Senate control was on the line in Georgia on Friday after Republican Senator David Perdue fell just short of the majority of votes he needed to win re-election, paving the way for a January runoff in January. a rapidly changing state.
With the Senate tightly divided, double meetings scheduled just two weeks before inauguration day will almost certainly determine which party controls the chamber, as well as the fate of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s agenda if he succeeds in making it happen. win the White House. , as expected.
Faced with such extraordinarily high stakes, the two parties quickly positioned themselves for a nine-week end-of-year sprint that could cost an additional $ 100 million as Republicans and Democrats contested for a pair of crucial seats and won. disputed the result of the presidential election. The second round promised to place a rapidly changing Georgia at the center of the country’s political melee and test the extent of emerging Democrat strength in what was once a Republican stronghold in the Deep South.
Georgia’s special Senate election has been set for a run-off since Tuesday, when the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, became the top two vote holders in a crowded field in vying to replace the retired senator. Johnny Isakson.
But Republicans had hoped they could avoid a second such contest in Mr. Perdue’s case. By the time his race was called on Friday night after an extended tally, however, Mr Perdue had a slim lead over Jon Ossoff, his Democratic challenger, and neither candidate claimed the majority of votes required by Georgian law for avoid revenge.
Two more Senate races, in North Carolina and Alaska, had yet to be called Friday night. But the Republicans led in both and expected to win, which would put them at 50 seats against the Democrats’ 48.
If Democrats won both Georgia seats, they would draw the Senate 50-50, effectively taking control of the chamber if Mr Biden won the presidency, given the vice president’s power to vote for a breach of the Senate. equality. But it was a tall order in a state with deep Conservative roots, and Republicans were reasonably confident they could hold on to at least one of the seats necessary to deny Democrats a majority, especially if turnout in January was collapsing.
For Democrats, who have struggled in the past to convince voters to participate in the second round, it will be a bank shot attempt to harness total control of Washington after an otherwise disappointing wave of congressional elections. They were already so preoccupied with the task that in Washington, President Nancy Pelosi urged Democratic lawmakers in a private call Thursday to deal with their message in the coming weeks or risk alienating swing voters. in Georgia.
If Mr Biden wins, as it became increasingly likely on Friday, Republicans will be motivated to deny him a majority, retaining considerable power to shape at least the first two years of his tenure and thwarting liberal ambitions. A super PAC associated with Susan B. Anthony List, the anti-abortion group, has already pledged Thursday to spend $ 4 million on Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler.
Regardless of the end result, the second round was a clear sign of the growing power of Democrats in Georgia. After years of prediction, the mobilization of black voters and the move towards Democrats by educated white women in suburban Atlanta signaled that Georgia’s status as a true battlefield state may finally arrive.
“The change has happened in Georgia,” Mr. Ossoff said at a rally Friday, “and Georgia is part of the change coming to America.”
Mr. Perdue’s campaign immediately showed he would seek to nationalize the race, claiming that a vote for Mr. Ossoff would be “a vote to give power to Chuck Schumer and the radical Democrats in Washington.” Republicans were prepared to try to exploit the grievance of President Trump’s staunchest supporters, hoping the president’s baseless fraud allegations and a negative reaction to his likely loss could propel them to victory in January.
With Mr. Trump defying the election results, it was difficult to predict how involved he might be in the Senate races. But early Friday morning, he implied in a tweet that the Democrats were still trying to claim power through nefarious means so that they could reverse Republican policies.
“End the filibuster, ‘Life’, 2A, and pack up and run the court.” The presidency becomes even more important, ”he wrote. “We will win!”
Ms Loeffler, for her part, ran to court her support, repeatedly tweeting her support for the president and donating to his cause.
“Pray for four more years of @realDonaldTrump!” she wrote in a tweet.
For all national connotations, the races could also be a defining moment for Georgia, a battle between the New South represented by Atlanta and its increasingly diverse suburbs and the Old South dominated by rural and business conservatives.
