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What we know — and what we don't — about Tuesday's Georgia runoffs

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: Candidates Warnock & Ossoff \"Vote GA Blue\" Concert
From left, Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock greet each other onstage during the "Vote GA Blue" concert at New Birth Church at New Birth Church in Stonecrest, Georgia on Dec. 28, 2020.Paras Griffin / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — We don’t know who’s going to win Tuesday’s twin Senate runoffs in Georgia — given the close initial results in November, the close and scarce polling, and the uncertainties about turnout in January.

But here’s what we do know:

  • The outcome will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. (If Democrats win both, they’ll retake control of the chamber; if they don’t, Republicans will hold on.)
  • Which party controls the Senate will shape what kind of policies we’ll see from the incoming Biden administration. (See below for more on that.)
  • Who wins tonight will tell us a lot about Trump’s political viability and fortunes in 2022 and 2024. (The GOP losing these two contests — and Senate control — after what’s happened in the last two months won’t look good on Trump’s resume. By contrast, the GOP winning despite it all will offer more proof that Trump’s behavior has had less of a downballot impact than you might think.)
  • The outcome could give us an indication about how long Wednesday’s Electoral College challenge on Capitol Hill is going to last. (Defeats in Georgia won’t exactly energize the Republicans challenging the outcome.)
  • And, like we saw in November, don’t be surprised if it takes a day or more to determine the winners in these two runoffs.

As the AP reminds us, Georgia doesn’t count ballots — including absentee ones — until the polling places close at 7:00 p.m. ET, although the state does require election officials to begin processing the absentee ballots.

So let’s be patient. After all, NBC News didn’t project Biden’s 12,000-vote victory in Georgia until Nov. 13, which was 10 days after Election Day.

Watching the margins and the key counties

But when the votes start coming in, we can track how the two Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — are faring compared to margins we saw in the key counties back in November.

In November’s initial race, GOP Sen. David Perdue ran ahead of Ossoff in the state, 49.7 percent to 48.0 percent.

So if Ossoff and Warnock are outperforming Ossoff’s margins from November, they’re likely going to win.

If they’re not, they’re going to lose.

Here are the key county-by-county splits in that initial Perdue-vs.-Ossoff contest:

The Atlanta Suburbs

  • Fulton (the most vote-rich county in the state): Ossoff 69.8 percent, Perdue 28.1 percent
  • Gwinnett (outside Atlanta’s city limits): Ossoff 56.8 percent, Perdue 40.6 percent
  • Cobb (another Atlanta suburb): Ossoff 54.0 percent, Perdue 43.4 percent
  • DeKalb (contains about 10 percent of Atlanta; majority black): Ossoff 81.2 percent, Perdue 16.8 percent
  • Henry (Atlanta suburb): Ossoff 58.8 percent. Perdue 39.0 percent
  • Clayton (was represented by the late John Lewis): Ossoff 84.4 percent, Perdue 13.4 percent
  • Douglas (another Atlanta suburb that was reliably GOP until 2008): Ossoff 61.1 percent, Perdue 36.5 percent


  • Chatham (Georgia’s most populous county outside of Metro Atlanta): Ossoff 57.6 percent, Perdue 40.2 percent

The big GOP—leaning counties

  • Cherokee (exurban Atlanta): Perdue 69.2 percent, Ossoff 27.8 percent
  • Forsyth (exurban Atlanta): Perdue 66.8 percent, Ossof 30.6 percent
  • Hall (exurban Atlanta): Perdue 71.1 percent, Ossoff 26.2 percent
  • Pauldling (exurban Atlanta): Perdue 63.3 percent, Ossoff 34.0 percent
  • Columbia (outside of Augusta): Perdue 62.9 percent, Ossoff 34.7 percent

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

20,966,689: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 255,207 more than yesterday.)

354,313: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,973 more than yesterday.)

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

128,210: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

2,800: The number of new hospitalized patients in a single day, breaking a previous record.

65 percent: The share of Georgia Latinos who voted early in November who voted early in the runoff, according to one expert.

15: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

Talking Policy with Benjy

The stakes in Georgia: Georgia’s runoffs could determine trillions of dollars in new spending and taxes, even in a closely divided Senate, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes.

