Georgia Senate election: Control of Congress up for grabs

media captionGeorgia official Gabriel Sterling urges voters to cast ballots

The US state of Georgia is going to the polls in a vote that will decide whether President-elect Joe Biden’s Democrats control the Senate.

Victory in the two runoff elections would give Mr Biden control over the whole of Congress and with it the power to push forward his progressive agenda.

Mr Biden said Georgians could shape the US for years to come.

Republican President Donald Trump told voters it was their “last chance to save the America that we love”.

  • ‘I’ve never seen this energy in Georgia before’

  • Why is the Georgia election so important?

Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue currently hold the two Senate seats in the state. Ms Loeffler is taking on Reverend Raphael Warnock and Mr Perdue is battling Jon Ossoff.

None of the candidates reached the 50% needed to win outright in the elections in November, forcing Tuesday’s runoffs under Georgia’s election rules. Voting begins at 07:00 (12:00 GMT).

What’s at stake in Georgia?

The vote will decide the balance of power in the US Senate.

The Republicans currently hold 52 of the 100 seats. If both Democrats win on Tuesday, the Senate will be evenly split, allowing incoming Democratic vice-president Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.

This would be crucial for pushing through Mr Biden’s agenda, including key issues such as health care and environmental regulations – issues with strong Republican opposition.

media captionWhat’s in store for US President-elect Biden in 2021? Senior North America reporter Anthony Zurcher looks ahead

The Senate also has the power to approve or reject Mr Biden’s nominees for cabinet and judicial posts.

If Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock both win, it will bring the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives under Democratic control for the first time since President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.

What’s happening in Tuesday’s vote?

Voting should last about 12 hours, ending at 19:00 local time (midnight GMT), although all those still in line to vote will be allowed to do so. A state primary last June did not stop accepting ballots until past midnight.

Democrats are hoping for a large turnout and have been buoyed by the fact that more than three million Georgians have already cast their ballots – nearly 40% of the state’s registered voters. Early voting was a key benefit for Joe Biden in the presidential election.

Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue

image copyrightReuters

image captionSenators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are the candidates for the Republican Party

The Democrats will be looking to turn out supporters in major urban areas, particularly the suburbs of Atlanta. The issue of long lines of voters could be more of a problem for them.

For the Republicans, getting out voters on the day is even more crucial, and they will be looking to the stronghold of north Georgia, as well as rural areas and smaller towns.

image copyrightEPA
image captionRaphael Warnock (left) and Jon Ossoff are the Democratic candidates

When will we know the result? You’d be brave to give a time. There were two recounts before Joe Biden was declared the winner over Donald Trump in November’s presidential poll. Generally, results come in quickly but if these races are close, it could be days.

Mr Perdue nearly won first time out against Mr Ossoff in November, falling just short of the needed majority with 49.7%. The other seat had more candidates, with Mr Warnock recording 32.9% to Ms Loeffler’s 25.9%.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in Georgia in 20 years, but the party will be buoyed by Mr Biden’s presidential election win over Mr Trump there. Mr Biden’s margin of victory was about 12,000 votes among five million cast.

What have Biden and Trump said?

Both attended rallies on Monday evening.

Mr Biden told voters in Atlanta: “Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you.”

Flanked by Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock, he said: “Unlike any time in my career, one state – one state – can chart the course, not just for the four years but for the next generation.”

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMr Biden campaigned in Georgia, saying “the power is literally in your hands”

Mr Biden also took aim at Mr Trump, accusing him of “whining and complaining” about November’s presidential election result rather than concentrating on the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know why he still wants the job, he doesn’t want to do the work,” he said.

media captionTrump: “If [Pence] doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much”

In Dalton, President Trump told voters that the Georgia runoffs were the “last line of defence” against the Democrats.

He told voters “the whole world is watching” and that this was “your last chance to save the America that we love”.

The president spent a lot of his speech repeating claims he was the winner of the presidential election – and unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud.

Republican officials are worried this could depress turnout in Tuesday’s vote, although Mr Trump played this down, telling voters to “swarm it tomorrow”.

Joe Biden’s first big test

It’s just over two weeks until Joe Biden’s inauguration, but the first real test of his presidency is on Tuesday.

If Democrats pick up the two seats and forge a 50-50 tie in the upper chamber, it’s still far from certain that Biden will be able to enact the kind of sweeping legislation on the environment, healthcare and the economy that he proposed during his successful presidential campaign. The narrowness of the margin will ensure that any laws will have to be supported by centrists in his party, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s two senators.

It will, however, give the new president a fighting chance at legislative accomplishments – and make it significantly easier for him to appoint the administration officials and federal judges of his choice.

If the Republicans hold on, then Democratic hopes will rest on the whims of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of Republican moderates.

Is Trump still challenging the White House election?

Mr Trump – who is due to leave office on 20 January – said at his Georgia rally: “They’re not taking this White House. We’re going to fight like hell.”

He hinted that he wanted Vice-President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, to reject Mr Biden’s win when Congress meets on Wednesday to certify the election results.

“I hope that Mike Pence comes through for us,” Mr Trump said. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”

Some Republicans have said they will raise objections to the presidential election result in the House and Senate, requiring a debate and vote. Senator Ted Cruz, once a staunch critic of the president, is now his major ally.

media captionSenator Ted Cruz on Donald Trump: Then and now

But with other Republicans saying they will not contest Mr Biden’s victory, the votes questioning it would not succeed.

Over the weekend it was revealed Mr Trump also held a controversial phone call with Georgia’s top election official, secretary of state Brad Raffensperger.

In a recording of the call, first published by the Washington Post newspaper on Sunday, Mr Trump pressured Mr Raffensperger to “find” votes that would reverse his defeat in the state.

At his rally, Mr Biden did not make direct reference to the call, but alluded to Mr Trump’s persistent challenges to the election results, saying that “politicians cannot assert, take or seize power”.

Mr Biden won 306 votes to Mr Trump’s 232 in the US electoral college, which confirms the US president. Mr Biden won at least seven million more votes than the president.

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