The Georgia runoff elections will determine which party controls the Senate in the upcoming Congress, and no one has more to lose than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who must watch as the fate of his majority is decided Tuesday. He might, however, have one more card to play: endorsement of $2,000 stimulus checks.
Neither party has a noticeable advantage on election day, as the candidates in both races are polling within two points of each other, according to FiveThirtyEight. President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden both traveled to the state Monday for a final effort to promote their respective candidates, NBC News reported.
Trump called the runoffs the most important elections in American history during a Dec. 5 campaign rally. Without counting incumbent Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Republicans currently hold 50 Senate seats while Democrats hold 48 seats. At least one Republican incumbent must win for the party to keep its Senate majority.
But an election victory for both Democratic challengers Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff would give the Democrats and their Independent caucus members 50 seats. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would then have the power to break a 50-50 tie, effectively giving Democrats majority control.
Democrats winning both seats also means that the party would control both chambers of Congress in addition to the White House. A unified Democratic government could in turn put pressure on Biden to enact a more progressive policy agenda. (RELATED: Why Georgia Is A Key Part Of Progressives’ Plan To Push Biden Further Left)
Current election data does not favor the GOP. A record 3 million Georgians have already voted and the early voting margins favor Democrats, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Early voting among Republicans lagged behind as turnout dropped in rural and typically conservative parts of the state.
Trump held Monday evening’s campaign rally in the city of Dalton, located in the northwestern region of Georgia where Republican support is particularly high, according to Fox News. Republican consultant Chip Lake told the network that driving out more voters on election day was crucial to make up for the Democrats’ early voting advantage.
“In November, Election Day turnout was about 20% of the total turnout. I think for this election we need it in the 25-30% range,” Lake said. “Some of the early vote numbers were a little lower than we wanted them to be but we’re confident the Election Day turnout in North Georgia is going to be high and that North Georgia can be the linchpin to deliver this state for David and Kelly.”
But a Trump rally alone may not be enough to overcome the slight polling and turnout advantages Democrats currently hold. As a last-minute effort to boost the Republican candidates and ultimately preserve his majority, McConnell could turn to the $2,000 stimulus checks.
As part of the negotiations over the latest round of coronavirus relief legislation, lawmakers like Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed $2,000 in direct cash payments to eligible Americans. The original legislation proposed $600 in stimulus checks although the House later voted to increase the payments to $2,000.
But in the Senate, McConnell blocked a standalone bill proposed Dec. 30 that would increase the coronavirus relief payments from $600 to $2,000. The Majority Leader again blocked a second standalone bill introduced Friday.
Trump ultimately signed the $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief bill with the originally proposed $600 payments despite earlier demands to include $2,000 payments instead. McConnell offered to include $2,000 stimulus checks in a separate bill that would also repeal Section 230 and set up an investigation into voter fraud, but such legislation has virtually no chance of passing. (RELATED: Here’s What’s On The Line For Trump In Georgia)
Polling data indicates that voters overwhelmingly support another round of stimulus checks. A CivicScience poll released Dec. 21 found that 69% of respondents, including a majority of Republicans, wanted at least $1,200 in direct payments. A separate poll conducted by the left-leaning Data for Progress found that 57% of respondents backed $2,000 stimulus checks.
Supporting a very popular proposal such as $2,000 stimulus checks could translate into an electoral advantage in Georgia. The Republican candidates seem to think so, as Loeffler and Perdue both announced their support for increasing direct cash payments in late December.
I agree with @realDonaldTrump — we need to deliver $2,000 direct relief checks to the American people.
— Kelly Loeffler (@KLoeffler) December 29, 2020
— David Perdue (@Perduesenate) December 29, 2020
McConnell has tied the relief package to the Georgia races in the past, as The New York Times reported that Loeffler and Perdue complained to McConnell about “getting hammered” over a lack of GOP support for stimulus checks. McConnell’s initial decision to put $600 checks in the bill was reportedly in recognition of the political costs in Georgia, according to Business Insider.
But in the absence of any meaningful progress on $2,000 payments in the Senate, Democrats are campaigning on the fact that McConnell and the Republicans blocked a larger stimulus. Biden did just that during a Monday event in Atlanta, claiming that more direct cash payments would only pass Congress with a Democratic Senate majority, according to Market Watch.
“If you send Jon and the reverend to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now,” he said during his speech. “If you send Sens. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It’s just that simple.”
With just hours until the polls close, there may be little McConnell can actually do to boost his Georgia Republican colleagues. But a last-minute announcement allowing a standalone bill on $2,000 stimulus checks in the Senate could convince some voters, simply due to its popularity. (RELATED: The Voting Bloc That Could Sway The Georgia Senate Races May Surprise You)
Voting on such legislation would have to wait until after the election — but any action from McConnell on stimulus checks could allow Loeffler and Perdue to reclaim the issue as their own during their final election day pitch to voters, rather than ceding it to the Democrats.
“GOP infighting over election results and stimulus has clearly been a headwind with polls tilting towards the challengers,” Height Capital Markets analysts told Market Watch.
Warnock and Ossoff have seen their poll numbers tick up in recent days according to FiveThirtyEight polling data. But decisive action on stimulus checks from McConnell and Senate Republicans could help reverse that on election day.