Georgia plays kingmaker in presidential and senate races

Some 4,000 ballots remain uncounted in Georgia, mostly from Democratic-leaning urban areas.

An officials works on ballots at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections Headquarters, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Lawrenceville, near Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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Tensions mounted in the battleground state of Georgia on Friday, where Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden edged past Republican President Donald Trump in a race that could win him the White House.

Mr Biden gained a 1,600-vote lead over the president in Georgia after more ballots were counted, including mail-in votes from the state’s Democrat-leaning cities, pushing him closer to winning the state’s 16 electoral college votes.

Georgia official Brad Raffensperger said there will be a recount there due to a “margin that small” with “huge implications for the entire country”.

Some 4,000 ballots remain uncounted in Georgia, mostly from Democratic-leaning urban areas.

“The stakes are high and emotions are high on all sides. We will not let those debates distract us from our work. We will get it right, and we will defend the integrity of our elections,” Mr Raffensperger told reporters.

Continuing to make unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud in Tuesday’s election, Mr Trump tweeted on Friday about “missing military ballots in Georgia,” asking: “What happened to them?”

Georgia is also a battleground for two tight senate races, which could determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the upper chamber of Congress, with big implications for the effectiveness of a potential Biden administration.

A race between Republican Senator David Perdue and Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff now appears likely to head to a run-off vote in January, when voters will also decide in the race between Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler.

Georgia’s unique “jungle primary” system stipulates that the November elections move to a run-off if no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the total.

As of Friday, the state continued to count its mail-in ballots, but neither of the two Republican incumbents appeared likely to crack the 50 per cent threshold, ensuring that they’ll have to face off against their Democratic challengers in January.

With Republicans Dan Sullivan and Thom Tillis likely to win their races in Alaska and North Carolina, the Georgia special elections will mark Democrats’ last chance to obtain a Senate majority that they will need to advance much of Mr Biden’s agenda.

And even if Democrats win both races, the Senate would be evenly split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. That would mean that Mr Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, would have to spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill as the vice president votes to break any tie in the chamber.

While Mr Perdue enjoys a narrow lead over Mr Ossoff – a former congressional staffer and journalist – his inability to crack the 50 per cent barrier ensures that the two men will have to face off again in January.

In the second race, Ms Loeffler was not able to crack 50 per cent because Congressman Doug Collins split the state’s conservative vote by running to her right. Mr Collins conceded earlier this week, paving the way for a January runoff between Ms Loeffler and Reverend Raphael Warnock.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed Ms Loeffler – a former Wall Street executive – to the Senate last year after Johnny Isakson resigned last year over issues. Ms Loeffler and Mr Warnock are facing off in this year’s special election to finish the last two years of Mr Isakson’s term.

While Georgia has historically been a Republican-dominated state, Democrats put up a strong fight this year – and Mr Biden may even be to snatch it away from President Donald Trump this year as the ballot count continues.

The strong Democratic turnout has largely been credited to get out the vote efforts orchestrated by Stacey Abrams, whose nonprofit helped register some 800,000 new voters in Georgia. Ms Abrams was the state's Democratic nominee for governor in 2018, but narrowly lost the election amid accusations of widespread voter suppression.

Democrats are still expected to maintain their majority in the House, albeit by a much slimmer margin than they currently enjoy.