to make on where we go from here,” said Michael McNeely, a former Georgia Republican vice chairman. “Either candidates or those already in office are going to say, hey, we’re going to move beyond the Trump presidency or we’re going to continue to take our lead from President Trump, or former President Trump.”
Republicans need to win just one of the two seats on the ballot to maintain Senate control. Democrats need to win both for a 50-50 split that would make Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as the Senate’s presiding officer, the tie-breaking vote. The stakes are high enough that Biden and Trump are scheduled to hold duelling rallies Monday in Georgia. Harris was in the state on Sunday.
The worst-case scenario for Republicans would be Ossoff and Warnock capitalising again in Atlanta suburbs, while watching rural and small-town turnout drop from November, when Trump was on the ballot
Trump has shown since November that he has no intention of going quietly. He’s repeatedly denied defeat and in a telephone call over the weekend to Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, demanded that he “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory.
Perdue and Loeffler have defined their Washington tenures by how closely they align with a president who remade Republicanism in his image.
“I stood by the president 100 per cent of the time. I’m proud to do that,” Loeffler said in one of her closing interviews on Fox News.
As Trump railed in November about election fraud that even his then-attorney general said didn’t happen, Perdue and Loeffler called for Raffensperger to resign. Raffensperger instead presided over multiple counts that left Biden as the winner in Georgia by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast.
Plenty of Georgia Republicans embrace Trump’s imprint, at least publicly.
“Trump got a whole lot of people off the bench,” said former US Rep. Jack Kingston, a Trump ally, in a recent interview. “He appealed to disenfranchised, disaffected voters. With him gone, it’s a different ballgame and that’s what Republicans, starting with David and Kelly, are trying to replicate.”
Early vote turnout is adding to GOP concerns. Three million voters have already cast ballots, a record showing for a Georgia runoff. Total early vote for the general election was 3.6 million.