Georgia voters could determine control of the U.S. Senate

    The U.S. Capitol Building. Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

    WASHINGTON — Control of the U.S. Senate may depend on two runoff races in Georgia, where the outcome won’t be known until early January — opening the door to a fresh round of massive campaign spending in the Peach State.

    One runoff between GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock is already set. While the second runoff between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff has yet to be officially scheduled, Republicans are already scrambling to fundraise.

    “The fate of the Senate Majority is on the line in Georgia,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee — an arm of the GOP that works to maintain its control in the Senate — texted to donors Thursday. “If you don’t step up now, (Sen. Chuck) Schumer and the Dems take control.”

    Republicans and Democrats are currently in a deadlock for U.S. Senate control at 48-48, with four races — Alaska, the two in Georgia and North Carolina — still uncalled. Alaska and North Carolina are considered likely to be held by Republicans, so that leaves Georgia the potential decider. The runoffs would be on Jan. 5.

    In Michigan, Senate Democrats boosted their numbers when Sen. Gary Peters narrowly won his reelection race against Republican John James, which was called Wednesday night by the Associated Press.

    “It’s an honor to serve you for another six years in the U.S. Senate,” Peters said in a statement. “To all who believed in us, gave your time and effort in our fight: thank you for putting your trust in me.”

    Republicans fend off challengers

    Democrats so far have only had a net gain of one Senate seat.

    The party was favored to flip five to seven seats in toss-up races against vulnerable Republicans, but the GOP was able to defend seats in Montana, Iowa, South Carolina, Texas and Maine.

    Democrats flipped two seats, Cory Gardner’s in Colorado and Martha McSally’s in Arizona, but lost Sen. Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama — as expected.

    In North Carolina, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina has declared himself the victor, leading challenger Cal Cunningham by fewer than 2 percentage points. Officials have counted about 93% of votes but it’s considered unlikely Cunningham would overcome Tillis.

    “What we accomplished tonight was a stunning victory,” Tillis said in a victory speech Wednesday. “We did it against all the odds, right?”

    Nearly a month before the race, Cunningham was embroiled in a scandal in which text messages revealed he had an extramarital affair. The North Carolina race was also the most expensive campaign race ever, with nearly $250 million in spending, including from outside sources.

    In Alaska, where officials have only counted half of the votes, incumbent GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan has a healthy lead of 62% over his opponent, Democrat Al Gross. However, vote counting isn’t expected to be completed until Nov. 18, since absentee votes won’t start being tallied until Nov. 10.

    Because of the pandemic, there are thousands of uncounted mail ballots.

    The final outcome in the presidential race is still unknown, but The Associated Press says Democratic candidate Joe Biden is currently in the lead with 264 electoral college votes, as President Donald Trump trails with 214. The winner needs 270 electoral college votes.

    Biden and GOP Senate?

    As Senate races slowly trickle in, it seems more likely that a Biden administration would have to work with a GOP-controlled Senate.

    For Republicans to maintain their Senate majority, they would need to win in North Carolina and Alaska and just one of the Georgia races to gain a 51-49 edge.

    If Democrats lose Alaska and North Carolina but win both Georgia seats, it would be a 50-50 deadlock but they would have a Vice President Kamala Harris breaking tie votes, assuming Democrats capture the presidency.

    “That means that in those two Senate runoffs… Democrats would have to flip control of both,” Jessica Taylor, a Senate analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report wrote in a post. “And again, where virtually nothing went right for them on Election Night, it’s not a given these would in the Peach State either.”

    Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp after Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson stepped down due to health problems, did not reach the 50% threshold needed to keep her seat. In Georgia, if neither candidate gets a majority of the votes, then the top two performing candidates face off in a runoff election.

    Another Republican running in that race, Doug Collins, conceded and pledged his support for Loeffler.

    In the nearly 96% of votes that were reported, Warnock received about 1.5 million, Loeffler received about 1.2 million and Collins got about 990,000 votes. If Republican voters unite to back Loeffler in January, it may be difficult for Warnock to defeat her.

    However, if there is a runoff race between Perdue and Ossoff, it could be much closer, since Perdue has a slim lead over his opponent.

    “When a runoff is called and held in January, Georgians are going to send Jon to the Senate to defend their health care and put the interests of working families and small businesses ahead of corporate lobbyists,” Ossoff’s campaign manager, Ellen Foster, said in a statement. “Georgians are sick and tired of the endless failure, incompetence, and corruption of Senator Perdue and Donald Trump.”

    Ben Fry, Perdue’s campaign manager, said in a statement that the senator was confident he would win if a runoff election was called.

    “If overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we’re ready, and we will win,” he said.

    THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
    Subscribe now.
    HELP US GROW
    Make a tax-deductible donation.
    Ariana Figueroa
    Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance. Before joining States Newsroom, Ariana covered public health and chemical policy on Capitol Hill for E&E News. As a Florida native, she's worked for the Miami Herald and her hometown paper, the Tampa Bay Times. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Tribune and NPR. She is a graduate of the University of Florida.