Big Questions: Georgia tests battleground status, Trump era

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Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., speaks as President Donald Trump listens during a campaign rally in support of Senate candidates Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and David Perdue in Dalton, Ga., Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The two Georgia runoffs that will determine control of the Senate have kept President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden in campaign mode and run up a half-billion-dollar tab in the process.

The money matches the stakes: Either Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff will sweep, giving Democrats both chambers of Congress and the executive branch, or Republicans will pick up at least one victory from Sen. Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue to maintain their Senate majority and force Biden to contend with divided government.

Georgia also will offer the first referendum on American politics without Trump on the ballot.

Here are some big questions as the 2020 election cycle finally nears a close:

DOES TRUMP HELP OR HURT HIS PARTY?

Perdue, who is trying to win a second term after his first one expired Sunday, and Loeffler, an appointed senator trying to win her first election, tethered themselves to Trump, ever the turnout driver, every step of the campaign.

The senators even indulged the president claiming Biden won through fraud that Trump’s attorney general and numerous federal courts said didn’t happen. When audio of a recent telephone call revealed Trump demanding that Georgia’s secretary of state, a Republican, “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory, Perdue didn’t criticize Trump. He instead called it “disgusting” that someone recorded and leaked the call. The senators have remained mum as Trump repeatedly blasted Gov. Brian Kemp, who appointed Loeffler, for not stepping in.

But anger has always helped Trump juice Republican turnout. In November, he got 385,000 more votes in Georgia than he did in 2016. But he’s also a powerful motivator for Democrats: Biden got 600,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton in 2016, enough to win by 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast.