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In normal times, the state of Georgia is home to one of the 10 largest economies in the country. It trails economic giants like New York and California, but still registers twice as large as nine other Southern neighbors’ might. And if political analysts are right, it’s about to get a massive fourth-quarter injection of political money that could boost its gross domestic product by as much as 5%.
Thank you, Georgia Senate runoffs.
The fight for control of the Senate has come down to a pair of races in Georgia that yielded no winners when voting ended on Nov. 3. Because no candidate in either race topped 50% of the vote, Georgia law requires the top two finishers from each contest to have a run off scheduled for Jan. 5, 2021. With Republicans guaranteed 50 seats in the Upper Chamber, Democrats need to prevail in both Georgia races to leave Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with the tie-breaking vote that puts Democrats in control of the Senate.
There is a lot of cash at this critical juncture. Despite exhaustion from a presidential campaign that burned through billions, neither GOP nor Democratic donors are willing to squander this final chance to shape the Capitol. With twin wins in Georgia, it would be Joe Biden’s Washington when he becomes President on Jan. 20. Without them, he would become the first incoming President since George H.W. Bush to not have members of his party controlling both chambers of Congress, a true reflection of the divided nation but not an easy place to govern.
Incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the wealthiest member of the Senate who took her seat earlier this year to fill the balance of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, is in a tight fight with Democrat the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor at the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s church in Atlanta. In the other race, Republican Sen. David Perdue is battling documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff, the Democrats’ pick, for another six-year term.
By some estimates, as much as a billion dollars could be infused into Georgia by way of paid media, polling and boots on the ground over the next eight weeks. On Nov. 16, Senate Republicans tapped Karl Rove to lead a special fundraising arm to help rake in cash for Loeffler and Perdue. No stranger to GOP super PACs or loyal Republicans, the involvement of the former George W. Bush political architect — along with other white-shoe names like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — was a clear signal that the GOP was going all-in. On Nov. 13, the Republican National Committee announced it was sending 600 staffers to the state, or one out of every five staffers it had in the field nationally for Nov. 3’s general election.
Democrats are firing up their own money machine. On Nov. 17, media executives Jeff Katzenberg and Byron Allen are organizing an online fundraiser with Warnock, Ossoff and Stacey Abrams, whose grassroots organizing has received widespread praise in the party for registering new voters that may have helped tip Georgia for Biden.
Under normal circumstances, Republicans should be feeling good about their prospects: Runoffs in Georgia typically favor GOP candidates. But Republicans know they could be in trouble. Not only is Biden leading the current presidential race count by a narrow 0.3 percentage points, according to The Associated Press, but Trump continues to drag the GOP brand down with swing voters who are watching him lash out and refuse to accept defeat. Biden also cut Trump’s advantage among men by half. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has hinted Trump might show up to fire up his supporters in the state before the vote, but so far the President remains in Washington to fight the results of his race and make false claims about the legitimacy of an election that the rest of the country — and his own government — agrees went off smoothly.
With or without Trump, the country may be about to watch one of the most expensive state political battles in decades. So far, parties have spent $165 million on federal races in Georgia, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That could shape up to be chump change as every available political dollar in the nation is trained on a make-or-break choice for Georgians.
While voters in Georgia are sick of the ads, the calls, the texts, the tweets and the visitors on their front stoops, all the action could be a real boon for the local economy. While the Nov. 3 election had every disparate special-interest group, lobby and do-gooder spread thin from Key West, Florida, to Wasilla, Alaska, the races in Georgia now become a super-concentrated exercise in democracy. Airwaves, hotels and social-media feeds are about to get a second-wind as the political circus rolls back into town. You can balk at the stench it brings, but you can’t scoff at what it does for the local vendors. A billion dollars — or even a meaningful fraction of that — doesn’t land without a thud, after all.
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