Decision day in Georgia with Senate majority at stake

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally for Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and David Perdue at Dalton Regional Airport, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, in Dalton, Ga. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

ATLANTA — Georgia voters are set to decide the balance of power in Congress in a pair of high-stakes Senate runoff elections.

At a rally in northwest Georgia on the eve of Tuesday’s runoffs, President Donald Trump told supporters, “You’ve got to swarm it tomorrow.”

The president called Georgia’s Republican secretary of state “crazy” and vowed to help defeat him in two years.

Georgia’s January elections, necessary because no Senate candidates received a majority of the general-election votes, have been unique for many reasons, not least because the contenders essentially ran as teams, even campaigning together sometimes.

One contest features Democrat Raphael Warnock, an Atlanta pastor, facing off against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state’s Republican governor. She is only the second woman to represent Georgia in the Senate. Loeffler and her allies have seized on Warnock’s controversial sermons to cast him as extreme.

The other election pits former business executive David Perdue, who held the Senate seat until his term officially expired on Sunday, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. At just 33 years old, Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member if elected. The fresh-faced Democrat first rose to national prominence in 2017 when he launched an unsuccessful House special election bid.

Despite fears among some Republicans that Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud could depress turnout, the two GOP candidates have pledged fealty to the president. Perdue on Tuesday said that Trump would “of course” deserve the credit if the Republicans won.

“What the president said last night is, even if you are upset, you’ve got to stand up with us and fight,” Perdue told “Fox & Friends.” “We’ll look back on this day if we don’t vote and really rue the day that we turned the keys to the kingdom over to the Democrats.”

This week’s elections mark the formal finale to the turbulent 2020 election season more than two months after the rest of the nation finished voting. The stakes have drawn nearly $500 million in campaign spending to a once solidly Republican state that now finds itself as the nation’s premier battleground.

Democratic success will likely depend on driving a huge turnout of African Americans, young voters, college-educated voters and women. Republicans, meanwhile, have been focused on energizing their base beyond the core of metro Atlanta.

More than 3 million Georgians voted before Tuesday.

Campaigning in Georgia on Monday hours before Trump’s visit, Vice President Mike Pence said he has concerns about “voting irregularities.” He has also repeatedly described Georgia Republicans as “the last line of defense” against a Democratic takeover in Washington, an implicit acknowledgement that the Trump has indeed lost the election.

Loeffler took the stage at Trump’s rally and vowed to join the growing number of Republicans protesting the count on the Senate floor.

“Look, this president fought for us,” she said. “We’re fighting for him.”