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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1992, but Georgia's changing demographics may prove pivotal this year — not only to Trump v. Biden, but also to whether Democrats take control of the Senate.

Why it matters: If the fate of the Senate did hinge on Georgia, it might be January before we know the outcome. Meanwhile, voters' understanding of this power in the final days of the election could juice turnout enough to impact presidential results.

Here's why it could come down to Georgia:

  • Not just one, but both of Georgia's Senate seats are on the ballot this year because of the special election to fill Johnny Isakson's seat.
  • Polling shows they're crowded or close races with no clear winner.
  • Georgia law sends general-election races to a Jan. 5 runoff if no one hits 50%+ — and right now no candidate is reaching 50% in the polling. So if control of the Senate isn't clear by then, we'll have to wait for the Georgia runoffs.

Driving the news: GOP incumbent Sen. David Perdue was tied with Democrat Jon Ossoff at 43% in the latest public polling, a New York Times/Siena College poll out this week. Libertarian Shane Hazel had 4%, potentially drawing enough support to block either major-party candidate from crossing 50%.

  • Perdue drew national attention recently by intentionally mispronouncing Biden running mate Kamala Harris' name.
  • An internal memo from Ossoff's campaign manager out this week argued they "expect much of the third-party vote to move to one of the major party choices."

The intraparty battle for the other seat, between Sen. Kelly Loeffler (who's filled the seat since January after Isakson retired early for health reasons) and Rep. Doug Collins, has split the GOP side of the vote, with Loeffler holding an edge.

  • That's allowed Democrat Raphael Warnock to slide into the lead, though no one's close to 50%.
  • The poll also showed President Trump and Joe Biden running tied in Georgia in the final stretch.

By the numbers: Demographic shifts have worked against Republicans’ hold in Georgia, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Nearly a third of Georgians are Black, and white people’s share of the population has fallen significantly in the past two decades.
  • With the pandemic and push toward early voting, white early voting has increased 64% in Georgia compared to the same point in 2016, according to TargetSmart. But early ballots cast by Black voters has increased 88%.
  • While they together make up less than 5% of early votes cast so far, Hispanic American and Asian American early voting has increased 227% and 277%, respectively.

What they're saying: Democrats may be bullish about their momentum, but they can't ignore the influx of cash from Republican super PACs aimed at holding the state.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, has already spent more than $32 million on attack ads against Ossoff, per the Daily Beast.
  • Dems hope registration efforts since 2016, and their gains in 2018 midterms, gives them the boost they need to break through. "This is yet another battleground state in Republicans’ firewall that’s falling apart," Stewart Boss, national press secretary at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Axios.

Republican operatives tell Axios that they think both races will go to a runoff, but they say Perdue still has an advantage because of a history there of runoff elections breaking for the GOP.

  • “Both races are critically important for the Senate math, for both parties, in seeking the majority," Jack Pandol, communications director for the Senate Leadership Fund, tells Axios. "That’s why you’re seeing the amount of spending in this state.”

Flashback: Before Bill Clinton won Georgia in 1992, the only other Democratic nominee the state has backed since the 1960s was Georgia's own Jimmy Carter.

Go deeper

The Mischief Makers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers are emerging as troublemakers within their parties and political thorns for their leadership.

Why it matters: We're calling this group "The Mischief Makers" — members who threaten to upend party unity — the theme eclipsing Washington at the moment — and potentially jeopardize the Democrats' or Republicans' position heading into the 2022 midterms.

Updated 1 hour ago - World

German election: Social Democrats narrowly beat Angela Merkel's bloc

SPD leader Olaf Scholz. Photo: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg via Getty Images

BERLIN — The center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) clinched a narrow victory in Germany's historic federal elections on Sunday, just four years after suffering its worst loss since World War II.

Why it matters: It's a stunning political comeback for the SPD, paving the way for its chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz to form a new governing coalition and lead Europe's largest economy into the post-Merkel era.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney: Americans deserve better than choice of Biden or Trump

Rep. Liz Cheney talks with Lesley Stahl on CBS' "60 Minutes." Photo: CBS News

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Americans "deserve better than having to choose between" President Biden's "disastrous" policies and former President Trump, "who violated his oath of office."

Why it matters: Cheney made the remarks after CBS' Lesley Stahl put it to her in the interview that Republicans feel that her joining the House select committee in charge of investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot helps "keep the focus on Trump instead of on the shortcomings of the Biden administration."