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Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (from left) are the Democrats running against Republican incumbents in the Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia Senate runoff elections. Warnock is running against (at right) Kelly Loeffler and Ossoff against David Perdue. (AP) Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (from left) are the Democrats running against Republican incumbents in the Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia Senate runoff elections. Warnock is running against (at right) Kelly Loeffler and Ossoff against David Perdue. (AP)

Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (from left) are the Democrats running against Republican incumbents in the Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia Senate runoff elections. Warnock is running against (at right) Kelly Loeffler and Ossoff against David Perdue. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher November 13, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Following the Nov. 3 elections, Republicans hold a 50-48 lead in the Senate.

  • Runoff elections are being held Jan. 5 for Georgia’s two Senate seats, both of which are held by Republicans.

  • If the Democratic challengers win, a 50-50 split would benefit Democrats, since Vice President Kamala Harris would vote to break any tie votes.

With Election Day 2020 behind, the state of Georgia is now taking center stage in the battle over which political party will control the U.S. Senate.

President-elect Joe Biden will work with a House where his fellow Democrats hold a slim majority. But we won’t know who will control the Senate until after two Peach State runoff elections Jan. 5. 

Georgia voters have between now and then to decide who they will support — and their decision will determine whether the nation’s government will be politically divided or one-party led.

The races will appear separately on Georgia ballots. But with pressure on the GOP to keep the Senate, the runoff campaigns to some extent have become the two Republican incumbents — Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — running in tandem against the two Democratic challengers — the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff

Expect a lot of straight-ticket voting, said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

Democrats haven’t won a Georgia Senate seat since Zell Miller did in 2000. But their party’s candidates were able to force both incumbents into runoffs. Also encouraging for Warnock and Ossoff supporters: Biden is leading the presidential contest in Georgia, which still has not been called.

"Everything will come down to which party will be able to turn out more of their voters," said Thomas Hunter, a political scientist at West Georgia University in Carrollton.

Here’s our look at the candidates and some of the dynamics in the two races.

Makeup of the Senate

Before the Nov. 3 elections, Republicans held a 53-47 advantage in the Senate (that includes two seats held by independents who caucus with the Democrats).

The GOP’s lead increased to 50-48 following a concession by the Democratic challenger in North Carolina on Nov. 10, and a win for the GOP incumbent in Alaska projected by news organizations on Nov. 11. 

If Democrats win both Georgia seats, that would give Democrats the edge, because Vice President Kamala Harris would vote to break any ties.

Who’s running

Georgia was in an unusual spot going into Nov. 3 because both of its Senate seats were up for election due to an unexpected opening. Under Georgia’s rules, since no candidate in either race won at least 50% of the vote, the two runner-ups meet in runoffs.

The special election: GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned in December with health problems, was replaced on an interim basis by Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman. She was the chief executive of Bakkt, a financial services company, and is an owner of the Atlanta Dream, a Women’s National Basketball Association franchise. Her Democratic challenger is Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. This is the first run for public office for both of them. 

Among 21 candidates in the Nov. 3 special election, Warnock finished first, with 32.9% of the vote and Loeffler finished second, with 25.9%. 

Regular-cycle election: Perdue, who had been the CEO of several businesses before joining the Senate in 2015, faces Ossoff, a Democrat and documentary filmmaker. Ossoff ran for office once before, losing to Republican Karen Handel in a special election for an Atlanta-area U.S. House seat in 2017 — the most expensive House race in history. 

In the Nov. 3 contest, Perdue finished first, with 49.7% of the vote, to Ossoff’s 47.9%. 

Dynamics of Loeffler-Warnock

Besides the huge number of candidates, the special election was notable in that it featured a high-profile duel between two GOP office holders, Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. Collins finished third, with nearly 20% of the vote.

Loeffler and Collins attacked each other, as both strived to portray themselves as the more conservative. (Loeffler , only somewhat in jest, made an ad calling herself more conservative than Attila the Hun.) Loeffler also attacked Warnock as a radical.

By contrast, Warnock tried to stay above the fray and emerged as the Democrat with the strongest showing by far. He did at times attack Loeffler, claiming that when she heard about COVID-19, she "focused on her own portfolio" and "profited from the pandemic." We rated that Half True. Loeffler benefited from stock transactions, but a Senate Ethics Committee investigation found no evidence she broke laws or Senate rules. 


Perdue and Ossoff had ample room in their race to focus attacks on each other, given there was only one other candidate in their race, a Libertarian. 

During the campaign, Ossoff slammed Perdue’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and criticized Republican efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act. 

One attack he made on Perdue during an Oct. 29 debate went viral. It was in reference to Perdue’s purchase of stock in DuPont de Nemours, which sells personal protective equipment, on Jan. 24, the same day he received a classified briefing on the threat posed by the coronavirus, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

"It’s not just that you’re a crook, Senator," Ossoff said. "It’s that you’re attacking the health of the people that you represent. You did say COVID-19 was no deadlier than the flu. You did say there would be no significant uptick in cases. All the while you were looking after your own assets and your own portfolio."

Perdue has denied any wrongdoing, and said any transactions he made were executed by a financial adviser without his knowledge. 

In the same debate, Perdue said of Ossoff: "The thing I’m most upset about is that he’ll say and do anything to my friends in Georgia to mislead them about how radical and socialist" his agenda is.

2 against 2

Loeffler and Perdue have joined forces to motivate GOP voters and raise money.

In an effort seen by some as a political maneuver to help their re-election fights Loeffler and Perdue, six days after Election Day, jointly called for the resignation of their fellow Republican, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Tapping into sentiments stoked by President Donald Trump, they accused Raffensperger of "mismanagement and lack of transparency," but cited no instances of election malfeasance. They are using Twitter to recruit volunteers to help both campaigns. And on Nov. 11, Perdue’s wife, Bonnie Perdue, joined Loeffler and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at a "Save Our Majority" rally.

On the other side, Bustle, a website marketed to young women, published an article Nov. 10 on ways to support the two candidates. 

Hunter said the GOP incumbents "might be slight favorites," more so to Perdue. But he cautioned that "there will be a huge amount of attention and money lavished on these two races."

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Our Sources

PolitiFact, "Republicans attack Republicans in Georgia, hoping to keep GOP control of the U.S. Senate," Nov. 10, 2020

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Kelly Loeffler, Doug Collins and Raphael Warnock in the Georgia special Senate race," Oct. 31, 2020

Twitter, David Perdue tweet, Nov. 10, 2020

Twitter, Kelly Loeffler tweet, Nov. 11, 2020

Bustle, "How To Help Georgia Senate Runoff Races & Flip The Senate Blue," Nov. 10, 2020

ActBlue, solicitation for donations to Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock, accessed Nov. 11, 2020

Email, Alan Abramowitz, Emory University political scientist, Nov. 11, 2020

Email, West Georgia University political scientist Thomas Hunter, Nov. 11, 2020

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