POLEMAN: Peachy — as Georgia goes, so goes the Senate

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Ray Charles famously sang, “I said Georgia / Ooh Georgia / No peace I find.”

Ray got that right. It’s perversely fitting that the 2020 freak show will bleed into 2021, capped by twin Senate contests in a traditional red state that’s tilting purple. We’ll get no semblance of peace, however fleeting, until the voters of Georgia decide whether President-elect Joe Biden will have a cooperative or obstructive Senate.

If the Democrats can sweep both Georgia elections on Jan. 5 – probably a tall order – the Senate would be deadlocked at 50-50. Vice President Harris would get the tie-breaking vote, which means that Democrats would effectively run the place, Mitch McConnell would be ousted as leader, and Biden would have a leg up on governing.

If you’re wondering why most Republicans continue to detestably indulge Donald Trump’s delusions about the presidential race, the answer is: Georgia. Republican leaders are banking on robust right-wing turnout for incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and the best way to get those folks to the polls is to stoke their MAGA fantasies about how the presidential election was “stolen,” especially in Georgia. Keep ’em angry. Give ’em a (fake) reason to tick off the libs and keep the Senate in Republican hands.

You may also be wondering: why the heck are we having these elections in January? It’s a Georgia thing. If no candidates reach the 50 percent threshold in November, the top two finishers square off again. Perdue didn’t hit 50 percent in his race with Democrat Jon Ossoff, and Loeffler didn’t come close to 50 – finishing second behind Raphael Warnock, a pastor who’s trying to make history as the first Black Democrat ever elected to the Senate in the Deep South.

And thanks to the prodigious grassroots efforts of Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidates are actually in play. Roughly 800,000 new voters have been signed up since 2018 – half of them are non-white – and Purdue, from his Republican perch, has taken notice. In a private conference call leaked Monday to the press, Perdue said that Abrams and her team have “changed, dramatically, the face of the electorate in Georgia.”

Republicans fear that the expanded Georgia electorate will flood the runoffs, just as it did for Biden’s Georgia win. So Republican strategy is to dig in by doing what they do best: lie with impunity, even if it means throwing some of their own people under the bus.

You’ve got to feel sorry for Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state and loyal Republican. He oversaw a clean election, and it’s certainly not his fault that Biden won the state. But under prodding from the White House, Perdue and Loeffler have demanded that Raffensperger quit his job – implying that Georgia’s results for Biden were rigged, while offering zero evidence. As a result, Raffensperger and his family have received death threats.

Raffensperger’s reaction to all this: “Other than getting you angry, it’s also very disillusioning, particularly when it comes from people on my side of the aisle…I don’t think it’s helpful when you create doubt in the election process.”

Welcome to MAGA, pal. What made you think that the cult had any interest in democracy?

Raffensperger said Monday that one of Trump’s top poodles, Lindsey Graham, has been pressuring him to change the Georgia presidential results by throwing out some legal ballots. (Lindsey denies it, for what that’s worth. But we all know he’d do anything for his alpha dog.)

You can tell that the GOP is spooked. If Georgia, Pennsylvania, and other key states officially certify their results for Biden – as expected in the days ahead – Trump will truly look like a loser by Jan. 5, and Republicans fear that the “stolen” election meme will lose steam and hurt turnout. Perdue said in the leaked conference call, “President Trump, it looks like now, may not be able to hold out…We’re going to be standing out here alone.”

Republicans do have history on their side, however. Democrats have traditionally fared poorly in runoff elections, and Georgia hasn’t elected a Democratic senator in 20 years. Heck, in 2002, Georgia even ousted a Democratic senator who’d lost both legs as a Bronze Star soldier in Vietnam. And Republicans might still wow their Georgia base with fears of Democratic “socialism” and a Senate run by Chuck Schumer.

It’s hard to envision Democrats winning a double-header on Jan. 5. But it’s nice that the GOP is so worried. As Loeffler said in the conference call, “The question is about the Democratic turnout. We don’t know. We can’t take for granted that we’re going to keep everyone motivated.”

Rest assured, the Abrams team won’t have a problem.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]m