Republicans on the Ropes in Georgia

Republicans on the Ropes in Georgia

With Senate control hinging on two uncomfortably close Senate races in Georgia, Republicans are sweating. Though neither race was officially called as of early Wednesday morning, Democrat Raphael Warnock led Republican Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Jon Ossoff was in striking distance of Republican David Perdue.

The only thing standing between the GOP and full Democratic control of government in the wee hours on Wednesday was the razor-thin, 1,200 vote margin separating Perdue and Ossoff. While the vast majority of the vote has been tallied, the count could extend into Wednesday.

Wins for both Democrats would give the party 50 votes in the Senate, with incoming vice president Kamala Harris poised to break a tie; a Republican victory in either race would preserve the party’s control of the upper chamber. 

While Republicans have historically dominated runoff elections in Georgia, President-elect Joe Biden’s narrow victory in November along with a vocal campaign led by failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams fueled Democratic hopes that the party could prevail. 

The results of the races will have enormous implications for both President Donald Trump and his successor. Among Republicans, the impact of Trump’s voter fraud allegations and his relentless attacks on the state’s top Republican leaders, will be hotly debated. Perdue led Ossoff by two points in the November election that forced Tuesday’s run-off, and Trump is likely to shoulder the blame for Perdue’s comparatively weaker performance. 

Before results were even tallied on Tuesday evening, one top GOP operative was voicing concerns that the president’s allegations of voter fraud would undermine the party. “Given everything that has been going on down here, a half-billion dollars on TV, that field operation, … it’s hard to come to any other conclusion that when you’re underperforming in Trump-y or Republican areas, that the impact is all the extracurricular stuff that’s going on,” the operative said. 

For Biden, by contrast, Democratic victories would assure Senate confirmation for a slate of cabinet nominees that might otherwise face resistance from a Republican Senate and grease the skids for the passage of ambitious legislation. 

Over the past two months, both parties flooded the state with historic sums: Spending in the races neared $900 million and is expected to exceed the total spent last year in the three most expensive Senate races in history combined according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Senate races were also a referendum on Abrams’s leadership in the Peach State. The failed gubernatorial candidate has made it her mission to turn Georgia blue. Abrams on Wednesday is set to go up with a statewide ad campaign urging Georgia voters to “check the status of your ballot” and referring them to a voter-fraud hotline.

Abrams, who passed up the opportunity to jump into the race herself, was the principal reason Democrats tapped Warnock, who was by no means the party’s default candidate.

“There is a huge bench of voters that wanted to run, huge,” the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Greg Bluestein told National Journal in November, noting that Abrams “made it super clear that Warnock was her pick and woe be to those who want to challenge him.” 

Warnock’s voluminous sermons gave Republicans fodder to assail him as a radical out-of-step with Georgia voters. From the pulpit, he argued that “nobody can serve God and the military” simultaneously and asserted that  “America needs to repent for its worship of whiteness”—comments that became the centerpiece of Loeffler’s campaign. He also faced criticism for his praise of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s “God Damn America” speech, which he repeatedly called a “very fine sermon.”

The mainstream media, however, largely ignored Warnock’s 2002 arrest for allegedly obstructing child abuse at a camp connected to his church. At least five child abuse cases were brought by Maryland’s Department of Social Services against the camp’s director, according to Maryland state records, and one former camper told the Free Beacon that counselors threw urine on him and locked him outside his cabin all night as a punishment for wetting the bed when he attended the camp at age 12. The camp later had its operating certificate denied by the Maryland Department of Health for health and safety violations and failing to properly report child abuse claims.

Candidates of both parties stuck together throughout the race, with the pair of Democrats lodging attacks against both Republicans and vice versa. Perdue and Loeffler sought to portray Ossoff and Warnock as radicals whose votes would give Biden and Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) unfettered power to push forward a left-wing agenda. Democrats argued that Perdue and Loeffler, who are among the wealthiest members of the Senate, had used their positions to enrich themselves with well-timed stock trades.

Democratic wins would buck historical trends, which have typically favored Republicans in run-off elections. Republican senator Saxby Chambliss won the state’s last Senate runoff by 15 points in 2008. But President-elect Joe Biden’s narrow November victory emboldened Democrats working to flip the upper chamber. Biden won the state by just 11,779 votes, becoming the first Democrat to do so in nearly two decades. 

Tuesday’s election shattered turnout records, with approximately 4.6 million votes cast, more than doubling the 2.1 million votes cast in the 2008 run-off election that sent Chambliss back to the Senate. 

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