Mr Perdue, 70, a former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General who beat his Democratic opponent by eight points in 2014, initially had to have an easy path to reelection.
But he was weighed down by voter dissatisfaction with Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus – and his own missteps. He faced charges of anti-Semitism after running a Facebook ad that widened the nose of Mr. Ossoff, who is Jewish, a move his campaign blamed on a salesperson. He struggled to keep up with Mr. Ossoff’s prodigious fundraising, which exploded in mid-October after Mr. Perdue publicly mocked Senator Kamala Harris’s first name, his colleague in the Senate for nearly four years and the Democratic candidate for vice-presidency. President.
“Kah-MAH-lah or KAH-mah-lah or Kamamboamamla – I don’t know,” he said at a rally for Mr. Trump in Macon. Mr Perdue’s campaign said he “just mispronounced” the first name of Ms Harris, a black woman of Indian and Jamaican descent. Mr Ossoff called this intimidation and suggested it was insensitive to racism.
As in his 2014 run, Mr. Perdue has presented himself as a Washington underdog, campaigning in a denim jacket rather than the expensive bespoke suits he wears in the Senate. The deal was more difficult to do this time around given his six-year record there. But he tied his campaign tightly to another foreigner, Mr. Trump, and kept going.
Mr Perdue criticized Mr Ossoff as being too extreme for the state, twisting many Democratic positions on police, health care and a range of other issues to try to scare moderate voters on his side. He praised Republicans’ tax and regulatory cuts, as well as popular programs approved by Congress to help unemployed Americans and small businesses weather the pandemic.
A good sign for Republicans heading into the second round, Mr. Perdue outclassed Mr. Trump in Tuesday’s vote, and Mr. Ossoff followed Mr. Biden.
Mr Ossoff, 33, tried to portray Mr Perdue as a special interest flunky who let Georgia down in times of crisis and put health care at risk by pushing to repeal the care law affordable. Citing reports that Mr Perdue was trading stocks at the start of the pandemic, Mr Ossoff accused the senator of being more interested in his own financial success than that of the Georgians.
“Retirement is approaching for Senator David Perdue,” Ossoff said Friday. “A senator who saw fit to continue to attack our health care in the midst of a pandemic. A senator who told us that this disease that claimed the lives of a quarter of a million people was no more deadly than the regular flu while he was looking after himself.
The special election followed a similar thematic course, but pits two very different candidates against each other. Dr Warnock, 51, who became the frontrunner after Tuesday’s vote, is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, which the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once led.
Ms. Loeffler, 49, is a businesswoman and the richest member of the Senate. She overcame a tough challenge from Rep. Doug Collins, a fellow Republican. She invested more than $ 20 million of her own fortune in the race and had the backing of the state’s Republican governor and the Senate Republicans’ campaign apparatus, who believed Ms Loeffler’s record as a businesswoman could win back independent voters in the suburbs, especially women.
But the fight to eliminate Mr. Collins has grown bitter and personal, pushing Ms. Loeffler to the far right. She has courted the support of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon conspiracy theorist who won a House seat in Georgia on Tuesday, and has taken other positions that may be difficult to return in January even as she tries to redirect the campaign around her success as a businesswoman. and record in Washington in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
By Thursday she had already started attacking Dr Warnock, giving a preview of a playbook who will attempt to exploit his rhetoric from years in the pulpit and liberal political positions to portray him as a pastor in the mold of the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the former pastor of former President Barack Obama, whose ” God damn America ”A sermon was used to attack the former president.
But Republicans are starting late. Consumed for much of the year by retaining Mr Collins, Ms Loeffler left Dr Warnock largely untouched as he presented himself to voters on purely positive terms as a pastor and healer.
Anticipating a barrage of attacks on the horizon, Dr Warnock used his first second-round ad, a parody of a campaign-style attack ad, released Thursday in an attempt to convince voters of what was to come.
“Brace yourself Georgia, the negative ads are coming,” he says. “Kelly Loeffler doesn’t want to say why she wants to get rid of health care in the middle of a pandemic, so she’s going to try to scare you with lies about me.