By Rich McKay and Nathan Layne
Voters in Georgia cast their ballots on Tuesday in a pair of runoff elections to determine control of the U.S. Senate and potentially the fate of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda.
Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler faced Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, and the Reverend Raphael Warnock, a pastor at a Black church in Atlanta
Democrats must win both contests in Georgia, which Biden narrowly carried against Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election, to take control of the Senate.
A double win for the Democrats would create a 50-50 split in the Senate, leaving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with the tie-breaking vote and giving Democrats control of the chamber. The party already has a majority in the House of Representatives.
If Republicans hold onto the Senate, they would effectively wield veto power over Biden’s political and judicial appointees as well as many of his policy initiatives in areas such as economic relief, climate change, healthcare and criminal justice.
Georgia results are expected to be known by Wednesday morning, according to state officials.
No Democrat has won a Senate race in Georgia in two decades, but opinion surveys show both races as exceedingly close. The runoff elections, a quirk of state law, became necessary when no candidate in either senatorial race exceeded 50% of the vote in November.
Overall, voting appeared to be relatively problem-free on Tuesday, with long lines in a few locations. The state’s voting systems manager, Gabriel Sterling, said in a midday post on Twitter that the average statewide wait time was only 1 minute.
In Cobb County outside Atlanta, Scott Sweeney, 63, said he voted for Perdue and Loeffler to impose a check on Democratic power.
“I believe the two of them are consistent with my values,” Sweeney said. “Taxes for one, and traditional values.”
Roshard Tamplin, 42, said he supported the two Democrats, citing civil rights and voting rights as important issues.
“They’re trying to make it harder to vote, especially for Black people,” Tamplin, who is Black, said of Republicans.
The final days of the tense contests, which set records for campaign spending and early turnout in Georgia, were dominated by Trump’s continued efforts to subvert the presidential election results.
On Saturday, Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to “find” enough votes to reverse Biden’s victory, again falsely claiming massive fraud.
Trump’s efforts to undo his loss – with some Republicans planning to object to the certification of Biden’s win when Congress meets on Wednesday to formally count the presidential vote – have caused a split in his party and condemnation from critics who accuse him of undermining democracy.
Biden is set to take office on Jan. 20.
At a rally in Georgia on Monday, Trump again claimed falsely that he had won the state and declared the Nov. 3 vote “rigged,” an assertion that some Republicans have worried will dissuade his supporters from voting on Tuesday.
Both Loeffler and Perdue have strongly backed Trump’s challenge to Biden’s win. Biden, who held his own rally on Monday in Atlanta, was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win in Georgia since 1992.
In Marrieta, LaVonte Jackson, 42, voted for the Democrats, saying, “Kamala and Biden have a lot of work to do, especially after four years of Trump. I don’t know if there’s been a more important vote.”
Jonathan Temple, 57, said he feared Democrats would increase spending and taxes if given unfettered authority in Washington.
“It looks like we’ve lost the White House for sure, even though there are some issues still out there,” he said. “But we have to hold on to the Senate. If we lose, we’ll get higher taxes for sure – you can bet on it.”
Wall Street’s main indexes rose after a weak start on Tuesday as investors awaited the outcome in Georgia.
If elected, Warnock would become Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator and Ossoff, at 33, the Senate’s youngest member. Perdue is a former Fortune 500 executive who has served one Senate term. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, was appointed a year ago to fill the seat of a retiring senator.
Raffensperger told Fox News the election results will likely be known on Wednesday morning. Raffensperger said Trump’s false claims on voter fraud hurt voter confidence in the runoffs, adding, “I can assure you that it will be a fair and honest election, that it’ll be safe and it’ll be dependable.”
Polls are open until 7 p.m. EST. Some 3 million ballots were cast in early in-person and mail-in voting, mirroring a pandemic-related trend seen in November.
Democrats were encouraged by the early vote, including strong numbers from Black voters, seen as crucial to their chances. Republicans have historically turned out in higher numbers on Election Day.
Speaking to reporters in Atlanta, Ossoff said Georgians want equal justice, economic relief, help fighting the pandemic and an end to Washington’s gridlock.
“That’s the kind of change that Georgia voters have been turning out in record numbers to demand,” Ossoff said.
Warnock told supporters at an Atlanta event that victory was “within reach.”
Perdue and Loeffler have presented themselves as the last barrier to unrestrained liberalism in Washington.
“We’ll look back on this day if we don’t vote and really rue the day that we turn the keys to the kingdom over to the Democrats,” Perdue, whose current term technically ended on Sunday, told Fox News on Tuesday.