How to understand the Georgia Senate runoffs

According to a CNN exit poll for the highly contested Georgia senate runoff elections, a majority of Georgia voters say the the 2020 presidential election was conducted fairly.

Posted: Jan 5, 2021 5:40 PM
Updated: Jan 5, 2021 5:40 PM

Control of the Senate majority will be decided on Tuesday night -- or maybe Wednesday morning! -- in Georgia, as Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue try to hold onto their seats.

Lose both and Democrats retake the chamber. Win either one and Republicans retain the narrowest of majorities heading into the 117th Congress. The stakes are impossibly high.

So, what's going to happen? For answers about that -- and how the two runoffs have played out -- I reached out to star Atlanta Journal-Constitution political reporter Greg Bluestein, who has covered every inch of these races.

Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.

Cillizza: Describe the scene in Georgia over these past two months. Trump contesting the 2020 election AND two runoffs!

Bluestein: Overwhelming. Extraordinary. Insane.

I've struggled throughout the races over how to best to describe these dramatic cliffhangers, with four candidates competing in high-stakes runoffs that will shape President-elect Joe Biden's agenda.

Maybe the best way to capture it is: Dramatic.

There's no shortage of breathtaking developments: Secretly recorded tapes, controversial photos and footage -- and of course President Donald Trump's ongoing war with fellow Republicans in Georgia. And then there are the incredibly high stakes involved.

As Vice President-elect Kamala Harris put it in Columbus last month: "Everything that's at stake in November is at stake in January."

No pressure, Georgia!

Cillizza: There's a tendency to lump both races together. Have they been distinct from each other? And if so, how?

Bluestein: Each of the candidates are running their own distinct operations -- but they are also effectively running as dueling tickets.

It's a bit confusing, but there's a reason for that. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock need to sweep both Senate seats for Democrats to flip control of the Senate, while Republicans decided to pool resources early to defend their majority.

Both Republicans have assailed their opponents as "radical liberals" who would lead the nation down a path toward socialism, but with different lines of attack. Loeffler has focused on sermons and stances Warnock staked from the pulpit of Atlanta's famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, while Perdue has charged that Ossoff is a feckless liberal who is too inexperienced to hold the job.

The Democrats have swung right back, accusing their rivals of being stooges of Trump and profiting off the pandemic. They've also been more willing to embrace party leaders, including liberal figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that past candidates would have run screaming from.

Cillizza: Trump. How big a factor is he in today's vote? And is it positive or negative? Or both?

Bluestein: Like just about everything else in American politics now, Trump has shaped this contest. Both parties recognized immediately this would be a race for their bases -- a pool of 2.5 million or so voters for each side in Georgia -- rather than a contest to win over the undecideds.

Loeffler and Perdue have done everything they can to placate Trump. They've chastised Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, refused to acknowledge Biden's victory, skipped a vote to override Trump's veto of the military spending policy and backed his call for $2,000 stimulus checks. On Monday came the biggest step yet: Both said they backed the doomed GOP effort to challenge Biden's win in Congress.

Democrats have tried to paint a picture of a post-Trump era in American politics, complete with more funding to fight the coronavirus, expanded health care access and a sweeping new voting-rights law. But they've also hammered the Republicans for tying themselves so closely with a President they say is undermining democracy.

And of course, the race was further rocked over the weekend by Trump's extraordinary demand to Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to reverse his election defeat. Democrats framed the recording as a brazen attempt to undermine democracy, while the GOP campaigns sought to minimize it.

Cillizza: The Democratic candidates have been somewhat overshadowed in all of this. Is one a better candidate than the other? Or running a better (or worse) campaign?

Bluestein: That's a great point. As one Democratic operative called to remind me today, the run-up to Tuesday's vote was dominated by talk about the Republicans: Trump's fuming about his election defeat, the push to contest Biden's victory in Congress, the bombshell tape. Even Biden's visit to Georgia was somewhat overshadowed by Trump's rally.

The Democrats, by the way, are OK with that. They aren't struggling to project a sense of unity like the Georgia GOP now is. And they feel that Ossoff and Warnock work in tandem together to help counter the party's traditional struggles in statewide runoffs, when younger and more diverse voters typically show up in lower numbers.

