The fate of the U.S. Senate will have to wait until January after the second of two races in Georgia headed to runoff elections.
Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff will face off in a Jan. 5 runoff for Perdue’s Senate seat, after Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel secured just over two per cent of the vote.
Hazel’s vote total meant that neither Perdue nor Ossoff was able to clear the 50 per cent threshold needed for an outright win.
Thousands of absentee ballots and in-person votes cast early needed to be counted after the polls closed Tuesday, forcing a long and tense wait before the race could be called.
Georgia’s other senate race will also head to a runoff between incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock. That runoff will also be held on Jan. 5.
Warnock won the most votes in that race, yet also faced two Republican challengers in Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins. Collins was eliminated from the contest after receiving just under 20 per cent of the vote from election day.
Nationally, the Senate stands at 48-48. But incumbent Republican candidates Thom Tillis and Dan Sullivan are leading uncalled races in North Carolina and Alaska, respectively — leaving the Georgia races to determine the ultimate outcome of who controls the chamber.
The best case scenario for the Democrats would be for Ossoff and Warnock win both races, putting the Senate at a 50-50 split if Tillis and Sullivan win in their states.
That would then make the vice president, who serves as president of the Senate, the tiebreaker for votes on legislation, meaning whichever party wins the presidency will also control the Senate, albeit by a thread.
Democrats haven’t won a U.S. Senate race in Georgia in two decades, but Republican dominance has been slipping. Republicans do feel confident about their chances, however, as both Perdue and Loeffler are incumbents with strong backing from their party.
Perdue’s campaign is already portraying the runoff election as a last stand for Republicans to hold the Senate majority.
“The stakes in this election could not be higher: A vote for Jon Ossoff is a vote to hand power to Chuck Schumer and the radical Democrats in Washington,” Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry said in a statement Friday. “Georgians won’t let that happen.”
Ossoff spoke at a news conference in Atlanta on Friday morning, surrounded by supporters waving signs that read, “Vote your Ossoff.”
“We have all the momentum. We have all the energy. We’re on the right side of history,” Ossoff said.
As of Friday night, Democrat Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris are leading in electoral college votes with 264 over 214 for U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, according to the Associated Press.
Biden is also leading in multiple states — including Georgia, but also Nevada and Pennsylvania — any of which would put Biden over the 270 threshold to secure the presidency.
A Democratic majority in the Senate, no matter how slim, would increase Biden’s chances for passing legislation and securing major appointment confirmations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who won re-election Tuesday, has called himself the “grim reaper” for Democratic bills passed in the House, making Senate control a pivotal goal for the Biden campaign and his party overall.
Both sides promised unlimited funds would flow to the Georgia campaigns and onto the airwaves, and they predicted an all-star cast of campaigners for a state that in recent weeks drew visits from Biden, Trump, Pence, Harris and former president Barack Obama.
— With files from the Associated Press
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