With the presidential election in the rearview mirror, the nation's attention has turned to two runoff elections in Georgia which will decide which party controls the Senate, and determine how effectively President-elect Joe Biden will be able to implement his ambitious legislative agenda.
Georgia had two Senate elections this year, a regularly scheduled election and a special race to determine who would replace former Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired last year. Under state law, if neither candidate receives above 50% of the vote, the race must advance to a runoff between the top two candidates.
Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp to replace Isakson, will face Democrat Raphael Warnock in the runoff on January 5. Republican Senator David Perdue, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, was up for reelection this year. He, too, is headed to a runoff after not garnering more than 50% of the vote in his race against Democrat Jon Ossoff.
This will be the first time there's been a Senate runoff in Georgia since 2008. According to Kantar/CMAG data, nearly $245 million will be spent on the Georgia runoffs on TV and radio ads since Election Day by candidates and outside groups. This has gone up since last week with expanded buys mostly by outside groups American Crossroads ($40.3m) and McConnell affiliates Senate Leadership Fund ($32.2m). Candidate spending most is Ossoff with more than $43 million, followed by Loeffler with $41 million, Warnock with $36.9m and Perdue with $28.8 million.
The balance of the next Senate is currently 50 Republicans to 48 Democrats. If Democrats win both Georgia Senate races, that would bring the Senate to a 50-50 split, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.
The state certified the election results on Friday. The Georgia Secretary of State announced Thursday that a manual hand tally of all votes cast in the 2020 general presidential race showed the original machine count accurately portrayed President-elect Joe Biden as the winner in the state. Although the state certified the results, the Trump campaign can still ask for a recount because the results were within 0.5%.
Mr. Biden's projected win was the first time the state flipped blue in a presidential contest since the state voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, and gave Democrats in the state a jolt of enthusiasm ahead of the January runoffs. But it also served as a siren for state Republicans, who will now have to keep their base motivated without Mr. Trump at the top of the ticket. Although Mr. Trump has not yet conceded the election, most Republicans recognize that they will need to win at least one of the Georgia Senate races to act as a check upon the Biden administration.
In a statement to CBS News, Georgia Republican Party spokesperson Abigail Sigler said the state party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee were working with the Perdue and Loeffler campaigns to build a "massive field operation."
"We are working around the clock to ensure voters understand they have a clear choice: they can elect radical liberals who will be rubber stamps for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer's agenda or they can send two conservative outsiders to fight for their Georgia values," Sigler said.
The field program coordinated by the NRSC, RNC and the two campaigns has 21 regional field directors and 1,000 field staff. A spokesperson for the NRSC told CBS News that the organization had also dispatched over a dozen staff to work on the ground and coordinate with the campaigns. The NRSC also announced that it had raised $32 million combined with the Perdue and Loeffler campaigns in the six days after the election. Separately, the RNC announced earlier this month that it plans to invest more than $20 million and 600 staffers in Georgia for the Senate races.
Democrats are also mobilizing on the ground. A Georgia Democratic spokesperson said the state party has planned their 2020 cycle operations knowing they'd need to mount an extensive get-out-the-vote operation through the general election in November and the anticipated Senate run-off in January.
The Democratic operative also told CBS News that it's been helpful to have "two strong Senate campaigns" that have run "competitive races" that are now able to join forces with the state party. Democrats point out that because Ossoff and Warnock endorsed one another ahead of the general election, it's been easier for the two campaigns to unite in the stretch ahead of the run-off.
A contentious race between Loeffler and Republican Congressman Doug Collins left the Republican party split, and Perdue notably didn't endorse Loeffler ahead of the general election. Collins has since endorsed Loeffler and both the Perdue and Loeffler campaigns, have now put up a united front less than two months away from the runoff.
In contrast, Ossoff and Warnock have been holding events together since June. An adviser to Ossoff's campaign told CBS News that the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns were working together to keep voters motivated, despite the threats presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate candidates in this highly-watched race are also getting assists from Democrats and Republicans outside of the state as well. In recent weeks, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida have made visits to help out their colleagues on the campaign trail and Vice President Mike Pence visited the state on Friday.is scheduled to visit the state on Friday.
Still, several organizations are working to make sure that voter turnout among Black voters and other marginalized communities remain high as Black voters in particular, were critical to Biden's win in the state.
The New Georgia Project is one such organization that focuses on voter registration in these overlooked communities. The group — which is not affiliated with any campaign — has the goal of "expanding the electorate in a meaningful way," CEO Nsé Ufot told CBS News. Ufot said that ahead of the presidential election, New Georgia Project field workers knocked on 100,000 doors, sent 100,000 pieces of mail and made millions of texts, phone calls and digital impressions.
Ufot said that the group would employ the same strategy ahead of the runoff elections, and "center joy" in their work during the holiday season.
"We want folks to vote as an act of love to their families," Ufot said. "It's not a gift to any of the candidates, it's a gift to ourselves."
Ufot said that, regardless of the outcome of the upcoming elections, the work of the New Georgia Project and other organizations dedicated to turning out the vote will not stop.
"It's year after year, and it's trying to make sure that Georgia voters are centered and the needs of Georgia voters are centered regardless of who's on the ballot."
Sarah Ewall-Wice contributed to this report.