Two Republican incumbents, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, are battling to keep their seats in Georgia’s runoff election. If their Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, both win, Democrats will reclaim the Senate majority.
Control of the Senate will effectively set the parameters of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s first two years in office. A Republican-led Senate would complicate his ability to staff his cabinet, pass legislation and advance his political priorities.
Here’s a look at what we know so far.
Early voting data suggests that the races are very competitive. There are some indications that Democrats had a bigger share of the early-voting electorate than they did in the general election, raising hopes for a party that has traditionally been the underdog in runoff races.
The outcome now depends on whether Republicans can overcome the Democrats’ early gains when they head to the polls on Tuesday. Rates of early voting have been lowest in the conservative northwest corner of the state, worrying some Republicans. But others argue that their supporters typically vote in higher numbers on election day and hope that President Trump’s rally on Monday in Dalton, a city in the northwest, will push more Republicans to the polls.
Strategists from both parties remain uncertain on what to anticipate beyond a tight race. Demographic changes have shifted the politics in Georgia, turning the traditionally conservative Southern state into a hotly contested battleground.
In November, Mr. Perdue received 49.7 percent of the vote, just short of the majority he would have needed to avoid a runoff, while his challenger, Mr. Ossoff, had 47.9 percent — a difference of about 88,000 votes. The field was more crowded in the other Senate contest: Mr. Warnock finished with 32.9 percent of the vote and Ms. Loeffler with 25.9 percent.
Modeling the electorate for these rematches is trickier than usual: Never has a Georgia runoff determined the balance of power in the Senate — or been held in the midst of a pandemic.
Yes, there could be yet another round of counting. After multiple vote counts last year, state officials are preparing for all contingencies.
In November, it took a week and a half of counting after Election Day before it was clear that Mr. Biden had won the state.
Republicans are expected to command an early lead on election night, both because the more conservative areas of the state typically report results faster and because votes cast in person, which have favored Republicans during the pandemic, are typically released earlier. Heavily Democratic counties, including the suburban Atlanta areas that helped Mr. Biden win, historically take longer to count votes.
A staggering influx of political spending has flooded the state, as campaign operatives, party officials and outside groups descended on the races. Nearly $500 million has been spent on advertising, according to AdImpact, an advertising tracking firm, saturating the airwaves at previously unheard-of levels.
Georgians head to the polls today for a critical election that will determine whether Republicans retain control of the Senate, just a day after President Trump and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. converged on the state to campaign for their party’s candidates.
Mr. Trump on Monday appeared alongside the incumbent Republicans, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, in Dalton, Ga., but remained fixated on his own loss in Georgia in November and continued his pattern of prioritizing his personal grievances over the party’s drive to win the state’s two seats.
“There’s no way we lost Georgia,” Mr. Trump said just after taking the stage. “I’ve had two elections. I’ve won both of them. It’s amazing.”
Monday’s rallies were also shaken by the stunning revelation the day before that Mr. Trump had, in an hourlong phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, repeated a litany of conspiracy theories and asked Mr. Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” to overturn the will of Georgia voters, who chose Mr. Biden.
The president’s statement fueled anger among Democrats and helped feed the drive to defeat the two Republican candidates. Jon Ossoff, the Democrat challenging Mr. Perdue, drew parallels between Mr. Trump’s effort and the bitter history of disenfranchisement in the state, citing poll closures and cumbersome voting rules.
“The president of the United States on the phone trying to intimidate Georgia’s election officials to throw out your votes,” Mr. Ossoff told supporters at a canvassing event in Conyers, a suburb east of Atlanta. “Let’s send a message: Don’t come down to Georgia and try to mess with our voting rights.”
Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler have closely aligned themselves with Mr. Trump. On Monday, Ms. Loeffler promised to vote against the Electoral College certification process in the Senate on Wednesday, joining a dozen Republican senators in voting to overturn electors for Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump muscled his way to power by bullying the Republican establishment — and the party’s leaders now worry that he might drag them down with him. Republican turnout has been low in Georgia’s early voting, prompted by skepticism among Mr. Trump’s own die-hards about the validity of the November results.
During a midday appearance at a church in Milner, Ga., Vice President Mike Pence implored Georgia voters to help maintain a Republican majority in the Senate as a “last line of defense.”
In his appearance in Atlanta on Monday, Mr. Biden made no direct mention of Mr. Trump’s telephone call but did obliquely criticize the president’s strongman tactics.
“As our opposition friends are finding out, all power flows from the people,” said the president-elect, adding that politicians cannot “seize power.”
Mostly, though, Mr. Biden, clad in a black mask emblazoned with “VOTE,” encouraged his audience to do just that.
Some of the attendees at the Biden rally waved signs in support of the two Democratic candidates, Mr. Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, but many indicated that they got involved in the runoffs because they had been galvanized by Mr. Trump.
“We’re supporting democracy because we’ve seen it dwindle these last four years,” said Deshunn Wilkerson, a 36-year-old social worker, who wore a sweatshirt with the pink-and-green letters of the sorority she shares with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Emily Cochrane Maggie Astor and Rick Rojas contributed reporting.
