https://www.bbc.com-In duelling rallies, President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden have implored Georgia voters to turn out for elections on Tuesday that will decide which party controls the Senate.
Mr Biden campaigned in Georgia ahead of the state’s crucial vote- Getty Images
Mr Trump, a Republican, and Mr Biden, a Democrat, said the vote would shape America for years to come.
More than three million Georgians have already cast ballots – nearly 40% of the state’s registered voters.
If the Democrats win, they will control all of Congress and the White House.
With the Senate on a knife-edge, Asian shares plunged early on Tuesday amid the political uncertainty in the world’s biggest economy.
The Republican Senate incumbents in Georgia, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, are fighting for their political lives against two Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock.
“Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you,” Mr Biden said at a drive-in rally in Atlanta on Monday, emphasising that control of the Senate would mould prospects for his incoming administration.
“Unlike any time in my career, one state – one state – can chart the course, not just for the four years but for the next generation,” he said, flanked by Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock.
The Senate has the power to approve or reject Mr Biden’s nominees for cabinet and judicial posts, as well as the bulk of his policy wish-list.
On Monday evening, President Trump told voters in Dalton, Georgia, that the Georgia runoff was the “last line of defence” against the Democrats.
In what may have been the last rally of his presidency, he said: “If the liberal Democrats take the Senate and the White House – and they’re not taking this White House – we’re going to fight like hell, I’ll tell you right now.”
But the president also repeated unproven allegations that he was only declared the loser in Georgia after November’s White House election because of fraud, claims that Republican officials are worried could now depress turnout among the party faithful in Tuesday’s vote.
Mr Trump – who is due to leave office on 20 January – also hinted that he wanted Vice-President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, to reject Mr Biden’s win when Congress meets on Wednesday to certify the election results.
“I hope that Mike Pence comes through for us,” Mr Trump said. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
Nearly 3 million Georgia voters – around half of those that voted in the November general election – have already cast their ballots.
The eve-of-poll rallies came on the heels of a controversial phone call between the president and Georgia’s top election official, secretary of state Brad Raffensperger.
In a recording of the call, first published by the Washington Post newspaper on Sunday, Mr Trump pressured Mr Raffensperger to “find” votes that would reverse his defeat in the state.
Mr Biden won 306 votes to Mr Trump’s 232 in the US electoral college, which confirms the US president. Mr Biden also won at least 7 million more Americans’ votes than the president.
At his rally on Monday, Mr Biden did not make direct reference to the call, but alluded to Mr Trump’s persistent challenges to the election results, saying that “politicians cannot assert, take or seize power”.
The president-elect also joked that he had won Georgia “three times” because of two state-wide recounts.
Republicans currently control the 100-seat Senate by 52 to 48. If both Democrats win on Tuesday, the Senate will be evenly split.
US vice-presidents can cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, meaning that Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris could decide hotly contested legislation in favour of the Democrats.
It would also bring the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives under Democratic control for the first time since President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
The high-stakes political contest has sucked a huge amount of money into the state for all four candidates, and record-breaking numbers for the Democrats.
The election is widely seen as an uphill battle for the challengers, given that a Democrat has not won a Senate race in Georgia in 20 years.
Joe Biden’s first big test
It’s just over two weeks until Joe Biden’s inauguration, but the first real test of his presidency will come on Tuesday, when Georgia’s two run-off Senate elections will decide which party controls the US Senate as he takes office.
If Democrats pick up the two seats and forge a 50-50 tie in the upper chamber, it’s far from certain that Biden will be able to enact the kind of sweeping legislation on the environment, healthcare and the economy that he proposed during his successful presidential campaign. The narrowness of the margin will ensure that any laws will have to be supported by centrists like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s two senators.
It will, however, give the new president a fighting chance at legislative accomplishments – and make it significantly easier for him to appoint the administration officials and federal judges of his choice.
If the Republicans hold on, then Democratic hopes will rest on the whims of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of Republican moderates.
Meet the candidates
- Jon Ossoff, launched his campaign with an endorsement from Democratic superstar and civil rights champion John Lewis, who died this summer. Before taking the reins of a documentary film company, Insight TWI, he spent five years working for Congressman Hank Johnson, an Atlanta Democrat. He has employed his filmmaking skills on the trail, launching campaign accounts on both Snapchat and TikTok.
- David Perdue has served as a Georgia senator since 2015. The former Reebok CEO was an early supporter of Donald Trump, and has remained an ally to the president. He is now facing scrutiny over multimillion dollar stock trades in companies whose business falls under his purview on Senate committees.
- Reverend Raphael Warnock is a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr once preached. Along with Democratic rising star Stacy Abrams, he started the New Georgia Project, a voting rights organisation. The group is now under investigation for allegedly sending ballot applications to non-residents.
- Kelly Loeffler, the junior Georgia senator, is still a political newcomer. She was named to the US Senate in December 2019 by Governor Brian Kemp after the sitting senator resigned. One of the wealthiest members of the Senate, Ms Loeffler is co-owner of the women’s NBA team the Atlanta Dream. The ownership has caused a stir after the league’s players called for Ms Loeffler to sell her stake over her vocal opposition to Black Lives Matter.