Georgia's U.S. Senate candidates have not been shy to remind voters that the fate of the upper chamber in Congress will be decided on Jan. 5 in Georgia.
The four Senate hopefuls in two runoffs have less than six weeks to push their bases to the polls.
During the Nov. 3 general election, Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue outperformed Republican President Donald Trump across Georgia, while Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff fell below the support that Democratic President-elect Joe Biden garnered. Perdue and Ossoff will face off for a second time after both came up short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, emerged as the top two vote-getters in a crowded contest in a special election for the seat vacated by Republican Johnny Isakson because of health reasons. Warnock received 32.9% of the vote while Loeffler received 25.9%, but Republicans were somewhat split with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in the race also (19.95%) and hope that unifying will push Loeffler to victory in the runoff.
The Republicans have history on their side as runoff outcomes most often favor GOP candidates, and Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator since 1996. But Biden’s capture of the state in the presidential race came from a growing young and diverse electorate that may give the Democrats the push they need.
If both Ossoff and Warnock are successful in the runoffs, the U.S. Senate would be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. If that happens, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could cast tie-breaking votes, giving Democrats potential control over the chamber.
The importance of Trump
While Trump continues to fight the outcome of the presidential election in several states across the country including Georgia, Perdue and Loeffler have faced the reality that their success could rest on convincing loyal Trump supporters to vote in the runoffs. The Republican candidates made their first joint campaign appearance in Forsyth County and outlined the strategy clearly.
“What we have to do now though is not persuade people,” Perdue said. “What we have to do is get the vote out.”
"We have to tell our friends who voted for Donald Trump, they may be disappointed, I’m disappointed for sure,” Perdue said. “We don’t know how that’s going to turn out yet, but we have to make sure every Republican votes in this runoff, regardless."
On Friday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Biden's victory was upheld by a statewide audit and would be certified by the state.
The Washington Post reported after the Forsyth event that Republican leadership is worried about the GOP candidates' success in the two runoffs as Trump relentlessly boasts of a false victory and peppers states with election-related lawsuits.
Perdue was careful not to confirm Biden’s victory but told fellow Republicans, “We’re assuming that we’re going to be standing out here alone. And that means that we have to get the vote out, no matter what the outcome of that adjudication is on the recount in two states and some lawsuits, and others. Kelly and I can’t wait for that.”
The pair have brought into the state some high-profile Republicans including Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and Vice President Mike Pence during the first couple of weeks of campaigning.
"We are all in this together to get this done, but make no mistake,” Loeffler said in Forsyth County. “We are the firewall, not just for the U.S. Senate, but the future of our country.”
The two Democratic candidates have made multiple stops in Clayton County, the heart of the late John Lewis' congressional district. Their efforts in the area proved successful when a large batch of votes from the county ultimately pushed Biden into the lead in the presidential race.
Still, more than 40% of the Democratic county did not vote in the general election — thousands of votes that Ossoff and Warnock likely missed out on.
"Do you know how powerful you are?" Warnock asked a crowd in Jonesboro on Thursday.
"What I'm trying to help you to see (is) that you have power," he said. "And it would be a shame if come Jan. 5 you did not exercise that power."
The senior pastor of the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s church invoked the legacy of Lewis to implore voters to turn out at the polls.
"As powerful as you sounded on Nov. 3," Warnock said, "if you don't stand up one more time, what you did for John Ossoff and me on Nov. 3 won't count, unless you come back out."
Ossoff used the first part of his speech to support Warnock.
"Can you imagine the message that it will send to the nation to send to the United States Senate, to speak for us, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church?" he said. "It will affirm the statement that we made on Nov. 3: Change has come to Georgia."
Riley Bunch covers the Georgia statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.