Against all odds, the most consequential race from this election cycle may not have been the one between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Instead, the big-ticket item may well be the Georgia Senate runoffs on Jan. 5, when there are two Senate seats up for grabs, and those two seats will determine control of the Senate. It's a game of razor-thin numbers — Biden won the state by only 12,000 votes, and his flipping Georgia blue for the first time since 1992 was crucial in Democrats retaking the White House.
How did we get here? Georgia voters were supposed to decide the fate of two seats on Nov. 3, but no candidate passed the 50% threshold needed to actually win the election per state election law. So for Georgia voters, Election Day still isn't quite over. Both seats are currently held by Republican incumbents who are fending off Democratic challengers. For one seat voters are choosing between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to her post by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in 2019, and Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock. For the other, the options are Republican Sen. David Perdue or Democrat Jon Ossoff.
Republicans need to hold on to just one seat to retain their Senate majority, securing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) position and his ability to block a Biden administration's agenda. That's because they currently hold 50 seats to the Democrats' 48 (which includes two independents, Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine), who caucus with Democrats). But if both Democrats win, then Biden's party will have the majority, thanks to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris's tie-breaking vote in the Senate. A friendly Senate means Biden may actually be able to accomplish some of his priorities via legislation rather than executive action.
We have just over a week to go for the most important numerical results. But in the meantime, here's what the runoffs look like by the numbers.
There are currently four campaigns and four candidates competing for two Senate seats. Warnock and Ossoff have largely campaigned together and presented themselves as a joint ticket, given that both Democrats need to win for their party to gain control of the Senate. But there are four distinct campaigns still ongoing: Warnock's, Ossoff's, Loeffler's, and Perdue's.
The road to the general election, however, was a lot more crowded. Ossoff had to beat out six other candidates in the Democratic primary to win the right to face off with Perdue. Warnock, meanwhile, was in an open field with Loeffler because their race is a special election. In all, 21 candidates, Democratic and Republican, were on the ballot for the Loeffler-Warnock race. Speaking to Mic ahead of the general election, Warnock said that his success in such a crowded field would result from "leaning into my message. And it is a message that I’ve been carrying for years, focused on health care reform, the dignity of work, criminal justice reform, voting rights, and the overall moral health of our nation."
So, with the seven candidates in the Democratic primary that Ossoff won, plus the 21 candidates who ran in the special election, plus the four post-Election Day campaigns happening now, that's 31 campaigns for just two Senate seats. (Perdue was not contested in the Republican primary for his seat, so we're not counting his campaign there.)
Fundraising total: $342 million
With the Senate's fate up for grabs, multiple political action committees (PACs) have diverted their campaign funds to the Georgia races. For instance, the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $23.9 million since Nov. 3. Per Bloomberg, some of those large dollar amounts rolled over from other Senate Republicans' campaigns. In total, Republicans raised $95 million in the three weeks between Nov. 3 and Nov. 23. Political parties are getting in on the action as well, with the Republican National Committee dropping $20 million to back Loeffler and Perdue. Overall, a stunning 92% of donations for the Republican candidates are not from Georgia residents. Even Trump has gotten involved in fundraising off the Georgia hype — though oddly enough, 0% of those funds have reached Republican candidates in the Peach State.
Democrats are relying less on PACs and more on small-dollar and out-of-state donations. Together, Warnock and Ossoff raised $114 million via ActBlue, 96% percent of which is from voters in other states. Still, in-state PACs are contributing. Fair Fight Action, Stacey Abrams's voter mobilization organization, raised $6 million in the days following the general election to, as they put it, "jumpstart" the races.
As Mic wrote recently of these staggering amounts, the Georgia runoff race price tags dwarf even presidential runs: "To put Ossoff and Warnock's two month totals in perspective, consider that President George W. Bush and then-Sen. John Kerry are estimated to have raised nearly half a billion dollars total during their 2004 presidential race."