While Democratic priorities on issues like voting rights and immigration, as well as contentious proposals to expand the courts, would likely be off the table without GOP support, much of Biden’s agenda could pass via the same budget reconciliation procedure Senate Republicans used under Trump, which only requires a bare majority.

At the top of the list: A much larger coronavirus relief package. Democrats, including the Georgia Senate candidates, have echoed the president’s call for a round of $2,000 stimulus checks and want to fund state and local budgets. Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan calls for $2 trillion in investments related to climate change and $775 billion to help fund child and elder care, among other items.

Just as the GOP tried to repeal chunks of the Affordable Care Act via reconciliation, Biden could expand it. Adding a strong public option may be too heavy a lift, but Biden’s plan also calls for expanding the law’s subsidies to cover more people at all incomes and lower deductibles.

While Biden has pledged not to raise taxes on incomes below $400,000, he’s proposed an estimated $2 trillion in new tax revenue that he would raise by reversing parts of the Trump tax cuts and imposing new taxes on higher incomes and investments. Some of the money would go to expanding child tax credits for middle and lower incomes.

Georgia Runoff Watch by Ben Kamisar

Today’s Runoff Watch takes a look at the closing messages each candidate is making in the Georgia runoffs, but also the new messaging they’re deploying with the clock ticking closer to zero.

GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former (potentially future) Sen. Perdue have hugged President Trump tight the whole way, attacking their opponents as controversial and radical. And Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have hit their opponents as corrupt, appealing to issues like health care and public service to pitch themselves.

But there are a few new ads worth mentioning that look to make some targeted appeals — this Warnock spot that frames Loeffer as on Team Brian Kemp amid the feud between the Georgia Governor and President Trump, and this new spot from Perdue narrated exclusively by Trump, proof that no matter what happens in the election, the outgoing president still looms quite large.

Biden: If the GOP wins, you’re not getting those checks

During his rally in Georgia last night, President—elect Biden seemed aware of the policy stakes in Georgia.

“If you send Sens. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It's that simple. The power is literally in your hands. By electing Jon and the reverend, you can break the gridlock that has gripped Washington and this nation. With their votes in the Senate, we'll be able to make the progress we need to make on jobs, on health care, on justice, on the environment, on so many important things,” he said.

Transition Watch

Filled Cabinet positions

State: Tony Blinken

Treasury: Janet Yellen

Defense: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas

HHS: Xavier Becerra

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack

Transportation: Pete Buttigieg

Energy: Jennifer Granholm

Interior: Deb Haaland

Education: Miguel Cardona

HUD: Marcia Fudge

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas—Greenfield

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines

EPA: Michael Regan

OMB Director: Neera Tanden

U.S. Trade Representative: Katherine Tai

Unfilled Cabinet positions

Attorney General: Doug Jones, Sally Yates, Merrick Garland

Commerce: TBD

Labor: Andy Levin, Bernie Sanders, Marty Walsh

CIA: Michael Morell

SBA: Diana Taylor

Other top Biden staffers

Chief of Staff: Ron Klain

National Security Adviser: Jake Sullivan

Climate Envoy: John Kerry

Domestic Policy Council Director: Susan Rice

National Economic Council Director: Brian Deese

Surgeon General: Dr. Vivek Murthy

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Dr. Rochelle Walensky

Covid—19 Czar: Jeff Zients

White House Communications Director: Kate Bedingfield

White House Press Secretary: Jen Psaki

VP Communications Director: Ashley Etienne

VP Chief Spokesperson: Symone Sanders

The Lid:And the number of the day is… $667 million

Just how much do two runoffs for Senate control cost on the airwaves? A history—making sum.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Miss the final rallies last night in Georgia? Catch up here and here.

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Raffensperger himself hinted at the possibility of a probe into the call.

Mike Pence is facing a hard needle to thread as Trump increases pressure on him to meddle in the election results.

The leader of the Proud Boys has been arrested on suspicion of destruction of property related to a Washington DC pro-Trump rally on December 12.

The National Guard has been mobilized in DC in advance of an expected pro-Trump rally on Wednesday.

Here’s what you need to know about the electoral vote count in Congress this week.

Joe Biden wants to fight income inequality. It’ll probably be a tough slog.

England is entering a strict new phase of lockdown.