On January 5th, the US state of Georgia will vote again on who should be sent to the Senate.

The control of the Senate is obvious, and with it the prospects for the Biden government – at least for the next two years.

With millions of dollars and hundreds of activists coming into the state, here is an explanation of what is happening.

What is at stake?

Two places are available.

The Republicans hold 50 of the 100 seats and the Democrats 48. There are 46 formally partisan and two independents – Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont – who meet with the Democrats. In the event of a 50:50 tie, the decisive vote is cast by the Vice President. That will be Democrat Kamala Harris after the Biden government was sworn in on January 20th.

If Democrats can win both seats, they will control the Senate.

A Senate majority is critical to deciding on a number of legislative changes, cabinet appointments, possible impeachments of the president, and nominations to the Supreme Court. Republicans have controlled the Senate since 2014.

Democrats have a majority in the house, so having a majority in the Democratic Senate would make Joe Biden’s next two years a lot easier. Conversely, a Republican-controlled Senate headed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could block much of its agenda, just as former President Barack Obama did. Biden has tried to compromise across the aisle in the past and might attempt to entice one or more Republicans into single votes, but given McConnell’s history of obstructionism, this seems like a distant prospect.

Since so much depends on the outcome, money has flowed into the state to support both sides. By mid-December, more than $ 400 million had been spent on political ads, most of which went to the two Republicans.

In focus today

The Georgia Senate runoff election

Sorry, your browser doesn’t support audio – but you can download and listen to it here https://audio.guim.co.uk/2020/05/05-61553-gnl.fw.200505.jf.ch7DW.mp3

Who are the candidates?

Both seats in Georgia are contested between a Democratic candidate and a Republican.

In one race, the Republican David Perdue, incumbent Senator since 2015, competes against the 33-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Their struggle was life-threatening at times. Ossoff repeatedly called Perdue a crook and referred to investigations into Perdue’s alleged insider trading.

But Perdue largely failed to become the bait, and he declined to meet Ossoff in their scheduled televised debate earlier this month, leaving Ossoff to score his points on an empty podium.

The other, much more colorful, race is between Republican Kelly Loeffler, a seriously wealthy former businesswoman, and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Warnock, who runs as Georgia’s first black Senator, is a pastor in the Atlanta Church, where Martin Luther King held the same position. A longtime civil rights activist, he is a powerful speaker in the king’s tradition and a strong advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As a result, he was denounced as a “radical liberal” by his opponent Loeffler at every opportunity, but responded in disarming campaign ads by accusing Loeffler of saying nothing positive about himself and emphasizing how much he loves puppies.

Raphael Warnock puppy advert

Loeffler became controversial when she criticized players on the WNBA team she owns – the Atlanta Dream – for their support for Black Lives Matter, saying BLM had “Marxist foundations”.

Loeffler is also technically an incumbent – she was appointed interim senator on Jan. 6 after former Republican Senator Johnny Isakson resigned on health concerns.

Why are they drains?

Georgia state law mandates runoffs in both elections because no candidate won 50% of the seats in the November election.

The position was created for the Loeffler-Warnock seat through the resignation of a seated senator.

This meant that the November vote was contested by 20 people in a so-called “blanket” or “jungle” primary, which means that there was almost always a runoff, with the first two from the first round going through. In that blanket primary, Loeffler also faced stiff competition from moderate Republican Congressman Doug Collins, and Warnock faced a number of Democrats.

Warnock was at the top of the overall ranking with 32.9%, Loeffler second with 25.9% and Collins third with 19.95%. The two best – Warnock and Loeffler – then advanced to the runoff election.

In the other seat, contested by Perdue and Ossoff, libertarian party candidate Shane T Hazel’s 2.32% of the vote was enough to ensure that none of the main party candidates got 50% in a close race: Perdue received 49.73% and Ossoff 47.95%.

Who is likely to win?

A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in Georgia in 20 years, so the odds of winning two at the same time aren’t good.

However, Biden won the state in the November presidential election, the first time a Democratic candidate did so in 30 years.

How the result of the presidential race will affect the runoff election is the big unknown. Will traditionally Republican voters who rejected Donald Trump return to the party to ensure that the Biden agenda is tempered by Republican control of the Senate? Or will Trump’s insistence on continuing to fight in Georgia because the election was a fraud – and binding Senate candidates to the cause – will re-motivate Democratic voters to enlist in large numbers?

As with the presidential election, voting is not mandatory – so voter turnout will be a major problem for both camps.

A few more younger voters will be eligible to vote in January. Anyone turning 18 on or before January 5 is eligible to vote, according to the Georgia Voter Guide. Registration for voting is closed on December 7th.

What do the polls say?

By January 3, the survey average determined by FiveThirtyEight improved for both Democrats, with Ossoff ahead of Perdue by 1.8 percentage points and Warnock at the top of Loeffler by 2.2 percentage points, with both Democrats improving on average. The December 14-27 Real Clear Politics average reversed its earlier small leads for both Republicans, putting Ossoff 0.8 percentage points ahead of Perdue and Warnock 1.8 percentage points ahead of Loeffler.

Both polling stations were heavily criticized in the presidential election when they drastically underestimated the support of Republicans in some states.

When will we know the result?

It depends on how close the races are. The first Ossoff-Perdue race from November was so close that the result was not known for three days, but under most circumstances the result should be visible at night.