While the election results and pending legal disputes are still playing out in real time a week after Americans finished voting, many are looking ahead to the fight to control the U.S. Senate. All eyes have turned to the state of Georgia, where two run-off senatorial races scheduled for the first week of January could decide whether Republicans maintain their control of the Senate.

Prior to the election, Republicans controlled the upper chamber, 53-47. To date, the projected results of the 2020 election show Republicans losing two seats – one in Arizona and one in Colorado – but picking up a seat in Alabama. In two other yet-undecided races, in North Carolina and Alaska, the Republican incumbents enjoy comfortable leads, but not enough at this point to seal the deal.

By early January, then, the likely scenario for the next Congress appears to be that the Senate could be split 50-48 with Republicans maintaining a two-seat advantage. If Democrats manage to win both Georgia seats in the January 5 run-off election, the resulting 50-50 tie in voting would be broken by the vice president, who serves as the President of the Senate according to the U.S. Constitution. That would mean that the party in control of the White House on Inauguration Day would then also control the Senate.

Both parties are focused on the Georgia races. The Republican National Senatorial Committee tweeted, “The Senate is the last line of defense,” shortly after news organizations began calling the presidential race for Vice President Joe Biden.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told a crowd in Brooklyn, “Now we take Georgia, and then we change America.”

So, who are the candidates in the Georgia senatorial races, and why weren’t those decided on November 3?

In the first race, the Republican incumbent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, faces Democrat challenger Rafael Warnock. Loeffler was appointed by Georgia’s governor last January to temporarily replace Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned his seat for health reasons in December 2019, until the voters could determine a replacement on November 3. Warnock is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is the former church of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Loeffler and Warnock were the top two vote-getters in Georgia’s special election on November 3 to determine who would serve for the remaining two years of Isakson’s original 6-year term. Since neither candidate earned more than 50% of the vote in the field of 14 candidates, by law the two will face each other in a run-off election on January 5.

In the other senatorial race scheduled for January, Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue squares off against Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff, neither of whom garnered a majority on November 3, thanks to Libertarian Party candidate Shane Hazel, who managed to frustrate the other two candidates by netting 2.3% of the vote. With 99% of precincts reporting, Perdue won 49.7% of the vote to Ossoff’s 47.9%.

It remains to be seen whether the Georgia run-off races will see an inpouring of Democrat and Republican money from around the country in the next two months. The stakes are high and both parties will be keen to capture these two seats.

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