Five things to know about Georgia’s Senate runoffs
All eyes are on Georgia ahead of January’s Senate runoffs, which will determine the balance of power in the upper chamber.
On Jan. 5, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) will face off against her Democratic challenger, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, while Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) will take on Democrat Jon Ossoff.
The two runoffs will come after none of the candidates reached the 50 percent threshold needed to win their respective races.
Democrats are hopeful for wins in the Peach State after President-elect Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to flip the state in decades. Republicans, on the other hand, are fiercely defending the state, hoping to keep a check on the Biden administration on Capitol Hill.
Here are five things to know ahead of the Georgia Senate runoffs.
Democrats counting on record turnout
While Biden scored a historic victory at the top of the ballot in Georgia, Democrats will face a number of hurdles in the January runoffs.
Perdue garnered 86,000 more votes than Ossoff, while Warnock benefited from the fact that two Republicans — Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.) — were on the ballot in his race.
The race is taking place in an off-election year amid a pandemic. On top of that, Republicans historically have a stronger track record of turning out in runoffs in the state.
Democrats are leaning on early organization, building upon already-high turnout in November.
The party has specifically targeted Black voters and first-time voters. According to the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, 5 million Georgia voters, including 1.2 million Black Georgia voters, turned out to vote in November’s election.
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is credited with energizing Democratic-leaning voters in the state, particularly Black voters. Roughly 800,000 new voters have been registered in the state since Abrams established the Fair Fight Action group in 2018 to combat voter suppression.
Democrats are also racing to meet the Dec. 7 voter registration deadline, hopeful about harnessing the energy of residents who were not old enough to vote in November’s election but who will turn 18 by Jan. 5, making them eligible to vote in the runoffs.
Ossoff said in an ABC News interview earlier this month that the young vote could play into Democratic hands.
“There are 23,000 young people here in Georgia who will become eligible to vote just between the November election and this Jan. 5 runoff, and a decade of organizing, much of this work led by Stacey Abrams, has put the wind in our sails here in Georgia. What we’re feeling for the first time in four years is hope,” he said.
But not all Republicans are convinced young voters in the state will lean Democratic.
“The assumption that every 17- and 18-year-old is a Democrat is specious,” said Chuck Clay, a former state GOP chairman and current attorney at Hall Booth Smith. “A lot of young people like Trump even if they didn’t vote.”
President Trump will energize GOP voters
While Trump lost the presidential election in Georgia, the race was still razor thin. Biden won 49.51 percent of the state’s vote, while Trump won 49.25 percent.
The tight race means Trump was still able to turn out his base, which also turned out for the Republican Senate candidates.
Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been cognizant about how they speak about November’s presidential election, potentially out of concern for how it could influence voter turnout in the runoffs.
When Trump was refusing to begin the transition process with Biden, many senators declined to refer to Biden as the president-elect.
It’s unclear whether Trump will travel to Georgia in the campaign leading up to the runoffs, but Vice President Pence campaigned with Loeffler and Perdue last week.
Georgia political chaos could backfire on GOP
Divisions among Georgia Republicans have spilled into public view following the election, sparking concerns that the chaos could affect the runoffs.
Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and voting irregularities in the state ended up turning Georgia’s Republicans against one another in the weeks after Nov. 3.
As Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, adamantly denied there was evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state, Perdue and Loeffler called on him to resign, ostensibly in an effort to curry favor with Trump. Collins also criticized Raffensperger, igniting an unexpected feud among the top Georgia officials.
“We strengthened signature match. We helped train election officials on GBI signature match — which is confirmed twice before a ballot is ever cast. Failed candidate Doug Collins is a liar — but what’s new?” Raffensperger wrote in a Facebook post earlier this month.
The deep divisions have led to concerns that the party will not be united for the runoffs and that Republican voters and Republican-leaning voters will be distracted.
Republican, Democratic spending could break records
National Republicans and Democrats are expected to pour money and resources into the runoffs given their role in determining the balance of power in the Senate.
More than $46 million has been spent on Georgia airwaves since Election Day, according to AdImpact. Additionally, $214 million has been booked, according to the firm.
The Democratic Senate Majority PAC launched two groups last week, Georgia Honor and The Georgia Way, supporting Ossoff and Warnock, with a $5 million investment.
The PAC announced Tuesday that the groups were expanding their television reservations to $6 million.
On the other side of the aisle, the Senate Leadership Fund is spending $35 million for Perdue, while another super PAC, American Crossroads, is spending $35 million for Loeffler.
High levels of mail-in voting expected
Voters are likely to take advantage of early voting and mail-in voting amid a potential surge in coronavirus cases coming out of the holiday season.
As of Monday, 762,000 absentee ballots have been requested ahead of the runoff, according to state election officials.
The Georgia State Election Board voted Monday to extend the use of secure ballot drop boxes through the runoff. The five-person board, which is chaired by Raffensperger, also voted to require counties to start processing absentee ballots a week out from Election Day.
State law does not permit ballot tabulation before polls close.
Democrats are looking to replicate gains made across the country through encouraging mail-in voting.