ATLANTA — Georgia voters are set to decide the balance of power in Congress in a pair of high-stakes Senate runoff elections that will help determine President-elect Joe Biden's capacity to enact his agenda.
Some Republicans are unified against Biden's plans for health care, environmental protection and civil rights, but some fear that President Donald Trump's objections to the presidential election may discourage voters in Georgia.
Democrats must win both of the state's Senate elections to gain the Senate majority. In that scenario, the Senate would be equally divided 50-50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaker for Democrats.
Democrats already secured a narrow House majority and the White House during November's general election.
Even a closely divided Democratic Senate likely won't guarantee Biden everything he wants, given Senate rules that require 60 votes to move most major legislation. But if Democrats lose even one of Tuesday's contests, Biden would have little shot for swift up-or-down votes on his most ambitious plans to expand government-backed health care coverage, strengthen the middle class, address racial inequality and combat climate change. A Republican-controlled Senate also would create a rougher path for Biden's Cabinet picks and judicial nominees.
"Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you. The power is literally in your hands," Biden charged at his own rally in Atlanta earlier Monday. "One state can chart the course, not just for the next four years, but for the next generation."
Georgia's January elections, necessary because no Senate candidates received a majority of the general-election votes, have been unique for many reasons, not least because the contenders essentially ran as teams, even campaigning together sometimes.
One contest features Democrat Raphael Warnock, who serves as the senior pastor of the Atlanta church where slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. grew up and preached. The 51-year-old Black man was raised in public housing and spent most of his adult life preaching in Baptist churches.
Warnock is facing Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state's Republican governor. She is only the second woman to represent Georgia in the Senate, although race has emerged as a campaign focus far more than gender. Loeffler and her allies have seized on some snippets of Warnock's sermons at the historic Black church to cast him as extreme. Dozens of religious and civil rights leaders have pushed back.
The other election pits 71-year-old former business executive David Perdue, who held the Senate seat until his term officially expired on Sunday, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. At just 33 years old, Ossoff would be the Senate's youngest member if elected. The fresh-faced Democrat first rose to national prominence in 2017 when he launched an unsuccessful House special election bid.
Democrats have hammered Perdue and Loeffler, each among the Senate's wealthiest members, for conspicuously timed personal stock trades after members of Congress received information about the public health and economic threats of COVID-19 as Trump and Republicans downplayed the pandemic. None of the trades has been found to violate the law or Senate ethics, but Warnock and Ossoff have used the moves to cast the Republicans as self-interested and out of touch.
Perdue and Loeffler have answered by lambasting the Democratic slate as certain to usher in a leftward lunge in national policy. Neither Warnock nor Ossoff is a socialist, as Republicans allege. They do, however, support Biden's agenda.