Fight looms in Georgia for Senate control

LISA MASCARO
·3-min read

Control of the US Senate is unlikely to be decided until a January runoff in Georgia, even after Democrat Joe Biden won the nation's presidency.

That post-election cliff-hanger will determine the balance of power in Washington, as neither party appears to have a lock on a Senate majority right now.

So far, the tally for the next Senate is 48 Republicans and 48 Democrats after Tuesday's election. Two seats in Georgia are headed to runoffs on January 5. And seats in North Carolina and Alaska are still too early to call.

The stakes are high for for a momentous political struggle in Georgia during President Donald Trump's final lame-duck days in office.

"Now we take Georgia, and then we change America," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told a crowd celebrating Biden's victory in Brooklyn on Saturday.

With a Democratic majority in the Senate, the party that also controls the House would have a firm grasp on power in Washington. Biden would have latitude over nominees, including for his Cabinet, and a chance to push major portions of his legislative agenda through Congress. If Democrats fall short, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, could wield the power to check Biden's ambitions.

"The Senate is the last line of defence," tweeted the National Republican Senatorial Committee as soon as the presidential race was called for Biden. It was a fundraising appeal.

Republicans have been working to retain their majority, but even if they secure the final two races where ballots are still being counted in North Carolina and Alaska, they would still fall short of the 51 seats needed.

The problem for Republicans is that the vice president of the party holding the White House casts the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Next year that would be Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. That means 50 seats for Democrats would result in control over the chamber. But Republicans would need 51 seats to cement their hold on power.

Both Senate seats in the state are now held by Republican incumbents. They were forced into the January runoff contests after no candidate reached the 50 per cent threshold needed to win outright in multi-candidate races.

GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler will face Rafael Warnock, a Black pastor from the church where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached. And Republican Sen. David Perdue, a top Trump ally, will face Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff.

Biden had been quiet on the Senate balance as he awaited the results in his own election, but he offered a preview before Tuesday's election.

"I can't tell you how important it is that we flip the United States Senate. There's no state more consequential than Georgia in that fight," Biden declared at an Atlanta rally on October 27.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminded her colleagues of the stakes for the entire party during the lame-duck sprint ahead.

"How we conduct it in the next two months will affect how we do in Georgia," Pelosi told House Democrats, according to a source. She reminded colleagues to be "respectful."