With Donald Trump’s hopes of holding onto the presidency fading, all eyes are now turning to two crucial run-off elections in Georgia that will decide control of the US Senate.
But Republicans are terrified that disgruntled Trump voters, unable to move on from his election loss, will punish the two incumbents by staying home on January 5 – handing the Senate back to Democrats.
“I’m seeing a lot of talk from people that are supposed to be on our side telling GOP voters not to go out and vote for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue,” Donald Trump Jr tweeted this week.
“That is NONSENSE. IGNORE those people. We need ALL of our people coming out to vote for Kelly and David.”
The current balance of the Senate is 50 Republicans to 48 Democrats, meaning if the two Republicans lose their races, it would become a 50-50 split with vice president-elect Kamala Harris as the tie breaker – giving Democrats a one-vote majority.
At an election victory celebration on the streets of New York earlier this month, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told a cheering crowd, “Now we take Georgia, then we change the world! Now we take Georgia, then we change America!”
A staggering $US200 million ($A272 million) is expected to be spent by both parties on political advertising for the race, Politico reports.
Mr Perdue is going up against Jon Ossoff, after neither candidate was able to reach the 50 per cent threshold required by state law to declare a winner at the November 3 election – the Republican was just shy, leading Mr Ossoff by 49.7 per cent to 48 per cent.
Ms Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp after Senator Johnny Isakson retired last year due to illness, is facing off against Reverend Raphael Warnock, a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
She trailed Rev Warnock in their special election match-up – which featured a whopping 20 candidates – receiving 25.9 per cent of the vote to his 32.9 per cent.
Vice President Mike Pence has been campaigning in Georgia with the candidates, but Mr Trump has kept notably quiet on the run-off races, instead continuing to rage at Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp over the election results.
The closest he has come to supporting his party’s candidates in the race is retweeting a post by Senator Lindsey Graham begging for donations to help stop “Nancy Pelosi’s radical leftist agenda from the House of Representatives sailing through both chambers of Congress”.
Mr Trump lost Georgia to Joe Biden by more than 12,000 votes.
It’s the first time a Democrat has won the southern state, with its 16 electoral college votes, since Bill Clinton defeated former President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
A hand recount and risk-limiting audit completed last week confirmed Mr Biden’s victory. Mr Trump and state Republicans have claimed the process was “meaningless” and are demanding a full audit of absentee ballot envelope signatures.
“It’s all about the signatures on the envelopes,” Mr Trump tweeted over the weekend.
“Why are the Democrats fighting so hard to hide them. We will find massive numbers of fraudulent ballots. The signatures won’t match. Fight hard Republicans. Don’t let them destroy the evidence!”
He also tweeted a Breitbart article about a “Stop the Steal” rally, and promised “big voter fraud information coming out concerning Georgia”.
Debbie Dooley, a Trump supporter and co-founder of the Tea Party movement in Georgia, told The Los Angeles Times Republicans should not just accept Mr Trump’s loss in Georgia and focus on the Senate races.
“These Republicans that are saying, ‘Now we need to focus on the Senate race,’ they have their heads buried in the sand,” she said.
“Part of the reason we’re doing this is to protect the Senate race run-off and prevent the same thing from happening again.”
The Republican Senators clearly got the message, both releasing carefully worded statements supporting Mr Trump, but stopping short of supporting his claims of fraud.
“I support President Trump’s request for a recount in Georgia, one in which signatures on absentee ballot envelopes are properly matched and verified to their signature on the registration. Anything less than that will not be a full and transparent recount,” Mr Perdue tweeted.
“I have spoken to President Trump several times in the last week about this, and as I have said from the beginning – every legal vote cast, should be counted. Any illegal vote shouldn’t. Georgians deserve full transparency and uniformity in the counting process.”
Ms Loeffler shared a similar message.
“I fully support President Donald Trump’s request for a recount in Georgia. We must match and verify absentee ballot signatures to their corresponding voter registration signatures, investigate all voting irregularities, and count only the votes that were legally cast,” she wrote.
“This isn’t about politics – this is about the foundation of our democracy. Every Georgian – and every American – deserves to have confidence in the integrity of our state’s election results, and this process is the best way to make that happen.”
It comes as the New York Post reports that a record 788,535 people have requested absentee ballots ahead of the run-off elections as of Tuesday morning, nearly three times the number requested during the 2018 midterms.
On Monday, Mr Raffensperger and the state Election Board voted to extend the use of 24/7 ballot drop boxes for the January elections. The boxes had been set to expire in December.
The deadline to register to vote for the run-off elections is December 7, with early in-person voting beginning on December 14 – the day the electoral college meets in each state to formally vote on the winner of the presidential election.
Interest in the Georgia run-offs has been so strong, some prominent Democrats including former presidential candidate Andrew Yang advocated for voters to illegally move to the state for the sole purpose of voting.
That prompted a warning from state officials.
“Make no mistake about it, I will seek to prosecute those who try to undermine our elections to the fullest extent of the law,” Mr Raffensperger said in a statement last week. “The integrity of our elections is paramount. Outside groups who seek to interfere with democracy in Georgia should be forewarned that the consequences will be severe.”