Fate of US Senate to be settled in two Georgia run-offs in January

Democratic US Senate candidates for Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. PHOTOS: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Control of the United States Senate and prospects for united rule in Congress for incoming President-elect Joe Biden will boil down to two run-off elections in Georgia, with Democrats and Republicans positioning for an epic political battle.

Party leaders and the candidates themselves on Saturday (Nov 7) presented the southern state as the new ground zero in a war to either clear a congressional path to help Mr Biden implement many of his proposed reforms, or put a check on President Donald Trump's White House successor.

Democrats were aiming to flip the upper chamber of Congress on Election Day by ousting at least three Republicans, a result that would present Mr Biden with an incoming president's dream: both the Senate and House of Representatives under his party's control.

Had Mr Trump won, Democrats would have needed to gain four seats in the Senate - where Republicans currently enjoy a 53-47 majority - as the vice-president, as president of the Senate, breaks a 50-50 tie.

But as results rolled in, even as Mr Biden inched towards a presidential win, several Democratic Senate hopefuls fell short in their challenges against established incumbents such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump ally Lindsey Graham and embattled moderate Susan Collins.

Democrats so far have a net gain of just one seat. Now they have a lifeline.

Georgia Republican Senator David Perdue leads in his race, but at 49.8 per cent he is short of an outright majority, meaning he faces Democrat Jon Ossoff in a Jan 5 runoff as stipulated by state rules.

A second Georgia race, a special election for the seat of Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to replace a retiring lawmaker last December, is also headed to a special election on the same day. And the eyes of the political world were rapidly honing in on the state.

"Now we take Georgia, then we change the world!" top Democrat Chuck Schumer - who would likely become majority leader should the Senate flip - said as he revelled in Mr Biden's win.

"The future depends on victory in Georgia," added Mr Ossoff.

Mr Perdue and high-profile Republicans such as former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, seen as a potential 2024 presidential hopeful, were also girding for battle.

"We win these two races, we save the Senate. We save the Senate, we save the country. This is what is at stake," tweeted Mr Perdue, as he appealed for donations after US networks projected Mr Biden as the 46th president, in waiting.

"All eyes will go to Georgia as we look at the fate of the Senate," added Ms Haley as she called for donations to Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler.

Georgia has been reliably Republican for a generation, and winning even one of the Peach State's Senate seats would be an uphill challenge for Democrats.

But the party did an impressive job of registering new voters and getting them to the polls. As of Saturday, Mr Biden maintained a narrow 7,500-vote lead over Mr Trump in Georgia, a margin small enough to trigger a recount.

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