Ossoff, 33, has been appealing to millennials, African Americans and others who might usually ignore these overtime contests. And Warnock, who leads the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, has tried to re-engage Black voters.

Cillizza: Finish this sentence: "The chances of one party sweeping BOTH seats today is _________." Now, explain.

Bluestein: It's hard to predict a race like this, particularly with so little solid polling, but I'll wager the answer is: Very likely.

The Democrats have basically run as a package deal, as have the Republicans. Voters here have been bombarded by an onslaught of ads, teams of canvassers, text messages, digital messaging and other breathless appeals [casting] one side as good and the other as the face of evil. It's hard to see this ending in a split decision -- and of course that does Democrats no good, since they need a clean sweep to flip Senate control.

But I can't rule it out, either, especially if the margins are as tight as they were in November, when Biden defeated Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes. Many Republican analysts expect Perdue, who has a longer track record in GOP politics than Loeffler, to outdo her in the runoffs.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 483790

Reported Deaths: 6543
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1003791583
Ramsey42945800
Dakota36091387
Anoka33200384
Washington21986254
Stearns18703200
St. Louis14746262
Scott13209107
Wright12489115
Olmsted1176188
Sherburne869772
Carver765240
Clay688887
Rice667191
Blue Earth591035
Kandiyohi578474
Crow Wing518381
Chisago496844
Otter Tail481370
Benton444890
Winona416649
Mower402731
Douglas392268
Nobles386547
Goodhue384468
Polk342262
McLeod338349
Beltrami336751
Morrison323547
Lyon312444
Itasca311646
Becker309941
Isanti305354
Carlton299848
Steele299211
Pine281916
Freeborn279823
Nicollet256041
Todd246330
Brown243537
Le Sueur233920
Mille Lacs226747
Cass219124
Waseca208617
Meeker206934
Martin188228
Wabasha18613
Roseau179617
Hubbard160640
Houston157114
Dodge15154
Renville149040
Redwood146527
Fillmore13708
Chippewa135935
Cottonwood134520
Pennington131816
Wadena130220
Faribault122716
Aitkin118733
Sibley117110
Watonwan11708
Rock115614
Kanabec107319
Pipestone101424
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9438
Jackson93310
Swift87918
Pope8025
Marshall77615
Stevens7398
Lake73518
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68216
Wilkin66910
Koochiching61711
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5052
Grant4908
Norman4768
Unassigned44568
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40821
Red Lake3625
Traverse3025
Lake of the Woods2161
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 361499

Reported Deaths: 5412
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58007549
Linn20606312
Scott18279207
Black Hawk16223290
Woodbury14924211
Johnson1380473
Dubuque13522194
Dallas1132690
Pottawattamie10762143
Story1018945
Warren553474
Clinton542484
Cerro Gordo532781
Webster517687
Marshall495572
Sioux493469
Buena Vista472736
Des Moines457061
Muscatine450691
Wapello4314108
Jasper416266
Plymouth394277
Lee374752
Marion358469
Jones294354
Henry293037
Carroll285348
Bremer279154
Crawford273435
Boone259130
Washington253747
Benton252054
Mahaska223846
Jackson221138
Dickinson217238
Tama212965
Kossuth208154
Clay193125
Hamilton191942
Delaware188639
Winneshiek188427
Buchanan184629
Fayette184335
Page182619
Hardin180839
Wright179531
Harrison179469
Cedar177023
Clayton168053
Butler165831
Mills162820
Floyd162740
Madison154018
Poweshiek153630
Cherokee153535
Hancock146729
Lyon145941
Allamakee144946
Iowa144223
Grundy138830
Appanoose138647
Jefferson138232
Winnebago137730
Calhoun133311
Cass133351
Mitchell130640
Louisa128341
Union126331
Chickasaw124813
Sac124218
Emmet120940
Shelby120433
Franklin118419
Humboldt117225
Guthrie116228
Palo Alto104921
Montgomery103936
Howard102821
Clarke100320
Unassigned9850
Keokuk97829
Monroe93128
Adair91928
Ida90832
Pocahontas85219
Davis82523
Monona81527
Greene76910
Lucas73221
Osceola70314
Worth6947
Taylor66312
Fremont5869
Decatur5749
Van Buren56018
Ringgold51820
Wayne48721
Audubon4869
Adams3264
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