The two Georgia runoffs that will decide control of the U.S. Senate begin their final stretch, with President Donald Trump again putting himself in the middle of the campaign.
Trump ignited controversy last week by holding up pandemic relief and government funding. Although he signed the legislation Sunday night, a week after it cleared Congress, his late action will end up delaying the stimulus payments he criticized as too low and cutting a week’s worth of expanded benefits for the jobless.
The outgoing president is also headed back to Georgia, where has has lashed out at the governor and other Republicans officials. He will appear with the two incumbent Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, on the eve of their Jan. 5 runoffs.
Both GOP incumbents had been promoting their votes for the bill with more limited aid. Trump’s complaints about the $600 stimulus payments echo those of Democrats, who had pushed for higher amounts during negotiations, undermining his own party and adding to a sense of crisis in Washington.
At an event outside the Impact United Methodist Church in East Point, Georgia, on Sunday, Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock told the crowd to pay attention to “the kind of dysfunction in our government” as seen in the turmoil over the aid and spending bill.
The unusual dual runoff in Georgia pits Warnock against Loeffler and Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff after none of the candidates managed more than 50% of the vote in November.
Public polling shows both races essentially dead heats, and the outcome likely will depend on which party can best energize it’s voters. Roughly 2 million people have cast early ballots, according to state data compiled by the nonpartisan Georgia Votes website.
In November Perdue finished less than 2 percentage points ahead of Ossoff. Warnock got about a third of the vote in the 20-candidate scrum for the other seat. The Republican vote in that race was divided primarily between Loeffler and Representative Doug Collins, who together accounted for about 46% of the vote.
President-elect Joe Biden narrowly won the state by 12,670 votes out of almost 5 million cast. He and Trump both have campaigned in the state ahead of the runoff.
Interest in both parties is high. Ossoff and Warnock each took in more than $100 million in campaign contributions over the last two months, a record-breaking amount. Perdue raised $68.1 million and Loeffler raised $64 million.
The Senate is currently divided 52-48 in favor of Republicans. Democrats would need to win both Georgia seats to gain nominal control, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris providing a tie-breaking vote. Investors are bracing for a potentialincrease in stock market volatility as a result of the contests. If Democrats snatch back the majority it would help Biden’s legislative agenda get through Congress.
As the candidates stumped over the weekend, they kept a wary eye on Trump, who spent the holiday golfing at his Florida club.
Warnock and Ossoff on Sunday urged supporters to bear down in the last nine days of the campaign, and do everything they can to get the vote out.
At the event in East Point, Warnock called the election a “turning point.”
“This is one of the moments when the people have got to straighten out what the government has gotten wrong,” he said. “Don’t be like those people who shout in church, but don’t listen to what the preacher says.”
During a campaign appearance Sunday with supporters in Columbus, Loeffler described herself and Perdue as business people and “political outsiders just like Donald Trump.” Afterward she skipped without explanation a planned session to answer questions from reporters.
Loeffler and Perdue have tied their fortunes closely to Trump, who continues to have a tight grip on Republican voters. After the president signed the relief and funding bill, they put out a joint statement lauding the president and criticizing Democrats as “hellbent on a socialist agenda.”
“Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, COVID relief is again on its way to the millions of Georgia families and businesses who need it most,” they said.
Trump has also created a rift among Georgia Republicans that could reverberate in the runoff. He’s harshly criticized Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger while making unfounded claims of fraud in the November election. Loeffler and Perdue have called on Raffensperger to resign.
Veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz said his data show that Warner has caught up to Loeffler and Ossoff moved ahead of Perdue over the past week or 10 days. Trump’s recent actions had caused the shift, he said, and are depressing Republican turnout.
“They had a four-point generic ballot advantage. That is gone, because the president — it’s amazing,” Luntz said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program. “We know it’s affecting turnout already. We can see on the ground.”
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