Nov 6, 2020 - Politics & Policy

All eyes — and $$$ — on Georgia

Illustration of a hundred dollar bill with a Georgia-shaped hole punched out of the center
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Brace yourself for Part II of the 2020 election — it starts today, in Georgia. Hundreds of millions of dollars are about to pour into the Peach State, now that control of the Senate — and the fate of the next president's agenda — hinges on runoffs for not one but both of the state's seats, set for Jan. 5.

Why it matters: If Joe Biden goes to the White House, the outcomes of these races will determine whether he can move aggressively to enact Democratic policy priorities and confirm his top cabinet and judicial nominees.

The state of play: Republicans are currently on track for a two-seat advantage in the Senate, with a 50-48 breakdown. But the Georgia special elections give Democrats a tantalizing, if long-shot, chance to even the score.

  • Should Democrats win both runoffs, they could claw their way to a 50-50 split — and under Biden, that would effectively give Dems the majority. That's because a Vice President Kamala Harris would have the power to break tie votes, in the role of President of the Senate.
  • If Republicans hold Senate control, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could force centrist, GOP-approved picks and stand as a bulwark against a more progressive agenda.
  • If President Trump were somehow to hang on, but Democrats won both Georgia runoffs, Vice President Mike Pence would hold tiebreaking power — but just one GOP defection on any vote could rein in Trump in ways the current Senate majority does not.

Be smart: Republicans likely have the upper hand in this long-red state — but the prize is so big it's worth Democrats giving it their all.

  • In the Nov. 3 special election between Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), Rep. Doug Collins (R) and Raphael Warnock (D), Loeffler's and Collins' combined votes easily overtake those cast for Warnock. Now Loeffler and Warnock will face off.
  • Republicans are also confident about Sen. David Perdue (R), despite Democrat Jon Ossoff posing an impressive challenge.

What we’re hearing: Conservative groups have already begun organizing mobilization and fundraising efforts. They hope to raise — and spend — more than $100 million per race.

  • Loeffler sent out a campaign fundraising blast Thursday night with the subject line “it's not over”: “Georgia will decide the balance of the Senate — and it's why I'm writing to you today.  I need your help to win the runoff election and solidify the Republican majority in the Senate,” the email read.
  • Heritage Action for America has pledged more than $1 million over the next two months.
  • One key issue for Republicans: Opposing efforts to defund the police.

Democrats will rely on Act Blue and the same small-dollar donors that gave them a more than 2:1 cash advantage in almost every race.

  • “Georgia is clearly now a purple battleground state," said Scott Fairchild, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We’re ready to help Jon flip this Senate seat.”

The big picture: This cycle has seen an unprecedented amount of money flood into Senate races, with four contests costing more than $200 million dollars.

  • But Democrats' clear cash advantage didn’t translate into overwhelming victories. They outspent Republicans in the top nine most competitive races and won only three of them.
  • Republicans were able to remain competitive with massive spending from outside super PACs. The Senate Leadership Fund raised $92 million for the state in September alone.
  • “We got hugely outspent, and we’re anticipating that again. But we feel we made up for it with the ground game and really good advertising as well as overreach by Democrats on key issues,” a Republican strategist involved in the fundraising efforts tells Axios.

What they are saying: “These two Georgia Senate run-offs are critical to stop Biden’s progressive lurch to the left,” said Scott Reed, a Republican consultant.

  • “The GOP understands we have to show up,” said former Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston.
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