Balance of power in the Senate rests on election runoffs in Georgia

BRIANA STEWART and JON SCHLOSBERG
·8 min read

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported on the race between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp, it did not go to a runoff. Additionally, money raised by Abrams via Act Blue will be split evenly between three groups and not two: Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff and Fair Fight. This story has been corrected and updated.

Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff appeared on ABC News Live Prime Monday, sharing his vision of what he and Georgia Democrats will need to do to win both Senate runoffs in January.

All eyes are on the Peach State as the balance of power in the Senate rests on the outcome of the race between Ossoff and incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue, as well as the runoff between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock.

Ossoff told ABCNL Prime anchor Linsey Davis that Democratic control of the Senate will be critical for the Biden-Harris administration to pass impactful legislation that will adequately address the COVID-19 outbreak.

"There are hundreds of thousands of American lives that still hang in the balance if we fail to properly respond to this pandemic. The Biden administration can't do it alone. The president-elect will need Congress to respond," Ossoff said.

"We're ready to proceed and win these runoff elections to ensure that we can get out of this pandemic and pass economic relief for working families and small businesses," he later added.

Historically, Georgia has trended Republican for nearly three decades and runoff elections have almost always ended in the favor of Republican candidates.

When former President Bill Clinton won Georgia electoral votes for president in 1992, Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler was leading in the general election but ultimately lost to Republican Paul Coverdell in the runoff.

In 2018's secretary of the state election, Democrat John Barrow was second to now-Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger by only half a percentage point.

That runoff took place in the aftermath of Stacey Abrams accusing her competitor, then-Secretary of State and now-Gov. Brian Kemp, of voter suppression, which he's denied, while he was overseeing an election he was a candidate in.

PHOTO: A supporter elbow bumps with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff after he spoke at a news conference in Grant Park after the election in Atlanta, Nov. 6, 2020. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)
PHOTO: A supporter elbow bumps with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff after he spoke at a news conference in Grant Park after the election in Atlanta, Nov. 6, 2020. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

Turnout dropped in and around Atlanta and Barrow ended up losing the runoff by 3.8 percentage points, and the total number of ballots cast for both candidates was more than 400,000 less than Barrow got in the first election.

ABC News has not projected a winner in Georgia for the 2020 presidential race. However, Biden remains in the lead and the race is set for a recount. Some Democrats see the tight race as a sign of change and momentum in the state.

While political experts may look at a Georgia Senate runoff as an uphill battle for Democrats, Ossoff said he is not worried about his chances despite getting roughly 100,000 fewer votes than Joe Biden.

"That doesn't worry me at all. ... There was no enthusiasm in Georgia, even among Republican voters for incumbent senators David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler," he said.

PHOTO: Supporters listen as Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks at a news conference in Grant Park after the election in Atlanta, Nov. 6, 2020. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)
PHOTO: Supporters listen as Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks at a news conference in Grant Park after the election in Atlanta, Nov. 6, 2020. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

Ossoff believes while Democrats are invigorated by the results in the election, Republican voters will not show up when President Donald Trump is not on the ballot.

"Those who came out and voted for him weren't motivated because they support Loeffler and Perdue; they were voting in the presidential race," the Democratic Senate candidate said.

"Meanwhile Georgia Democrats have tremendous momentum. We're invigorated by our success here. This has been a 10-year effort to register voters, organize and train volunteers as the state becomes younger and more diverse. And we're ready to proceed and win these runoff elections," he continued.

The momentum in Georgia was brought on, in large part, by Abrams who founded Fair Fight and The New Georgia Project, two separate voting rights organizations, which increased voter registration and voter turnout in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

MORE: All eyes on Stacey Abrams as Joe Biden passes Donald Trump in traditionally ruby-red Georgia

The New Georgia Project has already begun recruiting volunteers to help with canvassing efforts for Ossoff and Warnock.

Jaira Burke, rapid response director of the New Georgia Project, told ABC News that the organization will work to galvanize Democratic voters through January.

"We're going to be registering people to vote, talking to people about the electoral process and how that impacts their lives," Jaira Burke said.

Abrams has raised over $7.2 million through Act Blue, an online fundraising platform for Democratic candidates. The money raised will be split evenly between Fair Fight, Ossoff and Warnock.

"The work of people like Stacey Abrams has secured valid access for hundreds of thousands of Georgians who might otherwise not have been able to participate in elections. Stacey Abrams deserves the lion's share of the credit for enhancing access to the franchise and defending the sacred right to vote here in Georgia,'" Ossoff said.

In his response to the Senate runoffs, Perdue's recent attacks against Ossoff have nationalized the race. Perdue said in a statement that a vote for Ossoff is "a vote to hand power to Chuck Schumer and the radical Democrats."

Given the high stakes, Ossoff admitted the Georgia senate race would inevitably be nationalized.

"You're going to hear all those typical nationalized arguments. This race inevitably becomes nationalized to an extent because there are national implications. What I'm doing is staying focused on the stakes and the stakes are both national and local," Ossoff said, explaining that he will continue to center healthcare access and containing the pandemic in his campaign.

"We're still in the midst of an economic crisis. That's what Georgia voters are focused on and in order for us to get out of this crisis, we need to be able to govern. And that means we need to win these two elections," Ossoff said.

Ossoff blasted his opponent, Perdue, repeatedly, calling him out for not showing "any spine" and claiming Perdue is one of the "most notoriously corrupt self-dealing politicians in America."

He also called on Perdue to acknowledge the results of the 2020 election.

"I think that Sen. Perdue is going to need to make a decision pretty quickly. Is he going to continue to indulge this temper tantrum that the president's throwing and go down with the ship, or is he going to assert any measure of independence he's failed for the last four years to show any spine to ever break with this president," Ossoff said.

As Ossoff pressured Perdue to accept the election results, the incumbent senator released a joint statement with Loeffler, attacking his fellow Republican Raffensperger.

Loeffler and Perdue accused Raffensperger of "mismanagement and lack of transparency" with the election and asked him to resign.

The Georgia Secretary of State's office maintained that only legal votes were counted and that no widespread fraud was detected.

Tuesday on ABC's "The View," Ossoff was asked about Loeffler and Perdue's call for Raffensperger to resign, and the president's false claim that "the election is being stolen from him."

"I think that they are in disarray because they felt entitled to a cakewalk here," Ossoff said. "It is all that work on voter registration and mobilization and organizing and volunteerism that has made Georgia the most important battleground state in America right now."

Ossoff said he thinks that is "shocking" to some people who think of Georgia as a "GOP stronghold" where Democrats don't stand a chance.

"I think that these incumbent Republican senators just felt entitled to an easy dance back to victory. They're in for the fights of their lives. They don't like it, but rather than organizing and getting out the vote to win they're taking it out on each other," Ossoff said.

Ossoff has challenged Perdue to three debates, but Perdue's campaign has not responded to that challenge yet. Perdue canceled on the last debate, which was scheduled for Nov. 1, to campaign with the president in Georgia.

"Hey, Sen. Perdue, if you watch 'The View,' I'm ready to debate. Come out to a public forum, defend your record in office and let's hear your vision for the representation of this state," Ossoff said Tuesday morning. "He feels entitled to this seat, but this is not David Perdue's Senate seat. This is the people's Senate seat, and the people are going to come out and vote on Jan. 5 to claim it."

Balance of power in the Senate rests on election runoffs in Georgia originally appeared on abcnews.go.com