Georgia Senate runoffs may make or break Joe Biden’s agenda

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DULUTH, Georgia — Jay L. Bean emerged after casting his ballot on the first day of early voting in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections to say he backed both Democratic candidates because he’s worried that without them, President-elect Joseph R. Biden wouldn’t be able to get anything done.

Moments later Keith, who asked that only his first name be used, emerged from the same polling place to say he backed both Republican candidates because he wants to make sure the Senate stays in Republican hands to stop Mr. Biden.

“I am a little worried about things going too much toward socialism,” the 62-year-old said. “Too many people are dependent on the government for too many things.”

Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbents, and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the Democratic challengers, may be the names on the ballot for the Jan. 5 runoffs.

But for voters, the most important name is Mr. Biden‘s.

The Nov. 3 election was seen as a referendum on President Trump, with the country rejecting another four years.

The special elections in Georgia, though, are shaping up as the first real referendum on Mr. Biden and his agenda — and whether this once solid-red state really is now a swing state.

Polls have shown the twin races are tight.

Democrats need to win both seats to hold 50 seats in the Senate and, with incoming Vice President Kamala D. Harris’s tie-breaking vote, claim control of the chamber.

Should either Mr. Perdue or Ms. Loeffler prevail, the GOP would remain in control, with the power to thwart Mr. Biden’s plans, delay nominees and start investigations of the new administration.

If Democrats win, Mr. Biden could claim a mandate.

Mr. Biden is scheduled to visit the state Tuesday to campaign for Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock, marking his first campaign stop since he won the presidential election.

The two Democrats have embraced Mr. Biden’s calls for a bigger coronavirus relief package, a government-run public option to be added to Obamacare, stricter gun control laws, student debt relief and increasing the federal minimum wage.

They also are eager to embrace their role as enablers of Mr. Biden.

Speaking to a few dozen supporters gathered beneath a pavilion here Monday, Mr. Ossoff said Georgia will determine whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can thwart the Biden agenda.

“In order for us to pass the kind of COVID relief that families and business here in this state need, we have to win these two Senate races because here is the bottom line: Mitch McConnell is going to try to do to Joe and Kamala exactly like he tried to do to President Obama,” the 33-year-old Democrat said.

“We can’t have paralysis at a moment of crisis.”

Republicans are just as eager to make the race a referendum on Mr. Biden, as well as Democratic lawmakers such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“We are the last line of defense against this radical leftist agenda that the Democrats are trying to perpetrate on America,” Mr. Perdue said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If we win Georgia, it is very simple we save America.

“If we keep the majority, we not only hold the line on the Democratic agenda, but we also protect the gains that we made under President Trump,” he said. “We don’t want to go back to the economic dark-side of the Obama and Biden administration.”

But David Johnson, a GOP strategist, said Mr. Trump’s insistence the election was stolen and that Republican leaders in Georgia abandoned him is distracting from that message.

“You have a lot of Georgia Republicans who are still refusing to accept that Biden won, and they feel the energy should be focused right now on somehow pulling a rabbit out of the hat for Trump rather than focusing on the U.S. Senate races,” he said.

That dynamic could change now that Georgia’s 16 Democratic electors cast their ballots for Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris on Monday, officially closing out the presidential race.

Monday also marked the first day of early voting in the state.

Mr. Perdue started airing a television ad featuring clips of Mr. Trump showering him with praise.

“David Perdue has been one of the toughest fighters for our American first agenda in Washington, and there is nobody in Washington that is more respected than David Perdue,” Mr. Trump says in the ad. “A lot of people, friends of mine, say let’s not vote, we’re not going to vote because we are angry about the presidential election, but if you do that the radical left wins.”

Mr. Ossoff, meanwhile, led a march to the polls in Gwinnett County before appearing with Mr. Warnock at a car rally in Atlanta.

Mr. Warnock spoke first, saying the stakes are high, and rattled off his policy plans.

“Are you ready for affordable health care?” Mr. Warnock said. “Are you ready for a livable wage? Are you ready for voting rights? Are you ready for criminal justice reform? Are you ready for investment in infrastructure? Are you ready for this defining moment in American history?”

Rep. Hank Johnson told the crowd the Democrats “are committed to working with the Biden administration — not against a Biden administration.”

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will not be able to move forward with their plans unless we show up and show out at the polls,” the Democrat said.

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