BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The runoff campaign is underway in Georgia, and it’s anticipated there will be another record-breaking number of voters, as these two runoffs could determine if Republicans or Democrats will have the majority of power in the Senate.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler spoke to supporters in Kingsland, Brunswick and Waycross on Saturday while her fellow Republican Sen. David Perdue appeared with Donald Trump Jr. in Bulloch County, just outside Savannah.
Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock appeared together Saturday at a rally in Savannah.
They are all campaigning vigorously for Georgia’s two seats in the U.S. Senate in a surprisingly competitive runoff that is being closely watched -- and partly financed -- by national political interests.
“Voter turnout is very, very big,” News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney said. “That reflects, in part, that the stakes are so high, but it also reflects that people are engaged and care about the outcome.”
Democrats need to win both contests to achieve a 50-50 split in the Senate, which would give Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. If either Republican wins, their party will keep a one-vote majority that could block Biden’s legislative initiatives and judicial nominees.
The Republicans are driving that point home with traditionally conservative South Georgia voters, calling their opponents radicals and portraying them as puppets of liberal Democrats in Washington.
“This is week two of my ‘Georgia Firewall Tour,’” Loeffler said Saturday during her campaign stop in Glynn County. “The direction is either going to be the route I’m fighting for -- which is protecting the American Dream, standing up for American ideals -- or socialism.”
More than 1.3 million Georgians have cast votes so far in the runoff elections that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, according to the U.S. Elections Project. Five days into early voting and about four weeks since absentee ballots went out, that’s 17.5% of the state’s registered voters and only slightly below the number of votes at the same point before the November general election, when a record 5 million ballots were cast and Joe Biden carried the state by about 12,000 votes.
Early voting continues through New Year’s Eve in most counties. Election Day is Jan. 5.
Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who runs the U.S. Elections Project, sees signs that both Senate contests could be decided by razor-thin margins.
“This is going to be a really close election,” McDonald told Reuters.
Miller said comparing the current turnout with the November cycle is tricky since some people may be voting before the December holidays to get it out of the way.
“It does seem to me like we’re in for a higher turnout election than is typical for a runoff,” McDonald said.
The last time there was a runoff for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia -- 2008 -- about 2 million votes were casts and Republican Saxby Chambliss defeated Democrat Jim Martin. That’s roughly half of the number who voted that year in the congressional midterm elections.