National Spotlight Falls on Georgia as Runoff Races Determine Senate Control

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Both senate seats in Georgia will be determined by a runoff election on Jan. 5. Neither party has secured a senate majority, making Georgia the deciding battleground for both parties’ path to victory.

The races give each party the potential to secure the power necessary to shape President-elect Joe Biden’s first-term agenda.

After an intense election season, most Americans are ready to decompress and take a break from the onslaught of political advertisements — a luxury Georgians are not likely to be afforded.

Emory University Political Science Professor Andra Gillespie said in an interview with NPR that the battle for political power in Georgia is far from over.

“All eyes will be on Georgia for the next two months,” Gillespie said. “There will be record spending, unprecedented campaigning and tons of mudslinging in these races — more than what we’re used to seeing.”

Senate races in North Carolina and Alaska have yet to be called as of Sunday evening, but Republicans lead in both races and feel confident they’ll secure victory. Republicans winning in North Carolina and Alaska puts their lead in the senate at 50 seats to the Democrats’ 48.

A two-seat deficit for the Democrats leaves Georgia as their only path to controlling the senate. Winning both seats and locking up a 50-50 split favors the Democrats who will control the chamber with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to make tie-breaking votes.

One of Georgia’s senate races has been destined for a runoff since Tuesday when incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock emerged as the top two vote getters, but each failed to reach the 50% majority needed to avoid a rematch.

Loeffler is a former businesswoman and notably the richest member of the senate. Her husband, Jeffrey Spreecher, is the founder, chairman and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange and the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

Brain Kemp appointed Loeffler as senator after Johnny Isakson’s retirement, despite the wishes of President Trump who called for the appointment of Rep. Doug Collins.

She has found herself embroiled in some mild controversy recently. Loeffler, co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, was criticized by her players for her stance on Black Lives Matter.

After penning a letter to the WNBA commissioner criticizing the league’s embrace of BLM, Loeffler went on Fox News to defend her stance.

“This is a very divisive organization based on Marxist principles,” Loeffler said. “This week, they threatened to burn the system down, literally and figuratively, if they don’t get what they want. This is an organization that seeks to destroy American principles, and I had to draw the line.”

Loeffler also faced accusations of dumping $20 million in stocks in January after a closed-door senate briefing on Coronavirus. Federal regulators found no wrongdoing.

Her stint in politics began as a strategic play by the GOP to ingratiate itself with independent voters, especially women. Loeffler has since drifted further right, courting the support of President Trump.

She describes herself as, “pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-Trump and pro-wall.”

Loeffler initially focused her energy on fending off fellow Republican Doug Collins. Consequently, Raphael Warnock, the beneficiary of the inter-party strife, got to introduce himself to voters on positive terms.

Warnock preaches at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached. He grew up poor in Savannah among 11 brothers and sisters.

He is an advocate for the Affordable Care Act.

“I’ve read the Gospels a few times, and Jesus spent a lot of time healing the sick,” Warnock said. “Even those with pre-existing conditions.”

Warnock threw the first stone in the runoff for the senate seat, proactively warning voters of Kelly Loeffler’s message in a TV ad.

“Get ready, Georgia, the negative ads are coming,” Warnock said. “Kelly Loeffler doesn’t want to talk about why she’s for getting rid of health care in the middle of a pandemic, so she’s going to try and scare you with lies about me.”

It is important to note that the top three vote-getters were Warnock (32.9%), Loeffler (25.9%) and Collins (20%). Loeffler and Collins are both Republicans, so Loeffler’s path to victory relies on consolidating the Republican vote. Conversely, Warnock now faces an uphill battle versus a single candidate.

The twin race, featuring incumbent Republican David Perdue versus former media executive and Democrat Jon Ossoff, took a different path to the runoff.

Perdue opened with a sizable lead over Ossoff and the 50% required to win the election but saw that margin slip away as mail-in ballots were counted and the metro Atlanta counties finished reporting.

Perdue, former chief executive of Reebok and Dollar General, seemed primed for an easy reelection bid. However, voter displeasure with President Trump’s COVID-19 response and Perdue’s own run-ins with controversy made the race competitive.

Ossoff capitalized on Perdue’s fumbling of COVID-19, never missing an opportunity to claim Perdue prioritized his own financial portfolio over protecting Georgians.

“Sen. David Perdue fought against $1,200 stimulus checks for workers, and led the fight to cut unemployment insurance — while at the same time he gave billions to his corporate donors,” Ossoff tweeted Sunday evening. “I’m not taking corporate donations, and I’ll always put working families first.”

Perdue found himself in some hot water after running a Facebook ad portraying Ossoff, who is Jewish, with an enlarged nose. The Perdue campaign blamed the mistake on a vendor.

The ad drew criticism for its anti-semitic portrayal. Along similar lines, Perdue mocked Vice-President elect Kamala Harris’ first name at a Trump rally in Macon.

“Kah-MAH-lah or KAH-mah-lah or Kamamboamamla — I don’t know,” Perdue said.

Perdue tied his reelection bid closely to that of President Trump. He has frequently championed Trump and his administration’s tax and regulatory cuts.

Georgia has been a Republican stronghold for years. It hasn’t seen a Democratic senator since it elected Zell Miller in 2000.

However, increased minority-voter turnout and suburban white females switching Democrat has turned Georgia into a swing state. Georgia turned blue in the presidential election for the first time since Bill Clinton in 1992.

The transition comes as the result of many Democratic fundraisers urging people to vote. Stacey Abrams, who lost to Republican Brian Kemp in 2018, raised $40 million with her Fair Fight organization to mobilize voters in Georgia.