With control of the US Senate at stake, all eyes are on Tuesday’s run-off elections in Georgia

The US flag hangs from a home on January 3, 2021 in Summerville, Georgia.
The US flag hangs from a home on January 3, 2021 in Summerville, Georgia. © Brandon Bell, AFP

With the dust not yet settled after audio was leaked of a call between US President Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which the President asked the latter, a Republican, to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in the state, Georgia is yet again in the spotlight. Tomorrow, voters in the southern state head to the polls in a run-off election to choose their senators. Nothing less than the balance of power in the upper house of Congress is at stake.

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President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden are both set to travel to Georgia Monday to support their party’s candidates and, ultimately, each hopes, secure control of the Senate. Since the Republicans currently hold 48 of the 100 Senate seats, if the Democrats win both seats, there will be a 50-50 split in the Senate, meaning that Vice President Kamala Harris would be the deciding voice any time there’s a tie vote, allowing Biden to pursue his agenda with minimal interference from Republicans. If the Republicans win even one of the seats, they hold their Senate majority.

In the first race, incumbent Republican David Perdue, who was first elected in 2014, is running against Democrat Jon Ossoff. In the second, incumbent Kelly Loeffler is defending her seat from a challenge from Pastor Raphael Warnock, a Democrat. Loeffler was appointed to her seat in 2019 after her predecessor, Johnny Isakson, retired because of health issues.

While most polls show the Democratic candidates edging ahead, results are within the margin of error, so the races are essentially toss-ups.

If the Democrats manage to eke out a win, they will likely have Trump to thank. Georgia historically votes red and, despite Trump’s false claims that he won the state in November, he is the first Republican to lose a statewide election there in more than 10 years. Despite his less than overwhelming popularity there, instead of letting the Republican candidate get on with things, he has been a continuous presence.

Saturday’s call to Brad Raffensperger, which was first reported in the Washington Post has Democrats demanding a criminal investigation. Journalist Carl Bernstein, who helped expose the wrongdoing that led to the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency, said the call was “far worse” than Watergate.

Experts said Trump’s actions could be illegal. “The president is either knowingly attempting to coerce state officials into corrupting the integrity of the election or is so deluded that he believes what he’s saying,” Richard H. Pildes, a constitutional law professor at New York University, told the Washington Post, noting that Trump’s actions may have violated several federal statutes.

Legal or not, Pildes told the Post, Trump committed a moral offence, and noted that the “simple, stark, horrific fact that we have a president trying to use the powers of his office to pressure state officials into committing election fraud to keep him in office”.

Though multiple recounts have upheld Biden’s victory in the state, Trump continues to insist he won there. Last weekend he called on Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, also a Republican, to resign after Kemp failed to act on Trump’s baseless claims of election tampering.

Republicans fear Trump’s continuing false allegations of voter fraud in Georgia could dissuade Republicans from voting in Tuesday’s election, if they believe the outcome is rigged.

“That phone call did absolutely nothing to help, you know, drive turnout for Republicans here in Georgia, for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue,” Georgia Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan told CNN. “I was disappointed and quite honestly, I can't imagine anyone on that staff encouraging that call or not giving him the advice to hang up and move on to the next subject.”

Early ballots favouring Democrats

More than 3 million early votes have already been cast in the election, according to the University of Florida’s US Elections Project, putting turnout at a record high for a Senate seat run-off, even before physical polling stations open on Tuesday.  

Traditionally, high turnout in Georgia is good news for the Republican Party. Yet that may well be changing this time, analysts say. CNN’s Harry Enten wrote on Sunday that the early ballots seem to be favouring Democrats, with black voters making up a larger percentage of the turnout than they did at the equivalent point in the general election. Turnout in predominantly white, rural areas, which tend to lean Republican, has been lagging, he wrote.

The real outcome will be decided tomorrow, and the prize will go to the party that can get more of its voters to the polls. Georgia’s Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs told ABC News that he hoped to have results within two days.

Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan organisation that helps register voters, told NPR that more than 30 percent of those who voted early were African-American. “I would also add that we are looking at 115,000 people who voted in the run-off who did not vote in the 2020 general election,” she added. “And over half of them are people of colour. And about half of them are voters under the age of 40.”

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