US election: Georgia races heat up with control of the Senate in the balance

The Democrats running for Georgia’s two US Senate seats each raised more than US$100 million over two months, a massive haul that eclipsed campaign contributions to their Republican opponents and reflects the high stakes of the twin contests.

Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is taking on Republican Senator David Perdue, took in more than US$106 million ($NZ149m) in the past month. Perdue reported US$68m (NZ$95m) over the same two-month span.

Democrat Raphael Warnock, who is trying to unseat Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, was close behind with a little over US$103m. Loeffler took in just under US$64m.

The two races will determine which party controls the Senate — and likely how ambitious President-elect Joe Biden can be with his agenda.

If Republicans win one race, they will maintain a narrow majority, and the chamber will serve as a firewall against Democratic legislation. But if Democrats win both, the balance will be 50-50 — with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris delivering tie-breaking votes.

That will enable Biden to enact a more ambitious Democratic agenda, assuming he can keep fellow Democrats on board.

US President-elect Joe Biden waves to supporters after speaking at a Georgia drive-in rally for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Photo / AP
US President-elect Joe Biden waves to supporters after speaking at a Georgia drive-in rally for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Photo / AP

With the two Democrats slightly ahead in the polls, pressure is building on Perdue and Loeffler, especially as President Donald Trump criticises Republicans for not fully supporting his baseless allegations of election fraud.

Trump earlier this month threatened it “could be a bad day for two GREAT Senators on January 5th” if Georgia’s Governor didn’t order a signature audit of the votes in an effort to overturn the state’s election results.

The President has also said Georgia’s Governor and Lieutenant Governor “will be solely responsible for the potential loss of our two GREAT Senators in Georgia”.

Republican lawmakers are now facing criticism from Trump for their stance on the Covid-19 relief package, particularly their opposition to an increase in direct payments for most Americans from US$600 to US$2000.

The two Democrat challengers in Georgia have seized on Trump’s criticism.

“David Perdue, my opponent, who opposed even the first round of $1200 checks … has obstructed direct relief for the last eight months, and now decided he wanted to cut it down to 600 bucks when people can barely feed their families through no fault of their own,” Ossoff said in a recent CNN interview.

Warnock adopted a similar line of attack, releasing a statement Wednesday (US time) that read: “Donald Trump is right, Congress should swiftly increase direct payments to $2000.

“Once and for all Senator Loeffler should do what’s best for Georgia instead of focusing on what she can do for herself”.

Georgia’s two January 5 runoff races began in November after both Republican incumbents failed to get more than 50 per cent of the vote on election day. Early voting has begun.