How Georgia might preserve US Senate scrutiny unclear till January

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: US Senate Democratic Candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock hosts election night in Atlanta

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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The state of Georgia is playing an unusual role as a power broker in the battle between Democrats and Republicans for the US Senate after Tuesday's elections. The two seats in the Georgian Senate had an unusual election this year, with both races facing runoff elections on January 5 after neither candidate managed to win a majority of the votes in either race.

As of Friday's election, the Democrats and Republicans will each have 48 seats in the 100-member Senate. Two more races besides Georgia are still pending, but both are expected to be won by the Republicans.

With the runoff election in Georgia scheduled for January 5th, which party will control the Senate remains unanswered until the rest of the new Congress is sworn in on January 3rd.

WHY WERE BOTH GEORGIA SENATE SEATS ON THE BALLOT?

Republican Senator David Perdue stood for re-election under the regular six-year Senate cycle. First elected in 2014, he is now facing tough competition against Democrat Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist and media manager.

Everyone fell below the 50% plus one vote threshold, according to Edison Research on Friday, with Perdue receiving 49.8% of the vote and Ossoff 47.9%, and they will face each other in a runoff.

Georgia’s other senator, Republican Kelly Loeffler, was appointed in 2019 to replace Johnny Isakson, who was retiring. Your seat was to be awarded in a special election in which 21 candidates participated, including the Republican US representative Doug Collins.

The Democrat Raphael Warnock achieved the largest share of the vote with 32.7%, Loeffler 26% and Collins 20.1%. The winner of the runoff in that race will only serve two years and fill the remainder of the six-year term for which Isakson was elected in 2016.

HOW COMMON ARE RUNOFF ELECTIONS AMONG US STATES?

Several US states, including Georgia, require runoffs for major competitions that do not determine a clear winner.

But Georgia was one of the few states to use runoff elections for parliamentary elections after a gubernatorial contest failed to produce a clear winner in 1966 and a Democrat-dominated legislature chose its own candidate over a Republican who won a slightly larger number of voters.

WHY WOULD GEORGIAN RUN-OFFS AFFECT THE CONTROL OF THE SENATE?

The Democrats failed to generate the "blue wave" of voters they had hoped for on November 3rd, but won enough Senate races to get a 48th seat in the 100-member Senate. Republicans are likely to retain 50 seats ahead of the Georgia runoff if Republicans are re-elected in the North Carolina and Alaska races that have not yet been scheduled. The Republican candidates lead the vote in both states.

Democrats have a good chance of winning both Senate seats in traditionally Republican Georgia, but if they succeed and Joe Biden wins the White House, it would give Vice President Kamala Harris a 51st tie.

That would be a big price to pay for Democrats, otherwise a Republican-controlled Senate would have the power to block most of Biden's political priorities. It sets the stage for an intense two-month campaign in which money, political activists and the news media pour into Georgia.

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