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Here are the issues at play in the Georgia Senate runoffs

Georgia voters mark their ballots during the first day of early voting in the US Senate runoffs at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, December 14, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tami Chappell | AFP | Getty Images

In the final push before the crucial Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs on Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats share this closing message: The stakes can’t be any higher. and the fate of each party’s agenda rests on the two races.

Incumbent GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face respective challenges from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. The races will decide which party controls the Senate, and thus, the extent to which Democratic President-elect Joe Biden can enact his legislative priorities.

“The future of the country is on the ballot here in Georgia,” Loeffler told Fox News on Tuesday.

If at least one Republican candidate wins their race, the GOP will maintain control of the upper chamber. If Ossoff and Warnock win, the Democratic caucus and GOP would each have 50 members, giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tiebreaking vote.

The two Senate races went to a runoff because no candidates won more than 50% of the vote on Nov. 3. Recent polling suggests tight races in the runoffs. 

More than 3 million Georgians already cast their ballot by the end of the early voting period, a record high turnout for a runoff election in the state. State election data suggests Democrats hold an advantage in early voting turnout, while Republicans are hoping for a strong showing from their base on Tuesday.

Both parties are ramping up final get-out-the-vote pushes with high profile surrogates visiting the state ahead of Election Day.

Outgoing President Donald Trump is scheduled to stump for the 71-year-old Perdue and Loeffler, 50, in Dalton on Monday to rally voters in rural, conservative northwest Georgia where voter turnout has been lagging. Biden plans to campaign for 33-year-old Ossoff and Warnock, 51, on Monday in Atlanta.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) speaks during a campaign event January 3, 2021 in Canton, Georgia. Loeffler continued to campaign for the upcoming run-off election in a race against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

Here are the major issues that have played out on the campaign trail:

Energizing the base

The candidates have focused the runoffs on energizing their bases to turn out voters. For the Republicans, that means appealing to loyal Trump supporters, and for the Democrats, that means rallying voters of color and young voters.

Perdue and Loeffler have allied themselves strongly with Trump, including supporting his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. 

Trump has made Georgia one of his primary target in his efforts to challenge Biden’s victory, even as two full hand recounts of ballots confirmed Biden’s win in the Peach State. Georgia election results have been certified the race, and the state’s 16 electoral votes went to Biden. The president has attacked fellow Republican leaders in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, for not overturning the state’s election results.

Just days before his planned campaign trip to Georgia on Monday, Trump threatened Raffensperger over a phone call and pressured the election official to find popular votes that would tilt the count in his favor. Perdue and Loeffler called for the resignation of Raffensperger in November.

Some GOP strategists worry that Trump’s continued baseless attacks on the integrity of election systems in Georgia may discourage his supporters to turn out to vote for the two Republicans.

Democratic Senate candidate Reverend Raphael Warnock speaks during a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia on December 15, 2020.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Ossoff and Warnock have focused on mobilizing the diverse coalition in Georgia that propelled Biden to victory, including Black voters and college-educated White voters, as well as young people, Asian Americans and Latinos.

“Vote,” Warnock said Sunday on Twitter, “and we’ll build a new Georgia together.”

The Covid crisis

As the Covid crisis accelerates in Georgia and across the country, Ossoff and Warnock say that while Georgians suffered, Perdue and Loeffler have used their positions of power for personal gain.

Ossoff and Warnock accuse Perdue and Loeffler of insider trading, saying that their opponents used private knowledge about the impending coronavirus pandemic given to them as senators early in 2020 to make advantageous stock trades. 

“While [Perdue] has been enriching himself in office and buying shares in vaccine producers and medical equipment, he’s been blocking relief for ordinary people who are suffering,” Ossoff said during a Dec. 6 debate in which Perdue declined to participate.

Perdue has been questioned about well-timed trades early in the pandemic, particularly a sale of more than $1 million worth of stock in a financial analysis firm, Cardlytics, where he once served on the board. A New York Times investigation found that Perdue is the most prolific stock trader in the Senate and that his 2,596 trades during his first term in office accounted for nearly a third of all senators’ trades reported in the past six years.

Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange and chairman and CEO of its holding company Intercontinental Exchange, also came under fire in March for trades involving sales of up to $3 million worth of securities made in the weeks before stock market indexes dramatically fell in value. 

Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA) high five each other as Perdue takes the stage to speak during a campaign event on December 21, 2020 in Milton, Georgia.

Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images

Investment activities by Perdue and Loeffler prompted Justice Department inquiries, but prosecutors declined to bring charges. The incumbent senators have repeatedly denied accusations of illegal or improper stock trading.

Perdue and Loeffler have touted the CARES Act and passage of the recent $900 billion Covid relief bill as proof that they brought much-needed aid to struggling Georgians during the pandemic. Democrats, they say, stalled efforts to pass a relief package earlier.

Ossoff and Warnock have accused the senators of not doing enough to help their constituents. When Trump pushed for larger $2,000 stimulus checks, the democratic challengers seized the opportunity to criticize Senate Republicans for opposing a larger direct payment earlier in the Covid relief negotiations. Perdue and Loeffler later broke with many Senate Republicans to support the president’s push for $2,000 direct payments to Americans.

The Democratic candidates have positioned themselves as the key to Biden’s ability to deliver on his agenda to combat the virus and pass more relief.

Republicans: ‘Firewall’ against socialism

At campaign events and during media appearances, Perdue and Loeffler have relied on a primary tactic from the Republican playbook: stoking fears about socialism and communism.

“We’re the firewall for stopping socialism,” Loeffler said on Fox News last week. “We’re going to save this country,” she said at a recent campaign event.

“This is the last line of defense against this radical socialist agenda that the Democrats are trying to perpetrate,” Perdue said Saturday on Fox News.

They have tied Ossoff and Warnock to policies they believe to be radical including “Medicare for All,” the Green New Deal and defunding the police. The Democratic candidates do not support those policies.

The bulk of their attacks have primarily been targeted at Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Republicans have used sound bytes from Warnock’s past sermons to accuse him of being anti-gun, anti-military, anti-police and anti-Israel. The Warnock campaign has said those clips have been taken out of context and do not reflect his stances.

Loeffler has tried to link Warnock to a visit from Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro in 1995 at a church where he had been a youth pastor. Warnock has said he had never met Castro and PolitiFact found no evidence he was involved with decisions made regarding the appearance.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks to a group of supporters at a Its Time to Vote Rally on December 19, 2020 in Savannah, Georgia.

Megan Varner | Getty Images

Perdue has claimed that Ossoff took money from the Chinese Communist Party, citing a $1,000 payment from a Hong Kong media company to Insight TWI, the documentary production company Ossoff runs. The Ossoff campaign said the money was a royalty check from a distributor received after the Hong Kong company rebroadcast an Insight TWI program.

Perdue, meanwhile, has also come under scrutiny for his ties to business dealings in China related to outsourcing labor as a top executive at companies like Sara Lee and Dollar General, a New York Times report found.

Democrats: ‘Health, jobs and justice’

Ossoff and Warnock have emphasized a three-pronged message throughout the runoffs.

“This is a movement for health, jobs and justice for the people,” Ossoff said at a campaign event on Dec. 5 in Conyers.

Their platform includes policies and programs that tow the line between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic Party. They support expanding Medicaid, but don’t back a Medicare for All single-payer system. They want to invest in green energy and infrastructure, but don’t support the Green New Deal outright. They champion the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and advocate for criminal justice reform, but reject activists’ calls to defund the police.

Ossoff and Warnock have positioned themselves as a continuation of Biden’s agenda, a narrative that Biden himself and other Democratic surrogates have stressed as well.

“I need two senators from this state who want to get something done, not two senators who are just going to get in the way,” Biden said at a campaign rally in Atlanta on Dec. 15. “Send me these two men and we will control the Senate and change the lives of the people of Georgia.”

Echoing Democratic messaging from the general election, Ossoff and Warnock told voters they represent a brighter future for the country and for Georgia after four years of Trump’s presidency and months of the continuing battle against the Covid health crisis.

“It may be dark and stormy right now,” Warnock said Saturday on Twitter. “But a new day is on the horizon.”

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