Georgia voted Tuesday in two critical races that will determine control of the U.S. Senate and in turn the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. Two months after Election Day 2020, the vote will also affect Donald Trump’s last days in the White House.
Even with the high stakes, state election officials reported a slight turnout early in the day, including in the deeply conservative region where Trump held a meeting Monday night to encourage GOP voters to prove themselves in power.
There were two run-off elections in the Senate, remnants of the November election when none of the candidates reached the 50% threshold. The Democrats needed to win both races to take control of the Senate – and thus control of the new Congress when Biden takes office in two weeks.
In a race, Republican Kelly Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was named to the Senate less than a year ago by state governor, met Democrat Raphael Warnock, 51, who serves as senior pastor of the Atlanta Church where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up and preached.
The second election pitted 71-year-old former business leader David Perdue, a Republican who held his Senate seat until his term expired on Sunday, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. Only 33 years old, Ossoff would be the youngest member of the Senate.
The unusual significance of the runoff has turned Georgia, once a solid Republican state, into one of the country’s main battlefields in the last days of Trump’s presidency.
Georgia residents vote in crucial U.S. Senate runoff
Biden and Trump personally fought for their candidates ahead of the election, although some Republicans fear that Trump may have confused voters by continuing to make wild allegations of voter fraud as he tries to undermine Biden’s victory. The president repeatedly attacked Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger this week to deny his fraud and raised the possibility on Twitter that some votes might not be counted even when votes were cast on Tuesday afternoon.
There was no evidence of error.
In Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, 37-year-old Kari Callaghan said she voted “all Democrats” on Tuesday, an experience new to her.
“I have always been a Republican, but I have been quite disgusted by Trump and just how the Republicans work and especially the news this weekend about everything that is happening in Georgia,” she said. “I feel for the Republican candidates to still stand there with Trump and fight with Trump feels pretty rotten. These are not the conservative values I grew up with. ”
But 56-year-old Will James said he voted “straight GOP.”
He said he was concerned about the Republican candidates’ recent support for Trump’s challenges with the presidential election in Georgia, “but that did not really change the reasons why I voted.”
“I believe in a balance of power, and I do not want any party to have a referendum in principle,” he said.
Already before Tuesday, Georgia had crushed its turnout for a runoff with more than 3 million votes by mail or during personal advance voting in December. The state’s previous record was 2.1 million in a senate run in 2008.
The early turnout was expected to benefit Democrats, as it helped Biden in November become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992. Republicans expected a large turnout on Tuesday to compensate for Democrats’ perceived early voting advantage.
“GEORGIA! Go out and VOTE. … “Trump wrote in one of several tweets on Tuesday and encouraged his loyalists to vote for the two Republican candidates in the poll.
On Monday, Loeffler promised to join a small but growing number of GOP senators who protested against Congress’ expected certification of Biden’s victory on Wednesday. She and her allies have read Warnock’s sermons at the historic Black Church to cast him as extreme. Dozens of religious and civic leaders have pushed back.
If the Republicans win one of the seats, Biden would be the first incoming president in more than a century to enter the Oval Office ahead of a divided congress. In that case, he would have no shot for quick votes on his most ambitious plans to expand government-sponsored health care coverage, address racial inequality and combat climate change.
A Republican-controlled Senate would also create a tougher path for Biden’s government election and judicial nominees.
This week’s election marks the formal finale of the turbulent 2020 election period more than two months after the rest of the nation had voted. The results will also help show whether the political coalition that drove Biden’s victory was an anti-Trump anomaly or part of a new landscape.
Biden won Georgia’s 16 ballots with about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast in November.
The Democrats expected to drive a large turnout of African Americans, young voters, college-educated Georgians and women, all groups that helped Biden win the state. Republicans have meanwhile been focused on stimulating their own base of white men and voters beyond the core of the Atlanta subway.
In central Atlanta, Henry Dave Chambliss, 67, voted for the two Republicans. He said he wanted Republicans to retain Senate control to ensure that the incoming Biden administration does not slide “all the way to the left.”
“I’m moderately successful and I know they’ll come after more of my money I’ve earned,” Chambliss said. “I was born a Southern Democrat, and I just hope and pray that some moderate voices are heard and things stop more in the middle of the road.”
Beverly McDaniel voted on Tuesday during easy attendance at a downtown high school in Atlanta. She voted for both Democrats and said she believes they would do better to deal with the difficulties the corona virus caused.
“Our children are not quite, completely in the school they should be and people do not have jobs,” says McDaniel, a medical field worker. She said the virus “takes over where we should have the government to take over instead.”