There’s good news in Georgia for anyone still craving high-stakes U.S. election suspense following Joe Biden’s presidential win.
Control of the Senate remains up for grabs: Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue will both face run-off elections Jan. 5 against Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
“Everyone else has hung up their cleats, but we’re still playing,” said Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Runoffs occur in certain states when candidates fail to reach a prescribed vote threshold — 50 per cent in Georgia.
A run-off was expected in the case of Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat last year to fill a vacancy and was challenged in the special election by fellow Republican Doug Collins, dividing the vote.
At last count, Perdue had a lead of more than 100,000 votes over Ossoff with almost all the votes counted, but remained just below the 50 per cent bar required for outright victory.
The GOP appears poised to claim Alaska and North Carolina, the two other states with Senate seats still up in the air, but would remain one shy of the 51 needed for control of the Senate and the ability to severely hamstring the Biden administration.
A 50-50 draw would effectively hand control to the Democrats, since it will fall to vice-president-elect Kamala Harris to break any ties once she and Biden take office.
The outcome in the Senate, and indeed the composition of Capitol Hill more broadly, is an issue of great interest to Canada’s diplomatic corps in Washington, since members of Congress are a vital vector for advancing Canadian interests.
But the election hasn’t caused the embassy to break stride, said Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador.
“We are continuing to work on files with the U.S. government all the time,” Hillman said in an interview.
“Even last week, while everybody was focused on how the election was turning out both in the White House and in Congress, we were doing business.”
While the odds and history would appear to favour the Republicans in Georgia, long a reliably conservative state, 2020 has already thrown its share of curveballs.
In a presidential race that generated record turnout across the country, Biden narrowly carried Georgia, becoming only the third Democrat after Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to do so in the last half-century.
Having not one but two high-profile races still ongoing in the state could juice turnout in January, a rarity for runoffs. So too could the fact Warnock is vying to become the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate from the Deep South.
“In the past, what has happened has been that dropout among African Americans has been greater than among whites, so his presence there may work to the advantage of Democrats,” Bullock said.
Loeffler, who has the backing of prominent Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, may also face bad blood among Georgia Republicans after her bruising battle with Collins, he added.
“She’s got to try to reunite the Republican party,” Bullock said. “Sure, Doug has endorsed her, but it may be hard for some of his supporters to forgive her for the kinds of attacks that she launched against Doug.”
Biden played down the drama Tuesday, insisting that while a Democratic majority in the Senate would be helpful, it’s by no means a deal-breaker.
I am not a pessimist, as you know,” he said. “I think we can get a lot done.”
On Monday, the family feud in Georgia became even more intriguing when Loeffler and Perdue called for the resignation of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, also a Republican, accusing him of somehow botching the electoral process.
“That is not going to happen,” Raffensperger shot back in a statement. “The voters of Georgia hired me, and the voters will be the ones to fire me.”
The election in the state was a “resounding success,” he added, with minimal wait times despite record turnout and an unimpeachable counting and reporting process, Any illegal voting will be investigated, he promised, but it’s “unlikely” it affected the outcome.
“My job is to follow Georgia law and see to it that all legal votes, and no illegal votes, are counted properly and accurately,” he said.
“As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Sens. Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that.”
Regardless of the outcome in January, it’s a safe bet Congress will pose a challenge to the Biden administration, despite the former senator’s relationship with Republican leader McConnell, Bullock said.
“It’s going to be frustrating for the progressives that the strides they would like to see taken on the environment or whatever else simply aren’t going to happen,” he said.
“There’s talk that it may boil down to negotiation between the president and Mitch McConnell … but again, that would also be the case if there were 51 Democrats.”
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
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