The themes are crystal clear.
Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia – the Republican candidates in Georgia's Jan. 5 twin runoff elections that will determine whether the GOP holds on to its majority in the Senate or if the Democrats will control both houses of Congress in addition to the White House – say they’re trying to save America from socialism.
And the Democratic challengers in the two contests – Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock – spotlight that they’re trying to save health care coverage for millions of Americans and accuse their opponents of downplaying the coronavirus pandemic.
Perdue, in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures," emphasized that the two Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia "are the last line of defense against this liberal socialist agenda the Democrats will perpetrate."
And two days earlier, at a campaign event with Loeffler and incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) chair Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., in the conservative stronghold of Forsyth County, Perdue urged supporters to “stand with us to make sure that we can go back to Washington and stand up against AOC, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and all these radical leftists.”
It's a similar message from Loeffler, who at the same event stressed that she and Perdue “are the firewall – not just for the U.S. Senate – but for the future of our country.”
And two days earlier, at an event in suburban Atlanta with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the appointed senator highlighted that “we’re fighting for American opportunity, not socialism."
It’s the same message in their ads.
“The Schumer, Pelosi, Ossoff change? Defund police. Voting rights for illegal immigrants. Washington, D.C., as the 51st state,” the narrator in Perdue’s first TV commercial of the runoff campaign says, as he ties Ossoff to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the top two Democrats in Congress.
And a web ad by the Loeffler campaign argues that “Raphael Warnock is too extreme for Georgia.”
In painting the Democratic candidates as socialists and extremists, the Republicans are reusing their playbook from the 2020 elections, which saw them make a big dent in the Democrats’ House majority and prevent a Democratic surge in the Senate.
NRSC communications Jesse Hunt argued that both Ossoff and Warnock have a “checkered past.” And he told Fox News that the idea “that they’d serve as a blank check for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to pass a radical socialist agenda resonates a bit more with voters.”
Democrats also appear to be recycling their playbook – with Ossoff and Warnock focusing on saving the Affordable Care Act and criticizing the GOP incumbents for failing to combat the coronavirus. Both attacks were successfully used by President Joe Biden in his campaign against President Trump.
“David Perdue ignored the medical experts, downplayed the crisis, and left us unprepared,” the narrator in an Ossoff commercial hitting airwaves on Monday stresses.
A new ad from the Warnock campaign charges that “Loeffler downplays the threat publicly.” And Warnock took aim at his opponent, saying “it must be really hard to explain why you’re for getting rid of health care in the middle of a pandemic.”
The current balance of power for the next Senate – coming out of this month’s elections – is 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. That means the Democrats must win both of Georgia’s runoff elections to make it a 50-50 Senate, in which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote, giving her party a razor-thin majority in the chamber.
In Georgia, where state law dictates a runoff if no candidate reaches 50% of the vote, Perdue narrowly missed out on avoiding a runoff. He currently stands at 49.75% in the count, with nearly all votes counted. Ossoff trails by roughly 87,000 votes.
In the other race, Loeffler captured nearly 26% of the vote in a whopping 20-candidate special election to fill the final two years of the term of former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson. Warnock won nearly 33% of the vote.
Jessica Taylor, who tracks Senate races for the Cook Report, a leading nonpartisan political handicapper, noted that “the message of socialism and defund the police broke through” to benefit the GOP in the general election.
Looking at the Georgia contests, Taylor said “these runoffs are essentially functional special elections and turnout matters.”
She said to get their base out, Republicans are trying to motivate “Trump voters to turn out when he’s not on the ballot.” And Taylor noted that Democrats, to motivate their base, need to highlight that “Senate control is on the line and remind them that health care could hang in the balance.”