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Georgia Senate Runoffs: What to Know

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R., Ga.,) speaks during a campaign event in Cumming, Georgia, November 13, 2020. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

Georgia Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue will vie for their Senate seats against Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in runoff elections in early January.

The runoff comes after President Trump alleged that rival Joe Biden won the election through widespread voter fraud. Trump and allies have criticized Georgia officials’ handling of the election, where Biden won by less than 13,000 votes. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly hit back at allegations of voter fraud, saying that not only did the state accurately tally its results, but that the president may have depressed his own voting base by disparaging mail-in voting.

Aides to Donald Trump Jr. have launched a super PAC to increase Republican turnout, after calls to boycott the runoffs spread online.

Key Dates

All Georgia registered voters may cast ballots for the runoffs, and eligible residents may register to vote by December 7 to qualify to vote in those elections. Absentee ballots must be received by the January 5 election day, and early in-person voting begins on December 14.

The Stakes

The Georgia runoff elections will decide which party controls the Senate for the first two years of the Biden administration. Republicans hold at least 50 seats following the general election, while Democrats, and the two independents who caucus with them, hold 48. If both Loeffler and Perdue lose, Democrats will gain two seats to form a 50-50 tie with Republicans—with vice president Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. This would allow Democrats, who will hold the White House and a somewhat diminished House majority, greater leeway to enact their legislative agenda.

On the other hand, if one Republican candidate wins their runoff election, the Senate GOP will have a 51-seat majority and likely be able to stymie Democratic legislation.

Raphael Warnock

Warnock, senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, has drawn criticism from Republicans over his ties to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s former pastor. Wright gained notoriety during the 2008 election for a sermon in which he exclaimed “God damn America.” Among other extreme claims in the sermon, Wright accused the U.S. government of “inventing” AIDS to kill black people. Warnock has defended Wright’s sermon, saying the remarks were “extracted from [their] theological and rhetorical context and looped to the point of ad nauseam.”

Several months after Obama took office, Wright again became the subject of controversy when he blamed “them Jews” for not allowing him to meet with the president. Warnock maintained that he had never defended anti-Semitic comments from anyone, in an appearance on MSNBC earlier this month.

Allegations of Insider Trading

Democrats have criticized Senator Perdue, an incumbent serving since 2015, over stock trades that drew allegations of insider trading.

In one instance, the Justice Department investigated Perdue over a particular trade of stock in financial company Cardlytics, where Perdue once sat on the board. FBI agents interviewed the senator in June regarding unspecified financial transactions. However, investigators concluded that the senator had received no nonpublic information, people familiar with the probe told the New York Times.

The DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission “quickly and independently cleared Senator Perdue of any wrongdoing,” Perdue spokesman John Burke said in comments to the Times.

Jon Ossoff and Bernie Sanders

Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, has welcomed the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), the socialist gadfly who was bested by Biden in the most recent Democratic primary and lost to Hillary Clinton in the previous Democratic nominating contest.

“I appreciate the senator’s support and look forward to working with him to fight for a $15 minimum wage, to put the interests of working families ahead of corporate lobbyists in Washington, [and] to address this climate crisis and invest in clean energy,” Ossoff told CNN on Sunday.

Ossoff ran for a House seat in Georgia’s 32nd district in 2017, losing in a runoff to Republican Karen Handel by less than four percentage points. The progressive candidate came in less than two points behind Senator Perdue in the 2020 general election, although both failed to reach 50 percent of the vote.

Kelly Loeffler’s Path to the Senate

Loeffler is a businesswoman appointed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp last year to replace Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired due to health issues. Kemp bucked President Trump and allies who wanted to appoint Representative Doug Collins to the position, reportedly believing Loeffler would gain more suburban voters for the GOP.

Loeffler has since staunchly supported the Republican legislative agenda as well as the president throughout impeachment proceedings, while Collins decided to run for Issakson’s seat in the 2020 special election. Loeffler received 1,617,035 to Collins’s 980,454, and Collins has already backed Loeffler for the January runoff against Warnock.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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