As Americans woke the morning after Election Day and raced to their favorite news source, they quickly learned that both the presidential election and the U.S. Senate still hung in the balance. By Saturday morning, an anxious nation was still waiting, although Joe Biden was one state away from attaining 270 electoral votes and with it the Presidency.
However, the U.S. Senate is still undecided, with 48 seats so far claimed by both Democrats and Republicans. (The Democrats’ tally includes the two Independent Senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who caucus with the Democrats).
The Senate’s balance of power teeters on the fulcrum of four uncalled races. Although the outstanding seats favor Republicans narrowly holding on to control in the chamber, it is not a foregone conclusion. Friday evening brought news that the second Georgia Senate race was also headed to a run-off, under Georgia election law, meaning the final fate of Senate control will not be known until January. Read on for the latest.
The balance of power in the US Senate will be decided in January, when Georgia will hold run-off elections for both its Senate seats. No candidate in either race has polled 50%, as required by state election law. The run-off elections will take place on 5 January, two days after the new Senate is due to convene. The Republicans currently have a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate. So far, the Democrats have managed a net gain of one seat.
The Democrats had high hopes of gaining the four seats they needed to take control, but many Republican incumbents held their seats. If however the Democrats can gain both seats in Georgia, a traditionally Republican state, this would lead to a 50-50 tie in the Senate.
The result will effectively put them in control of the chamber if Joe Biden wins the White House, given the vice-president’s power to cast tie-breaking votes. In one of Georgia’s Senate races, incumbent Republican David Perdue had 49.8% of the vote and Democrat Jon Ossoff had 47.9%, according to media reports. “If overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we’re ready, and we will win,” Mr Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry said on Thursday. But the Ossoff campaign predicted that “when a run-off is called and held in January, Georgians are going to send Jon to the Senate”.
In Georgia’s other Senate race, Democrat Raphael Warnock won 32.9% and will go into a run-off against Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who trailed him with 26%. Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year to fill a seat left vacant when her predecessor retired.
Of the 35 Senate seats being contested, 23 were Republican-held and 12 were Democrat. The Democrats had hoped to gain several seats, but one of only two wins came in Colorado, where former Governor John Hickenlooper defeated Republican incumbent Cory Gardner.
They also won a seat in Arizona, where former astronaut Mark Kelly defeated Republican incumbent and former fighter pilot Martha McSally. But this gain was cancelled out when Alabama Senator Doug Jones lost to Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville. In Maine, the moderate Republican incumbent Susan Collins staved off a fierce challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon. Democrats have not had control of the Senate for six years.
Although Georgia has long been considered a red state (it hasn’t voted for the Democratic presidential candidate since 1992), this year’s election has revealed there is an emergent plum color in the Peach State. Its 16 electoral votes are still unclaimed. While former Vice President Biden led President Trump by more than 95,000 votes (about 0.1%) as of Saturday morning, Georgia’s Secretary of State has indicated a recount is likely.
The January Georgia Senate showdowns will command an incredible amount of renewed attention and spending from both parties. Should the Democrats pull out a win in both Georgia Senate races, a party-line vote would then result in a 50-50 stalemate in the chamber. Importantly, the Vice President can cast a deciding vote in the Senate. Mike Pence has done so at least 13 times since 2017, a privilege that appears likely to soon be given to Kamala Harris.