January 17th, 2021

Georgia voters decide Senate’s balance of power as anxiety mounts in national capital

By James McCarten, The Canadian Press on January 5, 2021.

A voter casts his ballot in Georgia's Senate run-off election on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Atlanta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Brynn Anderson

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Voters in Georgia are still lined up to cast their ballots as the counting begins to determine who will hold the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

Early voting in the state, where two runoff Senate elections will decide whether Democrats or Republicans control the chamber for the next two years, has already shattered records.

Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are seeking to unseat Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

Nearly 3.1 million people cast early ballots – 40 per cent of the state’s registered voters and three-quarters of the total turnout from November’s presidential contest.

The results likely won’t become clear until Wednesday, the day Congress gathers to certify Joe Biden as president-elect, with legions of Donald Trump supporters already flooding D.C. streets in protest.

Just one Republican win would deny Democrats a key prize: control of the legislative branch, which would provide a smoother path for Biden’s presidential agenda.

But Georgia, once a reliable Republican stronghold, is not the same place it was even a generation ago, said Charles Bullock, a political-science professor at the University of Georgia in Athens.

“Growing up here in Georgia, you would not have found a Mexican restaurant, you would not have found a Chinese restaurant any place in the state. Those are two groups that have grown tremendously,” Bullock said.

“The Black population in Georgia has also increased gradually. And what is taking place even more recently is that there have been increased numbers of each of these minority groups that are registering and are voting.”

Though it was by fewer than 12,000 votes, Biden won the state in November’s presidential vote – the first Democratic nominee to do so since Bill Clinton in 1992 and the state’s former governor Jimmy Carter in 1980.

In the national capital, meanwhile, tensions were mounting Tuesday as Trump supporters were already gathering to register their dismay at Biden’s win.

They plan to flood the streets Wednesday as U.S. lawmakers meet to certify those results – a process a number of Republican members of Congress have already vowed to oppose.

A strong Democratic showing in Georgia could raise the temperature on D.C.’s superheated political atmosphere.

The 33-year-old Ossoff, a former congressional aide turned media executive and investigative journalist, has spent the last seven years as CEO of Insight TWI, a U.K.-based documentary film company.

He’s in a pitched battle with Perdue, the Republican incumbent whose first cousin Sonny is a former Georgia governor and Trump’s secretary of agriculture.

Perdue, an ardent Trump backer, was bumped from the campaign trail and into isolation last week after being exposed to COVID-19.

“It could be your last chance to save the America that we love. That’s why I’m here,” Trump said Monday during a rally in Georgia to get out the vote for Perdue and Loeffler.

“The far left wants to destroy our country, demolish our history, and erase everything that we hold dear. This could be the most important vote you will ever cast for the rest of your life.”

Both Republicans have spent the campaign focusing their tag-team attacks less on Ossoff than on Warnock, the Baptist preacher who hopes to become the first Black Democrat senator from the Deep South.

As an outspoken champion of progressive values like access to abortion, gay rights, Black Lives Matter and denouncing white privilege, Warnock has been a logical target for Republicans hoping to portray him as a poster boy for the “radical left.”

“It’s a choice,” Loeffler said on Fox News Sunday about the decision voters are facing. “It’s a stark contrast between the freedoms, our way of life here in Georgia, or socialism – government control.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2021.

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