ATLANTA — More than 1.3 million people have already cast their ballots in the first week of early voting in the critical Georgia Senate runoff races, according to state election data. After just six days of early in-person voting and about four weeks of mail-in balloting, the unusually high number is just about on track with last month’s historic presidential race turnout in which 5 million Georgians voted.
“Georgians are fired up,” Georgia-based Democratic strategist Greg Nasif told Yahoo News. “While some folks like me will always hold out hope for 100 percent turnout and find disappointment when we inevitably fall short, I think many will be very pleased with how the voters turn out.”
Runoff elections in Georgia, triggered when no candidate wins 50 percent of the November vote, are relatively rare. The last notable runoff in Georgia occurred in 2008, when Republican Saxby Chambliss defeated Democrat Jim Martin. The two runoff races underway right now will determine control of the U.S. Senate and potentially define the arc of the first two years of President-elect Joe Biden’s term.
Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are looking to keep their seats, while Democratic hopefuls Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock are trying to unseat the two incumbents and position Georgia as a blue state for years to come. Unless both Ossoff and Warnock win, the GOP will retain its Senate majority and its ability to block much of Biden’s agenda.
Late Saturday evening, President Trump announced he would host a rally on Jan. 4, on the eve of the Jan. 5 election. Trump used the announcement to renew his attacks on Georgia Republicans who reject his false claim that he won the Peach State in the November presidential vote.
“As badly as we were treated in Georgia by the ‘Republican’ Governor and ‘Republican’ Secretary of State, we must have a massive victory for two great people, Kelly Loeffler & David Perdue, on January 5th,” Trump tweeted. “I will be having a big Rally for them on Monday night, January 4th. WIN!”
Local Republicans are likely to pay close attention to Trump’s message in the closing days of the campaign. If he uses the rally to continue to undermine confidence in the state’s election system, he could be turning off his own voters.
“As the Georgia secretary of state noted, the president’s public hostility toward mail voting cost him in key states, and it’s a significant issue Republicans are seeking to address by telling their people to vote however they can, including absentee,” veteran Republican strategist Liam Donovan told Yahoo News. “If they don’t address this inequity, you could very well see another election-night lead for Republicans eroded as the mail votes roll in.”
Campaigns usually struggle to turn out voters in off-cycle elections, and officials feared the heightened tensions surrounding Trump’s flurry of baseless legal challenges of fraud would dissuade voters from casting ballots. But with high turnout so far, voters appear engaged in the runoff contests.
“The Republicans may have a problem on their hands, with many of their voters convinced the [presidential] election was rigged and Jan. 5 could be rigged again,” Nasif said. “I tend to think those voters will gravitate toward cynicism over consistency, and that angry voters vote.”
About 150,000 people have voted each day of early voting thus far, as a flood of TV ads, giant highway bililboards and other forms of outreach bombard voters across the state.
Early data offers some hope for Democrats in the historically Republican state.
About 59 percent of runoff voters so far who also voted in the primary requested Democratic Party ballots, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, while about 39 percent requested GOP ballots.
But one-third of runoff voters didn’t show up for the primary, leaving no record this year of which party they prefer.
Atlanta-based political strategist Fred Hicks told Yahoo News that he believes more legal battles should be expected.
“Unless Republicans win, this election will not be over Jan. 5,” Hicks said. “What we are seeing play out in the presidential election will happen in the Senate race if Democrats win.”
Below are key dates for Georgians to remember ahead of the state’s Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5, 2021:
(Cover thumbnail photo: Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Read more from Yahoo News: