Ever since President-elect Joe Biden opened up a narrow lead in Georgia’s presidential election on Thursday night, all eyes have been on the Peach State. Now, it appears control of the United States Senate may come down to Georgia’s two hotly contested runoff elections that will take place on January 5.
No candidate in either of Georgia’s senatorial races achieved the 50% majority threshold required to win outright, so both elections will advance to runoffs.
Currently, Republicans control the Senate by a 53-47 majority. Democrats picked up one additional seat this past week, but they must win two more to achieve a 50-50 split. Then, Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris would be able to cast a tie-breaking vote for Democrats in the upper chamber.
Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are both defending their seats against Democratic challengers.
Loeffler, who was appointed to the Senate just ten months ago, is running against Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta—the church of Martin Luther King Jr. The two emerged from a crowded primary.
Senator Perdue has faced an incredibly tough challenge from investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff. Ossoff entered the race last year with uniquely high name-recognition after he lost a high-profile House race in 2017. With neither Purdue nor Ossoff managing to achieve 50% of the vote, the race also must advance to a runoff election in January.
Senate races are pending in North Carolina and Alaska, but Republicans are likely to win both seats, making Georgia’s runoffs the only chance Democrats have for control of the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed optimistic caution when speaking to reporters in Kentucky on Friday.
“I’m not certain I’m the majority leader yet — as you all may have noticed—that will be determined in Georgia,” he said. “It makes a big difference who wins the two seats in Georgia. If the Democrats were to win the two seats, Chuck Schumer would be the majority leader,” allowing him to “decide what the agenda is.”
Georgia has been a Republican stronghold in presidential elections for nearly thirty years, and they have not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 2005. However, due to recent efforts made by Black community organizers, the state’s voting demographics are shifting. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, along with Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project, Helen Butler of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and many more managed to register over 800,000 new voters in the state.
The January 5th runoff elections are expected to draw an unprecedented amount of national funding and press coverage to Georgia. Ossoff wrote a letter to Purdue on Monday, requesting that he participate in three live debates leading up to the election. Democrats plan to make handling of the COVID-19 pandemic a central theme of their election strategy.