It’s only January 5, and the biggest election of 2021 is already upon us. Today’s runoff elections in Georgia between Jon Ossoff and Sen. David Perdue and Rev. Raphael Warnock and Sen. Kelly Loeffler will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. If the Democratic challengers win both elections, Chuck Schumer, not Mitch McConnell, will preside over the confirmation of Joe Biden’s nominations and legislative agenda. If the Republicans win just one of two, power in Congress will be split and Biden’s ambitions will be stymied.
Much like Election Night in November, we should expect initial returns to skew Republican, as Election Day votes will outnumber the mail-in votes favored by Democrats in the early count. It could be more than a week before we have an official count, and with recounts possible, certified results could take much longer.
More than three million people voted early—the most ever in a Georgia runoff election, and an indication, perhaps, that there may not be much drop off from the five million total participants in November.
A detailed analysis of the early vote by Ryan Anderson, who works in marketing, but who has earned attention for his data-driven website, GeorgiaVotes.com, suggests the Democrats have built up an impressive lead in the early vote, ranging from 170,000 to 245,000, or six to eight percent. What’s more, precinct-level turnout looks better for the Democrats than countywide analysis alone would suggest
This jibes with the polls. The FiveThirtyEight estimate of the runoff elections has both Democrats, Ossoff and Warnock, holding narrow leads, but still a hair below the 50 percent needed to win.
Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz says “There is a greater divide in the Republican Party than there is in the Democratic Party,” and predicts “I think the next 48 hours are going to be among the worst for the GOP.”
That divide was on display on Monday night as Donald Trump held a rally in conservative northwest Georgia, ostensibly for Perdue and Loeffler. “I don’t do rallies for other people. I do them for me,”the president told the crowd, as he railed against Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Republicans who doesn’t support his effort to remain in office despite losing the election.
Of course, to win, the Democrats need their votes to count, and that won’t happen for any mail ballots that arrive late. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s efforts to slow down mail delivery could impact thousands of voters. This could be why Politico reports that Biden advisers are “privately skeptical” about Ossoff and Warnock’s chances at victory. They’re also worried that Biden’s victory in Georgia was driven by anti-Trump sentiment that won’t be as powerful in the runoffs because the president isn’t on the ballot.
Yet, Biden’s team must be pleased to see how Trump, Perdue and Loeffler tied themselves together at the end of the runoff campaign, because they want Georgia voters to treat these elections like a referendum on Trump.
During Loeffler’s brief appearance on the rally stage, she emphasized that her loyalty to the president was not in question. She announced during the rally that she would join some of her Republican peers in contesting the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, eliciting loud cheers from the audience.
“This president fought for us. We are fighting for him. He put America first,” Loeffler said. “Georgia, we are the firewall to socialism.”
That kind of rhetoric may rally some Trump-only Republican voters to the polls, but it will diminish the number of anti-Trump Republicans who find Loeffler or Perdue acceptable.
Every analyst seems to agree that the elections will be close so if you’re in Georgia, make sure your voice is heard.