Georgia Senate race

Georgia Senate race: polls, candidates and dates

The run-off in Georgia to decide if Republicans or Democrats will control the Senate and set the agenda for the Biden presidency is too close to call.

Georgia Senate race: polls, candidates and dates
Jessica McGowan AFP

The dust may have finally settled on the US presidential elections almost two months after voters went to the ballot box with Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory reaping little reward for the current White House incumbent but residents of Georgia are now being asked to shape the political landscape for the next four years by determining the base of power in the US Senate in a run-off election.

The results of the 5 January vote will either hand the Biden administration free rein to pursue its policy agenda or will ensure Republicans retain control of the upper chamber and a grip on the decision-making process as the US seeks to engineer an economic recovery and emerge from the shadow of the covid-19 crisis.

Senate control on the line in Georgia

Control of the House and Senate has rarely been of greater public interest than during the global coronavirus pandemic. Throughout the crisis, Democrats and Republicans have jostled for supremacy over the make-up of a second fiscal relief package after the CARES Act was passed relatively painlessly in March to offer support to US citizens and businesses hit in the pocket as a result of an economic downturn unseen since the Great Depression.

A second coronavirus relief bill was eventually signed into law by Trump on 27 December after nearly nine months of negotiations but not without attendant items of discord, notably the amount of money US citizens can expect to receive in the form of a second stimulus check. After the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill to hike payments from $600 to $2,000, a move backed by Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to block it by imposing conditions on allowing it to reach the floor including the repeal of Section 230, which governs liability shielding for Big Tech firms, and the convening of a commission to investigate election fraud.

Georgia Senate run-off crucial to Biden’s agenda

The tussle for the Georgia Senate seats can potentially unblock such impasses for the duration of Biden’s four-year term: If the Republicans claim one or both seats they will retain a slim majority in the chamber and can block the President-elect’s legislative goals and judicial nominees.

If Democrats win both seats, the chamber will be split 50-50, giving the tie-breaking vote to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

The runoffs pit Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff against Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively. Trump plans to lend his weight to the Republican effort in person with another rally in Georgia the day before the 5 Jan ballot.

Nearly 2.1 million people have already cast their ballots with campaigners for both camps ramping up their efforts to rouse the electorate in the country’s eighth most-populous state.

Georgia has not elected a Democratic Senator in 20 years but Biden’s victory over Trump - by 49.5% to 49.3% - has given Democrats hope of changing the course of history in the traditionally conservative state.

Pollsters not dipping their toes into Georgia

Perdue finished ahead of Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, in the 3 November elections but fell just short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. The Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, a historic Black church, and Loeffler led a large multi-candidate field in the other race.

Early vote totals suggest record turnout for a runoff, with both sides pumping unprecedented amounts of money into advertising: $450 million to date according to the tracking firm AdImpact.

Adding extra frisson to the Georgia run-off is the lack of a comprehensive pre-vote poll. After the misses made during run-up to the presidential elections, the majority of media and academic pollsters have decided to give Georgia a skip, according to Politico.

Those polls that have been conducted suggest that the battle between Ossoff and Perdue is too close to call with many observers suggesting the outcome is a toss-up.

Polling site FiveThirtyEight’s latest numbers (as of 29 December) have Perdue a nose ahead of Ossoff at 48% - 47.6% while Warnock leads Loeffler by 48.2% to 47.7%.