ATLANTA — With control of the Senate at stake, Georgians are turning out to vote in significant numbers in advance of the crucial Jan. 5 runoff elections.
As of Monday morning, 2.13 million voters, representing 27.5 percent of all registered voters in the state, had already cast their ballots in the races that pit Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue against Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. With so much on the line, and with such a huge influx of attention, advertising and funds flowing into Georgia, the state’s voters have mobilized during early voting.
“Typically you’d hope for 50 percent of the general election [total] in a runoff, which would be 2.5 million votes,” said Georgia political analyst Fred Hicks. With four days’ worth of early voting remaining, plus Election Day turnout, it seems all but certain that Georgia will surpass historical norms for a runoff election.
The U.S. Elections Project, a nonpartisan information source based at the University of Florida, has released data up to Dec. 28. The demographic breakdowns suggest that the races are every bit as close as polls indicate.
FiveThirtyEight’s current polling averages have Perdue ahead of Ossoff by the slimmest of margins — 47.9 percent to 47.8 percent — and Warnock ahead of Loeffler by 1 percentage point, 48.3 percent to 47.3 percent.
Since no candidate received a 50 percent majority in November’s general election, both of Georgia’s Senate seats are in play. Republicans old a 50-48 elected majority in the Senate at the moment. The two Georgia elections will determine whether Republicans will continue to control the upper chamber, or whether the incoming Biden administration will be able to break a potential 50-50 legislative deadlock with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s vote.
In November, Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since 1992. That victory has given Georgia Democrats hope of flipping their Senate seats, but Biden’s narrow margin of victory — only about 12,000 votes — shows that the outcomes of the runoffs are far from certain.
More than half of all the votes cast so far in Georgia’s Senate runoffs — 57 percent — have come from voters 56 and older, while less than 15 percent have come from voters 34 and under, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Elections Project. That’s a significant change from the general election, when about 46 percent of all early ballots came from voters 56 and older, while nearly 21 percent came from voters 34 and under.
White voters have cast 55 percent of all early ballots, while Black voters have cast almost 32 percent. The total of white voters is almost identical to the early-ballot total during the general election, while the Black vote percentage is up from 27.7 percent in November.
“The voters so far are more ethnically diverse than Republicans would like, but are older than Democrats would like,” Hicks said. “That’s why you see Republicans pushing the rural Georgia vote and why you see Democrats pushing harder on digital and where younger voters are.”
In recent weeks, each party has brought in high-profile surrogates to hit the campaign trail, including Biden and Harris as well as President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and donations have poured in from across the country.
All the attention on the state could be working. Nearly 69,000 voters who did not vote at all in the general election have already cast ballots in the runoffs. In elections where the margin between victory and defeat is paper-thin, that bloc alone could determine the outcomes, and in turn control of the Senate and the fate of Biden’s agenda.
The question for Republicans is how much Trump’s ongoing criticism of the electoral process will hurt turnout. Trump, who is scheduled to visit the state again on the eve of the elections, has continued to press unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in Georgia, attacking state officials despite the fact that Georgia has held multiple recounts that all show a Biden victory. Loeffler and Perdue, meanwhile, have quietly backed away from Trump’s claims; even Loeffler’s nickname for her December trek around the state — the Senate Firewall Tour — is an implicit acknowledgment of Biden’s victory, since Democratic control of the Senate would not be possible unless Trump lost in November.
“There is a very real possibility that the talk about a rigged election is suppressing the fringe Republican voter,” Hicks said. “This is the crux of what I call the Trump electoral dilemma: how to get the Trump voters back without the Trump baggage that flipped Republican voters to Biden.”
The challenge for Democrats, on the other hand, is to figure how to entice nearly 100,000 voters who cast their ballots for Biden but did not, in turn, vote for Ossoff. (Warnock was part of a crowded electoral field, making direct statistical comparison less accurate.) Some of those voters simply did not vote for any Senate candidate, but the question for Democrats is how to attract the voters who explicitly repudiated Trump while remaining loyal to Republican candidates further down the ballot.
Early voting in Georgia continues until Dec. 31. Absentee ballots must be requested by Jan. 1. Election Day is Jan. 5. State election officials can begin processing ballots 15 days before Election Day, but the ballots cannot be tabulated until polls close.
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