ATLANTA – When Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock advanced to the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff, they faced the immediate challenge of winning over the 2 million voters who chose one of the 18 other candidates in November's election.
Polls show they have largely succeeded, and that could give Loeffler, the incumbent, a small advantage.
Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins came in third in the November vote that ended with the Republican candidates winning 48,000 more votes than the Democratic candidates. In Georgia's second runoff election, Republican U.S. Sen David Perdue started with an even wider lead, having won 88,000 more votes in November than Democrat Jon Ossoff. Since he didn't get a majority, however, Perdue was forced into a runoff.
Turnout could be the deciding factor.
Through Wednesday, nearly 2.1 million voters had cast ballots, roughly on pace with the Nov. 3 general election. It’s unclear how the Christmas holiday will affect the pace of balloting. In-person early voting runs as late as Dec. 31 in some counties. On Sunday night, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would visit Georgia on Jan. 4, the eve of the runoff, for a rally in support of Perdue and Loeffler.
One thing helping line voters up is the decision of the candidates in both races to run as tickets, with joint appearances and advertisements. J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said the joint effort has helped Warnock wrap up Democratic voters.
“He and Ossoff have done a better job of running as a ticket," Coleman said. "I think overall that’s going to benefit Warnock and help him consolidate some of his support.”
With the candidates running as tickets, it's unlikely the parties will split the seats. Two wins would put Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking a 50-50 tie. A split or two GOP wins would keep Republicans in control.