Incumbent GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are facing off against Democratic challengers Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in today's runoff elections in Georgia.
If Republicans win both races, they will control the Senate majority with only 52 seats. If Democrats win both, they will eke out a 50-50 Senate majority with the tie-breaking vote of incoming Vice President Kamala Harris. A split would produce a 51-49 GOP majority.
That slim range of possibilities underscores a key change in the structure of Senate elections: With each party now consistently dominating elections up and down the ballot across a larger swath of states, it has become much tougher for either to amass a commanding Senate majority.
The fact that neither side will control more than 52 seats after Tuesday means that either party has held at least 55 Senate seats in only three congressional sessions since 2000.
By contrast, in the previous 20-year span, one party reached 55 seats or more in seven congressional sessions. In fact, the meager three majorities of 55 seats or more since 2000 represent the fewest times that any party has accumulated at least 55% of the Senate seats over a 20-year span since the turn of the 20th
century, according to official Senate records.
The inability of either side to build a big cushion has contributed to a historic level of volatility in Senate control, with neither party holding the majority for more than eight consecutive years since 1980, a span of turnover unprecedented in American history.
Trump and Biden both campaigned in Georgia yesterday
President-elect Joe Biden said electing Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock in Tuesday's runoff elections would end the gridlock in Washington and allow a Democrat-controlled Senate to provide $2,000 stimulus checks to Americans.
"If you send Jon and the Reverend to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now," Biden said, making his closing argument for the Democrats at a campaign event in Atlanta on Monday.
"And if you send (Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler) back to Washington, those checks will never get there," Biden said. "It's just that simple. The power is literally in your hands."
Biden's declaration came just days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, rejected a bill that would have increased direct stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000.
Biden said the election of Ossoff and Warnock would "break the gridlock that has gripped Washington and this nation."
Biden on Monday stressed the need for Ossoff and Warnock in the Senate in order to get Congress to fully fund the Covid-19 vaccine distribution efforts. He said he needed the additional two Democrats in Congress to further his agenda on jobs, health care, justice and the environment.
Biden's campaign stop in Georgia came on the same day President Trump headlined a rally in Dalton, Georgia, to campaign for Perdue and Loeffler.
The appearances in the state came after The Washington Post published an audio recording of a stunning one-hour phone call in which Trump pushed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" votes to overturn the election results after his loss to Biden. CNN also obtained an audio recording of the phone call.
The future of America's economy is also at stake in today's runoff election
Georgia isn't just the center of the political universe. It's center stage on Wall Street, too.
The Peach State's Senate runoffs will decide control of the US Senate — and that in turn will play a pivotal role in shaping the economic recovery as well as the investing environment.
"It is impossible to overstate how critical these races are for fiscal, tax and regulatory policy over the next two years," Chris Krueger, policy analyst at Cowen Washington Research, told clients in a report Monday.
A sweep by Democrats would open the door to more powerful fiscal stimulus that the shaky economy may very well need. But it would also raise the risk of corporate tax hikes that investors despise.
Until recently, Republicans were expected to retain control of the Senate by winning at least one of the Georgia races.
However, the odds of the Democrats retaking the Senate have surged in prediction markets in recent days and weeks — a point that investors are just awakening to. If Democrats sweep in Georgia, they will effectively control the upper chamber of Congress, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote to break any 50-50 stalemates.
"Control of the Senate is a 50/50 chance in either direction," Ed Mills, Washington policy analyst at Raymond James, wrote in a note to clients Monday.
Bettors on PredictIt, a prediction market, are paying just 55 cents to win $1 if the GOP keeps control of the Senate. That's down sharply from 87 cents on Election Day and 75 cents in late December.
Given the "totally unprecedented nature" of the election, Krueger said, "the Georgia races are a "jumpball."
Who are the candidates?
In December 2019, Loeffler was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to take over the Senate seat previously held by Republican Johnny Isakson, who retired over health concerns. Loeffler, who was sworn in to office in January 2020, was a political novice, a prominent GOP donor and a businesswoman.
She was an executive at a financial services firm in Atlanta but left the post to serve in the Senate. She is also known as a co-owner of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. She had considered running for the Senate in 2014.
Loeffler is facing off against Warnock.
Warnock, a Democrat, is a senior pastor at Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which has long been a haven for the Black freedom struggle. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became a co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father in 1960.
In a video announcing his candidacy last year, Warnock described his path from Savannah's Kayton Homes housing project to the pulpit.
"Some might ask why a pastor thinks he should serve in the Senate," said Warnock. "I've always thought that my impact doesn't stop at the church door. That's actually where it starts."
Ossoff, a Democrat, rose to national prominence during a 2017 special House election that the political newcomer nearly won in a longtime conservative stronghold in Georgia. He ultimately lost to Republican Karen Handel in what was at the time the most expensive House race in history.
Ossoff describes himself as a media executive, investigative journalist and small business owner on his campaign website. He began working with a former BBC journalist, Ron McCullagh, in 2013, and then used money from an inheritance to buy a stake in McCullagh's investigative film company and renamed it Insight TWI, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The company has produced documentaries on mass killings and sexual slavery by ISIS, and a corruption investigation on judges in Ghana.
Ossoff is attempting to unseat Perdue.
Perdue, a close Trump ally, has served as a senator from Georgia since his election in 2014.
Perdue has served on the Armed Services, Banking, Budget, and Foreign Relations committees, according to his Senate website.
He had never run for public office before 2014, according to his Senate website, and prior to running for office was the CEO of Reebok athletic brand and Dollar General stores.
Perdue's term technically expired Sunday when a new Congress was sworn in, leaving his seat temporarily vacant, according to Sydney Butler, chief of staff to the secretary of the Senate -- who oversees the chamber's operations and procedures. Officials in Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's and Perdue's offices say that even if he is projected the winner Tuesday, the seat will remain vacant until the runoff results are certified -- which could take up to two weeks.