Four big political questions the Senate runoffs in Georgia can help answer – The Washington Post


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November’s election was a mixed bag for both parties, meaning there wasn’t necessarily a clear, overarching takeaway for either side.But the entire national political apparatus got another chance to test their hypotheses in Georgia. There, Democrats have forced Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue into dual runoff elections Tuesday, in races that will decide control of the Senate and whether Democrats have governing control of Washington next year, with Joe Biden in the White House.When we know results (it could be a few days), here are four questions that the outcome can help us better understand.1. Are Republicans as strong without President Trump on the ticket? For the second presidential election in a row, Republicans were pleasantly surprised to beat expectations. President Trump didn’t win reelection, but Republicans who were on the ballot with him in November did remarkably well. House Republican leaders made clear they attributed their success to Trump: “The Republican coalition is bigger, more diverse, and more energetic than ever before. That is because of President Trump,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California wrote in a memo to reporters.But Republicans did not get the same results in the 2018 midterm elections, when Trump wasn’t on a ballot but was in the White House. Republicans lost the House majority.Trump has been an active participant in these Georgia Senate runoffs, holding two rallies there for the candidates. But that’s different from voters actually turning out to vote for him. Not to mention, more voters in Georgia chose Biden than Trump in November. We’ll have one more big data point on what Trump means for down-ballot Republicans with these races.2. Does declaring Democrats radical fire up GOP voters?Defund the police. Pack the Supreme Court. Socialism. Marxism. The end of freedom as we know it.These are just some of the attacks — many of them misleading — that Loeffler and Perdue have launched nonstop at their Democratic opponents. It’s a page from Trump’s election playbook to demonize opponents.Centrist Democrats who lost or nearly lost their congressional elections in November have said the party didn’t do enough to push back on these characterizations of Democrats.The Democratic candidates for Senate in Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, have tried to defend themselves from the onslaught. (Warnock, the only Black candidate in the race and the focus of many of the Republican attacks, has aired not one but two ads with him and a puppy. He joked that Republicans would go after him for eating pizza with a knife and fork. Black church leaders told Loeffler to stop her broadest swipes at Warnock, saying they were an attack on the Black church.)If these Democrats lose, the takeaway for others in their party probably will be that Republicans’ attacks are working, even when candidates directly respond.3. Do allegations of election fraud depress turnout?In the November election, Trump falsely claimed that mail voting was fraudulent, and it shaped how Republicans cast ballots. They voted in person during the coronavirus pandemic in larger numbers than did Democrats.We have a similar yet different dynamic for these Senate runoffs in Georgia. Trump is falsely claiming that he won Georgia and attacking Republican election officials there. Those attacks have animated Georgia Republican voters against their own state; they chant “Stop the steal!” and give Loeffler and Perdue their biggest applause lines when they talk about fraud. Reporters in Georgia say it’s easy to find Republican voters who say the election was rigged.Trump went to the state Monday and said as much. “There’s no way we lost Georgia,” he said. “This was a rigged election.”There isn’t as much anecdotal evidence that these same Republican voters will stay home in protest, as some Trump allies in Georgia have encouraged them to do. (Trump himself tells people to go vote.) But this is a dangerous game for Republicans when turnout is key.This “election-was-rigged” drama may not be as pronounced in future elections as it has been in these runoffs, in a state Trump is still in shock that he lost.But it could continue to be an issue in elections if the Republican Party stays divided on whether to indulge Trump’s fraud claims, even after he’s gone. How much are Republicans shooting themselves in the foot by promoting baseless fraud claims?4. Have Democrats figured out how to turn out their voters? In particular, Black voters?It was their recipe for success in the November election, when Biden — a presidential candidate with particular standing among Black voters — was on the ballot.Democrats in Georgia, led by 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, focused heavily on voter registration, especially in the increasingly diverse suburbs. (In 2016, 22 percent of Georgia’s eligible voters were not registered. This year, that figure stood at just 2 percent, and turnout in November’s election broke a record, according to Washington Post analysis.) Democrats also never stopped an equally aggressive get-out-the vote operation.The Post’s Amy Gardner explains how a once reliably red Georgia underwent a political transformation this election year due to the work of Stacey Abrams. (The Washington Post)Turnout is set to break a Georgia record for a statewide runoff as well. Democrats have struggled in recent Georgia runoff history. But this time they’re cautiously optimistic about their chances, especially when combined with Republican concerns that fraud talk will dampen GOP voter turnout.“Over the course of this campaign, it is clear that the structural advantages that we had, the sweat equity on the ground, has paid off,” Bradley Beychok, the president of American Bridge PAC, told The Post. “A day out, it is clear that this race is a toss-up, and we maybe have a slight advantage.”If this works or comes close to working, expect it to be a model for the Democratic Party in other swing states, where pre-election voter enthusiasm has often faded when it was time to vote.
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