Control of the U.S. Senate – and with it, the likely fate of President-elect Joe Biden's legislative agenda – will be on the ballot on Tuesday when voters in Georgia decide twin runoff elections.
The high-stakes campaign that has unfolded since Nov. 3, when Biden defeated President Donald Trump in the presidential election, has obliterated spending records and spurred unprecedented turnout. Political groups have flooded the southern state with a tsunami of television advertising.
Biden, a Democrat, and Trump, a Republican, will visit on Monday, underscoring the political stakes of the contests.
If either or both Republican incumbent senators – David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler – win on Tuesday, their party would retain a narrow majority, effectively giving Senate Republicans the ability to block Biden's most ambitious goals. A Democratic sweep would produce a 50-50 split, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tiebreaker that determines control.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, is challenging Perdue, while the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at the historic Black church Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, will take on Loeffler.
Biden's narrow Georgia victory in November – the first in a generation for a Democratic presidential candidate – completed the state's shift from a Republican stronghold to a fiercely competitive battleground.
The Jan. 5 head-to-head runoffs were triggered when no candidate reached 50% in November. Polls suggest the contests are virtual dead heats. Early voting has shattered runoff records, with 3 million ballots already cast.
These are crazy numbers, said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor tracking the Georgia vote.
Black turnout, critical to the Democrats' chances, has been robust; about one-third of the ballots have come from self-identified Black voters, up from around 27% in November.
Democrats need to see an electorate like this in order to be able to win the election, McDonald said. But he said it was impossible to predict the final outcome, cautioning that Republicans could turn out in higher numbers on Tuesday.
Former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, whose voter registration efforts helped deliver the state for Biden, told CNN on Sunday that early turnout includes 100,000 new voters who did not cast ballots in November.
Those 100,000 are disproportionately comprised of people of color and young voters, who are both more likely to vote for Democrats, Abrams said.