Who controls the U.S. Senate could be decided by an unlikely pair of races: the two in Georgia.
Republicans now hold both seats — and control of the Senate — but both of the Georgia races will be decided by a runoff in January. Runoffs take place when no candidate gets 50% of the vote.
If Democrats win both of the Georgia seats, they will be guaranteed at least a 50-50 split in the Senate. And if Joe Biden wins the presidency, Kamala Harris as vice president would be the tie-breaking vote -- giving Democrats control of the Senate.
The GOP’s long grip on Georgia has been giving way to changing demographics, especially in the Atlanta metro area. If Democrats take control, they will be able to more easily able pass legislation and approve Biden's appointments.
“I can’t tell you how important it is that we flip the United States Senate,” Biden said at an Atlanta rally in October when he campaigned with the two Democratic hopefuls, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, The Associated Press reported. “There’s no state more consequential than Georgia in that fight.”
Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the Senate 53 to 45. Democrats’ hopes of gaining control and marginalizing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to be dissipating quickly Election Day as they lost key races they thought they had a good chance to win.
Republicans Susan Collins in Maine, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Steve Daines in Montana, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and John Cornyn in Texas all beat back challengers. In Alabama, Republican Tommy Tuberville flipped the seat held by Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.
Democrats did pick up a seat in Arizona, long dominated by the GOP, when Mark Kelly beat Republican Sen. Martha McSally. The former astronaut defeated McSally the seat held by the late Sen. John McCain.
But in North Carolina, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is ahead of Democrat Cal Cunningham and in Alaska, Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan is beating Democrat-backed independent Al Gross.
Then there’s Georgia.
First, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler trailed pastor Raphael Warnock, 26% to 32.7% in a special election in which another Republican, Rep. Doug Collins took 20.1% of the vote before conceding. Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp had appointed Loeffler to the seat to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson when he retired.
Loeffler, a businesswoman who had the support of McConnell, faced questions after she sold millions of dollars in stock after a private briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. Loeffler denied trading on confidential information and the Senate Ethics Committee ended an investigation into the trades but not before Collins had widely criticized her.
Republicans are expected to shell out at least $100 million for the race, according to a GOP strategist familiar with the plans, CNBC reported. The strategist noted that Democrats are expected to spend a similar amount.
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The second runoff could be between businessman Sen. David Perdue, and Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker. Neither has 50% in a race NBC News says is too close to call.
Perdue is a cousin of Sonny Perdue, the secretary of agriculture. Ossof ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2017 in a special election in the Atlanta suburbs, but lost to Republican Karen Handel.
Perdue's campaign said Friday that it was preparing for a runoff.
"The stakes in this election could not be higher: a vote for Ossoff is a vote to hand power to Chuck Schumer and the radical Democrats in Washington," the Perdue campaign manager, Ben Fry, said in a statement, referring to the Senate minority leader. "Georgians won't let that happen."
"We are excited for overtime," Fry said, citing Perdue's "commanding lead."
Ossoff told reporters in Atlanta earlier Friday that "we have all the momentum, all the energy, and we’re on the right side of history."
"Retirement is coming for Sen. David Perdue," Ossoff said.
During a debate in October, Ossoff blasted Perdue for downplaying the threat of the coronavirus pandemic while buying stocks in health-care companies and he accused Perdue of anti-Semitism by making Ossoff’s nose look larger in an ad.
Perdue countered by charging that Ossoff was trying to hide a business relationship with China.
If Democrats do succeed, some credit will go to Stacey Abrams, who in 2013 founded The New Georgia Project to register minority voters and who lost a tightly fought race for governor to Brian Kemp in 2018. She charged Kemp had engaged in voter suppression.