Two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia that will determine which party controls the legislative chamber for the next two years remained too early to call late Tuesday, with the four candidates locked in tight contests and many ballots left to be tabulated.
Georgia has become a political focal point since the Nov. 3 general election, when none of the candidates in the state’s two Senate contests earned more than 50 per cent of the vote. That forced both races to a Jan. 5 runoff.
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Republican David Perdue is facing Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff as he seeks a second term. Meanwhile, appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler is running against Democrat Raphael Warnock to complete the remainder of retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term.
Around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the candidates in each contest were neck and neck in the counted vote. Much of vote favouring Democrats came from ballots cast before Election Day, while Republicans were performing well with ballots cast the day of the election.
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Additionally, there was a large number of outstanding ballots left to be counted in Democratic-leaning and population-dense counties around Atlanta.
The outcomes of the two races will help determine the country’s political trajectory over the next two years. If Democrats win both, they will have a 50-50 seat split with Republicans in the Senate with Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris poised to cast tie-breaking votes.
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That would enable President-elect Joe Biden to enact an ambitious agenda that includes liberal priorities like raising the minimum wage, approving additional economic stimulus to combat the effects of the pandemic and expanding health care.
But Republicans only need to carry one of the seats to hold a slim 51-49 majority that could serve as a conservative bulwark to limit Biden’s ambitions.
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The fact that Georgia will determine which of these two dueling visions could become reality speaks to its recent emergence as a swing state. Georgia has been a Republican stronghold for decades, like much of the rest of the South. Whether both, one or none of the Democrats win will test just how far the state has come.
Georgia’s government is dominated by the GOP. A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate contest in the state since former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller in 2000. And until Biden won it by just under 12,000 votes in November, a Democratic presidential contender hadn’t carried the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.
But it has slowly morphed into a battleground _ a change driven in part by demographic shifts, particularly in the economically vibrant area of metropolitan Atlanta.
As older, white, Republican-leaning voters die, they’ve been replaced by a younger and more racially diverse cast of people, many of whom moved to the Atlanta area from other states — and took their politics with them.
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Overall, demographic trends show that the state’s electorate is becoming younger and more diverse each year. Like other metro areas, Atlanta’s suburbs have also moved away from Republicans. In 2016, Hillary Clinton flipped both Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Four years later, electoral maps showed a sea of blue in the more than half-dozen counties surrounding Atlanta.
In 2018, Democrat Stacey Abrams galvanized Black voters in her bid to become the country’s first African American woman to lead a state, a campaign she narrowly lost.
© 2021 The Canadian Press