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Voters wait in line to vote at the Buckhead Library in Atlanta on the first day of in-person early voting for the Georgia Senate runoff election. Photo: Jason Armond/Getty Images

Georgia's on an early path to a huge turnout in the two runoffs to decide control of the U.S. Senate, according to data from the Georgia Secretary of State's Office crunched by Axios.

By the numbers: Voters cast 482,000 ballots in roughly the first day and a half of early voting this week. That’s equivalent to one-third of the total in the last statewide general election runoff, held in 2018, and about one-fourth of the total ballots in the last Senate runoff, held in 2008.

Driving the news: President-elect Biden visited the state today to try to boost turnout for Democrats before the Christmas holiday. The election is Jan. 5. Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are squaring off against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and the opening turnout highlighted voter interest in the races.

  • Not only are Biden and Vice President-elect Harris visiting the state this week, but President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Georgia earlier this month.
  • If Democrats pick up both seats, they gain a 50-50 Senate — with Harris casting tie-breaking votes. If Republicans win just one race, Mitch McConnell remains majority leader and sets the chamber's agenda.

What to watch: You can't read too much into early ballot numbers just yet. Georgia does not register voters by party, so it's even less clear who might be benefiting from early voting so far. That said, the first-day tally points to unusually high turnout, aided by expanded voting by mail, which tends to favor Democrats and helped Biden beat Trump in Georgia — the first time a Democratic presidential candidate had won the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.

  • 65% of ballots cast so far in the Georgia runoffs were sent by mail.
  • There are still more than 900,000 mail ballots that have been requested but not yet returned.

Be smart: Not only is there extra hype around the Senate runoffs that could drive more voters to the polls, but Georgia's population has been growing rapidly — including a million new voters in four years.

  • The big early number could be just a reflection of the sheer increase in the voting population.

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Minority Mitch still setting Senate agenda

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Chuck Schumer may be majority leader, yet in many ways, Mitch McConnell is still running the Senate show — and his counterpart is about done with it.

Why it matters: McConnell rolled over Democrats unapologetically, and kept tight control over his fellow Republicans, while in the majority. But he's showing equal skill as minority leader, using political jiujitsu to convert a perceived weakness into strength.

McConnell defends filibuster: "You don’t destroy the Senate for fleeting advantage"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday condemned Democratic support for abolishing the legislative filibuster, arguing that it would create a "scorched-earth Senate."

Why it matters: Many Democrats are pushing to use their newfound majority to eliminate the 60-vote threshold needed for major legislation, which would make it easier to pass progressive priorities. Resistance from Republicans and moderate Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.) has made that unlikely.

Schumer rattles reconciliation saber

More than an aisle separates Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, seen in the Senate Chamber after the Capitol siege. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Chuck Schumer is expected to telegraph, as soon as tonight, that he will use his political muscle to pass some of his party’s priorities — like President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Why it matters: While the Senate majority leader wants to work with Republicans on key legislation, advisers say, he will make clear that using the simple majority vote inherent in the budget reconciliation process is one of the big sticks at his disposal.