Money spent: At least $785 million
When all of the votes are counted, these four Senate races will be the most expensive ever. The four campaigns have spent at least $285 million combined, and super PACs have spent much more than that on their behalf. Republicans have raised more money than Democrats, which means they have more money to spend: So far, $118 million in ads have been booked for Perdue, compared to $76 million for Ossoff. There's a similar spread in the Loeffler-Warnock race, with $126 million used to bolster the incumbent's chances and $81 million for the reverend. Since early November alone, super PACS have spent almost $500 million on the campaigns, per CNN.
But how that money is spent differs from campaign to campaign. Democratic challengers have spent more funds into Facebook ads. Warnock has spent $128,557 on the social media site, whereas his challenger has spent just $3,360. Ossoff, meanwhile, has also outspent his Republican challenger, but by a smaller difference of $87,707 to $70,281.
The content of those ads also differs from candidate to candidate. Per The New York Times, 70% of Ossoff's ads focus on the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, while his opponent Perdue has instead zeroed in on painting Ossoff as "radical."
Early ballots cast: 2 million
With eight days until the election, 2.1 million ballots have already been cast during the early voting period. For comparison, a total of 5 million ballots were cast in the general election altogether. In a state of 10.6 million residents with over 5.5. million registered voters, this is record-breaking turnout — not just for a special election, but any election. Just over half of those ballots have been cast in person (1.2 million), with the rest coming in by mail. According to Georgia Votes, a non-partisan project that tracks voter turnout, the overwhelming majority (94.6%) of voters also participated in the general election, with just 3% of ballots coming from voters who are participating for the first time.
Democratic candidates have been particularly motivated to turn out voter groups that establishment politics has ignored in previous years, like Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI). According to the AAPI Victory Fund, there are 55,000 rural AAPI Georgia voters who are likely to cast their ballots for Democrats; in the general election, 58% of AAPI Georgians voted for Biden. So far, 2.3% of ballots cast in the special election have come from AAPI voters.
Young voters are also likely to play a critical role in determining election results. Young voters not only helped Biden win the state in the general election, but since then, 23,000 Georgia voters have turned 18. Given that nearly 6 in 10 voters under 30 cast ballots for Democrats, pundits are hopeful that math will apply to new voters as well. Per Georgia Votes, 9.8% of ballots cast so far have come from young voters.
Lawsuits: 3 (and counting)
True the Vote, a Texas-based organization that Mic covered ahead of the 2020 general election, is working with the Georgia Republican Party to challenge the eligibility of 364,000 voters. The whole premise of True the Vote is that citizen-monitoring of elections can help to secure their integrity, but experts say the organization's vigilante tactics are more likely to disqualify eligible voters and amount to voter suppression. The Stacey Abrams-led organization Fair Fight, which works to combat voter suppression, is challenging this effort in federal court, arguing that True the Vote is trying to suppress the vote through intimidation tactics.
A federal judge dismissed two other lawsuits regarding the use of absentee ballots. One lawsuit attempted to end the use of absentee ballot drop-off boxes, claiming that they would contribute to voter fraud (this claim has been proven wrong time and time again). The second lawsuit was brought by Loeffler and Perdue and demanded harsher signature verification standards for absentee ballots. A judge dismissed the case, saying, "We are not even on the eve of an election," per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We are, as it relates to this particular election, closing in on halftime."
As Politico reported in late December, most major pollsters aren't getting involved in the runoff elections. It's not just that polls increasingly have a bad reputation, after a disastrous 2016 and across-the-board miscalculations this year, but runoffs are specifically hard to measure. Turnout is unpredictable, polling is subject to wider margins of error, and parties (cough cough, Democrats) may have learned that polling isn't a motivating factor in actually casting one's ballot. Still, if you're jonesing for some numbers, you can some lesser-tier polling numbers at FiveThirtyEight.
This is a hugely consequential election that will essentially determine what the next two to four years in Washington, D.C., will look like. Until Jan. 5, Georgia is the center of the political world.