Georgia’s race for the White House too close to call; Senate runoff set

Perdue vs. Ossoff remains unsettled
Republican supporters on Tuesday watch returns for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock and Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who are headed for a Jan. 5 runoff. Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Republican supporters on Tuesday watch returns for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock and Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who are headed for a Jan. 5 runoff. Curtis Compton /”

The race for president in Georgia was too close to call early Wednesday as a record number of voters surged to the polls to render a verdict on President Donald Trump’s four years in the White House and decide two U.S. Senate races that could determine control of the chamber.

Joe Biden’s late push to win Georgia for Democrats for the first time since 1992 hung in the balance as voters weighed a race for president doubling as a referendum on Trump’s handling of a coronavirus pandemic that’s upended every facet of American life.

Trump built a commanding early edge in rural and exurban parts of the state, but the gap narrowed as more left-leaning metro Atlanta precincts were tallied.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler edged fellow Republican Rep. Doug Collins to score a spot in a Jan. 5 runoff against Democrat Raphael Warnock. But Georgia’s other statewide race, between U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, was still unsettled, preserving the possibility of another runoff.

Georgia’s the only state in the nation with two Senate seats up for grabs, and more than $200 million was spent on the airwaves for ads about the twin races.

Fierce congressional campaigns were underway in Georgia’s suburbs, as Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath beat back a comeback attempt by former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, while Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux faced Republican Rich McCormick in her bid to flip a Gwinnett County-based district.

And Democrats aimed to snap the GOP’s 15-year reign over the state House, trying to net at least 16 pickups to take control of the 180-member chamber. Republicans were scrapping to retake some of the seats they lost two years ago — and defend some of their most vulnerable incumbents.

The outcome will determine whether Republicans extend their control of Georgia politics or Democrats gain a foothold in a state they’ve long said is more competitive than it seems. No Georgia Democrat has won a statewide race since 2006, though they’ve recently narrowed the margins.

Each campaign is girding for what could be a long fight in both the courtroom and the news media. An influx of mail-in ballots, which Democrats have emphasized as a preferred method of voting this cycle, means that tallying the votes can stretch out for days.

Georgia has become one of the nation’s most important political battlegrounds, a new reality that came into sharp focus in the final days of the race when big-name political figures flocked to the state to deliver last-minute pitches to capture the state’s 16 electoral votes.

In the span of a week, Biden delivered closing remarks in the west Georgia town of Warm Springs, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris stumped in Gwinnett County, Trump rallied voters in deeply conservative northwest Georgia and former President Barack Obama energized Democrats in Atlanta.

It was a drastic change for voters in Georgia who were long used to being overlooked. Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney easily captured Georgia in their races against Obama, and Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points without a single visit from either presidential candidate in the final stretch.

Atlanta’s suburbs have become one of the state’s most competitive flashpoints. Cobb and Gwinnett counties flipped in 2016 for the first time since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, and Stacey Abrams consolidated even more votes in those areas two years later.

At the same time, Republicans have turned rural counties a deeper shade of red, offsetting Democratic gains in the suburbs with what Trump calls a “beautiful red wall.”

The voting population has vastly changed since the last presidential election. A record 7.6 million Georgians are registered to vote, including more than 1 million new voters since 2016 that have made the electorate slightly younger and more racially diverse.

Surging turnout has helped make Georgia a toss-up. Thanks to an influx of mail-in ballots triggered by the pandemic, nearly 4 million Georgians cast ballots before Election Day. That’s almost as many as voted during the entire 2016 election — when Georgia had its highest turnout ever.

The presidential race hinged on a litany of crises that rocked Georgia: a coronavirus outbreak that’s claimed the lives of roughly 8,000 Georgians, economic fallout that’s hit the state’s job market and a national movement for racial justice and equality that’s deepened the ideological divide.

In the final hours of the campaign, Trump continued to raise doubts about the legitimacy of the election as his advisers hinted he could declare victory before mail-in ballots were tallied. Biden’s campaign stressed that the schedule for counting ballots meant it was impossible for Trump to secure a win Tuesday.

In Georgia, the onslaught of TV ads and partisan bickering appear far from over regardless of the outcome of the presidential contest.

The crowded special election for Loeffler’s seat was always destined for a runoff, with so many candidates sharing the same ballot. The winner will fill the remaining two years of retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term and then run again in 2022 for a full term.

Collins conceded to Loeffler a few hours after the polls closed, saying in a Twitter post that “she has my support and endorsement.”

The close margins also raise the possibility of a second runoff. It was too early to call the race between Perdue and Ossoff for Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat, and there was still a chance neither could win outright.