January 19th, 2021

Republicans catch up quickly in Georgia as control of Capitol Hill hangs in balance

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. – Republicans in Georgia promptly caught up to their Democratic rivals Tuesday in a pair of too-close-to-call Senate runoff elections poised to determine who controls the U.S. Senate for the next two years.

Early voting in the state easily shattered previous records, thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic curtailing public appetites for voting in person and the unprecedented fever that marks U.S. politics in the age of Donald Trump.

Those votes were counted first, and since early voting tends to favour Democrats, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock briefly enjoyed narrow leads over their incumbent Republican rivals, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

But with three quarters of the vote in hand, those margins disappeared entirely, with Perdue edging ahead of Ossoff by a single percentage point and Loeffler and Warnock quarrelling over the lead by a margin of fewer than 20,000 votes.

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 – in two races that were likely to live up to their billing as long, drawn-out affairs.

Indeed, the final results likely won’t be clear before Wednesday, the very 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 continued to mount into the night Tuesday as groups of Trump supporters made their way through downtown Washington, preparing for a day of protests against Biden’s win.

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

A strong Democratic showing in Georgia is liable to 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 doing battle with Perdue, the Republican incumbent whose first cousin Sonny is a former Georgia governor and Trump’s secretary of agriculture. An ardent Trump backer, Perdue was bumped from the campaign trail 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 get-out-the-vote rally in northern Georgia, a part of the state where Republicans hope to maintain a reliable base of support.

“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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