The final days of the races were defined by President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede his own election loss, sparking a fight within the Republican Party that imperiled Georgia Republicans Sen. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
“The American people deserve a platform in Congress, permitted under the Constitution, to have election issues presented so that they can be addressed,” said Loeffler in a statement on Monday.
While Georgia is a rapidly diversifying state and former state House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams has led substantial voter registration drives for years, the Republican candidates came into the Senate runoff elections with an advantage.
In November, Perdue received over 88,000 more votes than Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff, while Loeffler and the other Republican candidates received more votes than the Rev. Raphael Warnock and the other Democratic candidates in the special election (Warnock received most of the vote — 33% — overall).
Republicans hope their message that Georgia should be a check on Washington will prove successful, noting that if Warnock and Ossoff win, President-elect Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will be in charge.
“I think having Republican control of the Senate will bring people more comfort because the national Democratic Party is not aligned with Georgia,” Eric Tanenblatt, who served as chief of staff to former Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, told CNN.
“We’re talking about the future of the country, and we can’t just turn it all over to one party,” said Tanenblatt. “That could be wishful thinking on my part. But I do think that that’s going to be a big motivator.”
But Republicans are worried that Trump’s unwillingness to concede jeopardizes the party’s hold on the Senate, even though the state has not elected a Democrat to the chamber since 2000.
Heath Garrett, a campaign manager for former Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, told CNN that Trump’s attacks on Gov. Brian Kemp and Raffensperger have been “counterproductive for trying to motivate grassroots, base Republicans to go vote,” and said they’ve thrown Perdue and Loeffler “off message” in the final days of the campaign.
“Senator Perdue and Senator Loeffler are being whipsawed by the President on one side and by the Democratic money on the other side,” he said.
Perdue and Loeffler had attempted to avoid the intraparty feud sparked by Trump by focusing on Ossoff and Warnock.
Perdue’s closing message in a recent video is littered with attacks, saying that if Republicans lose, undocumented immigrants will vote, Americans’ private health insurance will be “taken away,” and Democrats will pack the Supreme Court and defund the police.
The Loeffler-Warnock election will be groundbreaking. If Loeffler wins, she would be the first woman elected senator from the state, while if Warnock wins, he would be the first Black senator from Georgia. (In late 2019, Kemp appointed Loeffler to her position to fill Isakson’s seat.)
“We have to have Georgians come out and vote because we know that Chuck Schumer’s radical agents of change are Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff,” said Loeffler on the campaign trail Monday. “They would defund the police. They would lock down our economy. And we have to make sure that we hold the line right here in Georgia.”
Warnock has promoted his background from the Savannah projects to the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic church in Atlanta, while firing back at Loeffler.
“Kelly Loeffler spends tens of millions of dollars to scare you,” said Warnock in an ad. “She’s trying to make you afraid of me because she’s afraid of you. Afraid that you understand how she’s used her position in the Senate to enrich herself and others like her. Afraid that you’ll realize that we can do better.”
The Georgia US Senate races have attracted enormous attention due to the stakes for the first years of the Biden administration and the state’s shift from red to purple. Biden’s victory in the state was the first for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996. Dr. Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor, told CNN that the Senate elections could be the first in which urban Georgia casts more votes than rural Georgia.
“We’ve seen tremendous enthusiasm in the early voting numbers, both in person and by mail, and we know that while Democrats will have a lead when polls open … Republicans are expected to have a strong Election Day,” said Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Fair Fight Action, a voting rights organization founded by Abrams.
Political groups spent about $520 million to advertise in the two runoff races, according to Kantar Media/CMAG, more than $8 million per day. Republicans outspent Democrats by tens of millions of dollars.
With the Senate on the line, Trump rallied his supporters in northwest Georgia on Monday, while President-elect Joe Biden held an event in Atlanta.
“We’re going to fight like hell,” said the President.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
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