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Upcoming Georgia runoffs hold big stakes and big uncertainties

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Republican Senators David Perdue And Kelly Loeffler Running For Reelection In A Closely Watched Run-Off Hold Rally
Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler speaks at a campaign event on Nov. 13, 2020 in Cumming, Ga.Megan Varner / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — It’s one thing to try to handicap a January runoff contest.

It’s entirely another to game out two runoffs in the same state that are taking place after a presidential election, that will decide control of the U.S. Senate and that have no other historical precedent.

That’s how we’re viewing Georgia’s two Jan. 5 Senate runoffs that are now just 47 days away — they’re filled with uncertainties and unknowns.

What will turnout look like? Will it benefit Republicans as it has in past Georgia runoffs? Or will the presence of potentially the state’s first Black senator — Raphael Warnock — boost Black voter turnout?

What impact will the current GOP infighting (GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler versus Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger) have on the contest? “There is no worse time for Georgia Republicans to be engulfed in a civil war,” the New York Times recently wrote.

What about Trump and his unwillingness to concede, especially in a state like Georgia, where Biden is the apparent winner? Georgia will release its hand tally of the Biden-vs.-Trump race in Georgia later today.

Just how risky is for Sens. Perdue and Loeffler to run as a ticket? (Remember, Republicans only need to win one of these runoffs to keep control of the Senate, but they’re trying to win both.)

What about the GOP efforts to define Warnock, as well the Democratic efforts to redefine Perdue? And will Loeffler pay the price for her hard turn to the right during the state’s jungle primary, when she had to fend off Trump ally Doug Collins?”

And just how will the coronavirus — both health-wise and politically — affect the runoffs?

These are unprecedented runoffs with big stakes and plenty of uncertainties.

18 years — and counting — of Pelosi-Hoyer-Clyburn

House Democrats this week re-elected Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn as their leaders for the next Congress.

The trio have been the House Democratic leaders since 2003. So that was:

  • during George W. Bush’s first term as president;
  • before Arnold Schwarzenegger became California governor;
  • when Barack Obama was still an Illinois state senator;
  • before Facebook was founded;
  • before the iPhone was invented;
  • and when Donald Trump was a registered Democrat.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

5,854,932: Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote at the time of publication

$3 million: The cost paid by the Trump campaign for a “partial recount” of Wisconsin in just Milwaukee and Dane counties.

20,565: Trump’s current vote deficit in Wisconsin.

More than $135 million: The amount of TV ads booked in Georgia for the state’s two Senate runoffs.

11,611,008: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 170,926 more than yesterday morning.)

251,678: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,858 more than yesterday morning.)

171.91 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

79,410: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

47: The number of days until the January 5 Senate runoffs.

62: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

Georgia Runoff Watch by Ben Kamisar

In today’s runoff watch, voters can just about start voting in Georgia’s pivotal Senate runoffs.

Wednesday was the first day that Georgia registrars could begin mailing out absentee ballots for the state’s Senate runoff elections, which means Georgia voters can start voting once they receive those ballots.

With the pandemic to new heights in daily cases and hospitalizations, there are likely to be a significant number of mail-in ballots cast for the Senate runoffs too.

That provides another level of uncertainty to the race (in addition to the ones listed above), particularly as the president refuses to accept the results and makes unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Peacock TV’s Medhi Hasan that he believes it was Trump’s own discrediting of mail-in ballots that cost him the election in November.

“I believe so because the numbers show that. There were actually 24,000 Republican voters that voted absentee in the June primary, and those same 24,000 voters, did not show up to vote in either absentee or in person on the day of election or the 15 days of early voting we have. So they just disappeared and they were ripe for the picking, they were there in June for the primary and they should have come home and voted for President Trump in the fall. So that’s 24,000 . That's his difference right there,” he said.

Out of 30 Trump/GOP lawsuits, none has found a single instance of fraud

President Trump’s chances at successful litigation to overturn the presidential election results are dwindling. According to NBC’s Pete Williams, the Trump campaign and other Republican interests have filed at least 30 election lawsuits in 6 swing states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

So far, no court has found a single instance of fraud.

At least 12 cases remain active, and at least 18 cases have been denied, dismissed, settled or withdrawn. In at least three of these cases, the court found that the Republicans had failed to provide a factual basis or evidence for their claims.

The Georgia recount ended on Wednesday night with President-elect Biden still comfortably ahead of Trump. And while Trump’s campaign is paying for a partial recount in Wisconsin, it’s highly unlikely the president will be able to erase his deficit of 20,000 votes.

The Lid: Risk assessment

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how more Republicans — including GOP governors — are acknowledging the realities of Covid.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Now the two Wayne County election board Republicans are asking to “rescind” their votes to certify the election.

Trump’s team is preparing for a “conclusion” to the election fight — but not until December.

Some current and former Trump officials are privately reaching out to Biden’s team.

Republicans are using Raphael Warnock’s old sermons to argue to Georgia voters that he’s a religious radical.

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is taking a lot of heat for breaking his state’s own coronavirus recommendations.

How does distributing a vaccine actually work?

The White House killed a deal to offer mental health services to separated migrant families.