© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump travels from the South Lawn at the White House in Washington to West Point, New York
By Rich McKay and Nathan Layne
ATLANTA (Reuters) voters in Georgia cast their vote in two runoff elections Tuesday to determine control of the U.S. Senate and possibly the fate of the ambitious legislative agenda of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.
Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler faced Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, and Reverend Raphael Warnock, a pastor of a black church in Atlanta
Democrats must win both competitions in Georgia, which Biden narrowly fought against Republican President Donald Trump in the November 3 presidential election, in order to take control of the Senate.
A double victory for the Democrats would create a 50:50 split in the Senate, leaving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with the groundbreaking vote, and giving Democrats control of the Chamber. The party already has a majority in the House of Representatives.
If Republicans persist in the Senate, they would effectively have a veto power over Biden’s political and legal representatives, as well as many of his political initiatives in areas such as economic aid, climate change, health care and criminal justice.
The results for Georgia are expected to be known by Wednesday morning, according to government officials.
No Democrat has won a Senate race in Georgia in two decades, but opinion polls show both races are extraordinarily close. The runoff elections, a peculiarity of constitutional law, became necessary when no candidate in either of the Senate races exceeded 50% of the vote in November.
Overall, Tuesday’s vote appeared to be relatively smooth, with long lines in some places. State electoral system manager Gabriel Sterling said in a lunchtime post on Twitter that the average nationwide wait was just 1 minute.
In Cobb County outside of Atlanta, 63-year-old Scott Sweeney said he voted for Perdue and Loeffler to control Democratic power.
“I think the two agree with my values,” said Sweeney. “Taxes for One and Traditional Values.”
Roshard Tamplin, 42, said he supported the two Democrats and identified civil rights and voting rights as important issues.
“They’re trying to make it harder to vote for blacks,” Tamplin, who is black, said of Republicans.
The final days of tense competitions that set records for campaign spending and early turnout in Georgia were marked by Trump’s continued efforts to undermine the results of the presidential election.
On Saturday, Trump pressured Georgian Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find” enough votes to undo Biden’s victory, again falsely claiming massive fraud.
Trump’s efforts to undo his loss – some Republicans plan to object to confirmation of Biden’s victory when Congress meets on Wednesday to officially count the presidential election – have split his party and led to critical condemnation who accuse him of undermining democracy.
Biden will take office on January 20th.
At a rally in Georgia on Monday, Trump again falsely claimed he had won the state and declared the November 3 vote “rigged”. A claim some Republicans have feared will deter supporters from voting on Tuesday.
Both Loeffler and Perdue have strongly supported Trump’s challenge to Biden’s victory. Biden, who held his own rally in Atlanta on Monday, was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win in Georgia since 1992.
In Marrieta, 42-year-old LaVonte Jackson voted for the Democrats, saying, “Kamala and Biden are very busy, especially after four years at Trump. I don’t know if there was a more important vote.”
Jonathan Temple, 57, said he feared Democrats would increase spending and taxes if given full authority in Washington.
“It looks like we have certainly lost the White House, although there are still some problems,” he said. “But we have to hold on to the Senate. If we lose, we will certainly get higher taxes – you can bet on that.”
Wall Street major indices rose after a weak start on Tuesday as investors waited for the Georgia result.
If he was elected, Warnock would become Georgia’s first black US Senator and Ossoff would become the youngest member of the Senate at 33. Perdue is a former Fortune 500 executive who served a tenure in the Senate. Loeffler, one of the richest members of Congress, was appointed a year ago to fill the seat of a retired senator.
Raffensperger told Fox News that the election results are expected to be known on Wednesday morning. Raffensperger said Trump’s false claims about election fraud undermined voter confidence in the runoff election, adding, “I can assure you that it will be a fair and honest election, that it will be safe and reliable.”
Polls are open until 7 p.m. EST (2400 GMT). Approximately 3 million ballots were cast in early face-to-face and absentee ballots, reflecting a pandemic trend in November.
Democrats were encouraged by the early voting, including strong numbers of black voters who were seen as critical to their chances. Historically, Republicans appeared in greater numbers on Election Day.
Speaking to reporters in Atlanta, Ossoff said Georgians wanted equal justice, economic relief, help fight the pandemic and an end to the Washington deadlock.
“This is the kind of change that Georgian voters have called for in record numbers,” Ossoff said.
Warnock told supporters at an event in Atlanta that victory was “within reach”.
Perdue and Loeffler have presented themselves as the final obstacle to unbridled liberalism in Washington.
“We’ll look back on that day if we don’t vote and really regret the day we turned over the keys to the kingdom to the Democrats,” Perdue, whose current term technically ended on Sunday, told Fox News on Tuesday.