The leader of the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has vocally supported President Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, was arrested on Monday in Washington as Mayor Muriel Bowser requested support from the Army National Guard before expected protests of the November vote in the nation’s capital.
Enrique Tarrio, 36, the chairman of the Proud Boys, was arrested by the Metropolitan Police on suspicion of burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was torn from a historic Black church in Washington during protests last month that led to several violent clashes, including stabbings, around the city.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department confirmed that Mr. Tarrio, 36, had been arrested on charges of destruction of property. Upon his arrest, he was found to have two high-capacity firearm magazines and charged accordingly with possession.
The protests by the Proud Boys and other groups are expected to occur on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In anticipation, officials announced that about 340 Army National Guard troops are expected to deploy on Tuesday and remain for two days in support of local law enforcement. Their mission is to help control traffic and to protect the streets and public transit stops, officials said.
“The District of Columbia National Guard is in a support role to the Metropolitan Police Department, which will enable them to provide a safe environment for our fellow citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to demonstrate,” Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, said in a prepared statement.
In June, Mr. Trump raised the option of deploying active-duty troops onto the streets and ran into resistance from both his defense secretary at the time, Mark T. Esper, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president eventually backed down.
Some Pentagon officials acknowledged that they were worried about a possible repeat: that Mr. Trump could seek to use civil unrest, especially if it turned violent, to deploy active-duty troops to restore order.
Since the protests in June, some of the country’s senior military leaders have talked among themselves about what to do if Mr. Trump again tries to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty troops into the streets, Pentagon officials confirmed. The Insurrection Actenables a president to send active-duty troops to quell disturbances over the objections of governors.
Pentagon officials have been keeping track of nightly episodes of civil unrest across the country, in order for Defense Department officials to be able to counter any narrative that might come from the White House that such occurrences could not be handled by local law enforcement.
On Wednesday, when Congress conducts what is typically a ceremonial duty of opening and counting certificates of electoral votes, Vice President Mike Pence will play a delicate role.
As president of the Senate, Mr. Pence is expected to preside over the pro forma certification of the Electoral College vote count in front of a joint session of Congress. It is a constitutionally prescribed, televised moment in which Mr. Pence will name the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
It is also a moment some of Mr. Pence’s advisers have been bracing themselves for ever since the president lost the election and stepped up his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
One person close to Mr. Pence described Wednesday’s duties as gut-wrenching, saying that he would need to balance the president’s misguided beliefs about government with his own years of preaching deference to the Constitution.
After nearly a dozen Republican senators said they plan to object to the certification of the vote on Wednesday, the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short, issued a carefully worded statement intended not to anger anyone.
“The vice president welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people on Jan. 6,” he said.
The fact that Mr. Pence’s role is almost entirely scripted by those parliamentarians is not expected to ease a rare moment of tension between himself and the president, who has come to believe Mr. Pence’s role will be akin to that of chief justice, an arbiter who plays a role in the outcome. In reality, it will be more akin to the presenter opening the Academy Award envelope and reading the name of the movie that won Best Picture, with no say in determining the winner.
And with just over two weeks left in the administration, Mr. Pence is at risk of meeting the fate that he has successfully avoided for four years: being publicly attacked by the president.
As President Trump has sought to overturn the election results, his personal lawyers paraded themselves before television hosts, state elections officials and anyone else willing to entertain their baseless claims of voter fraud.
But behind the scenes, a longtime conservative lawyer named Cleta Mitchell quietly helped. Her work for Mr. Trump drew widespread attention for the first time over the weekend, when a recording was released of an hourlong call in which Mr. Trump threatened Georgia elections officials with “a criminal offense” if they failed to “find” enough votes to change the state’s presidential results.
On the call, Ms. Mitchell repeatedly jumped in to help Mr. Trump, showing an intimate level of involvement in his efforts as they both made baseless claims about the election and pressed Georgia officials to hand over election data.
Ms. Mitchell is a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner, which has over 1,000 lawyers and represents large corporations such as CVS Pharmacy. Her presence on the call stood out because Mr. Trump has struggled to attract high-profile lawyers to aid his attempts to overturn the election.
In the day after the audio emerged, Foley & Lardner sought to distance itself from Ms. Mitchell, saying in a statement on Monday that its lawyers were expected to refrain from representing or advising anyone in the election. The firm said it was examining Ms. Mitchell’s role on Mr. Trump’s legal team.
Ms. Mitchell, 70, has maintained a public profile supporting candidates and causes, earning a reputation as a firebrand. She was a leading critic of the I.R.S.’s treatment of nonprofit groups associated with the Tea Party movement during the Obama administration and of state and local coronavirus restrictions that religious groups opposed last year.
During the Trump administration, Ms. Mitchell has also represented the nonprofit of the president’s former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, which has been scrutinized by federal prosecutors in Manhattan as part of a broad investigation into whether Mr. Bannon defrauded donors.
At one point in the call over the weekend, Mr. Trump brought up a baseless claim about ballots from Atlanta that were for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“Does anybody know about it?” Mr. Trump asked.
“I know about it, but —” Ms. Mitchell said before she was interrupted by the president.
“OK, Cleta, I’m not asking you. Cleta, honestly. I’m asking Brad,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia.