Third Stimulus Check's Fate Sits in Hands of Georgia Runoff Voters

On the eve of one of America's most significant elections in recent history, tens of millions of people across the country are awaiting the conclusion of Georgia's Senate runoffs, a close contest to determine control of the upper chamber—and with it the fate of a third stimulus check.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) derailed the train set in motion by President Donald Trump, Democrats, and a handful of Republicans in Congress that would have raised the latest stimulus check from a maximum of $600 to $2,000.

But McConnell's power as a blocker may be coming to an end if Republicans do not hold onto the two Georgia Senate seats in the January 5 runoffs and keep control of the Senate narrowly in his party's hands.

That decision and all its consequences, not least stimulus checks, sits in the hands of the millions of Georgia voters who have already turned out to vote early or will show up in person to cast their ballots on Tuesday.

The $600 checks are rolling out right now as COVID surges across the U.S. Unemployment remains stubbornly high and for many renters the additional government support is all that stands between them and living on the streets.

A Morning Consult poll of 1,995 registered voters in December found that 49 percent did not think $600 was enough support. Only 31 percent said it was the right amount and five percent said it was too much. The margin of error was two percent.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised a third stimulus check and it should easily carry the support of the Democratic majority in the House. Polling suggests the two Democratic candidates in Georgia—Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff—have a slim lead.

Both Warnock and Ossoff backed a $2,000 stimulus check and have put the issue at the center of their campaigns in recent weeks, aligning them with the Republican president against his own party leadership in Congress and heaping pressure on their runoff opponents.

Their Republican incumbent rivals—David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler—had equivocated on larger checks before licking their fingers, feeling the wind, and lining up behind Trump. It is not clear if they would also get behind a Biden-led initiative on more checks.

In a joint statement, the pair said they supported McConnell's legislative package that bundled $2,000 checks with an unrelated commission on election security and the repeal of Section 230, which protects social media companies from the responsibilities of being a publisher.

"We have put together a robust legislative package that will benefit every Georgian and deliver $2,000 to those in need," the two senators said, per WTVM. "We strongly support this legislation aimed at helping families, safeguarding elections and stopping Big Tech's censorship."

Democrats wanted the $2,000 checks to be a standalone bill and did not support the other measures in McConnell's package. As a consequence, the $2,000 checks did not move forward in the current Senate, raising the stakes of the imminent Georgia runoff elections.

"We can pass $2,000 relief checks. But we have to win this Senate election," Ossoff tweeted on January 2.

If the two Democrats win in Georgia, it will split the Senate 50-50 between Republicans and the Democratic caucus, which includes two independents who typically vote with the party. The deciding vote falls to the vice president, set to be Kamala Harris, the former California senator.

With the support of a couple of GOP senators, including Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who both back $2,000 checks, topping up the second payment—or adding a third—looks all-but-certain if Democrats triumph in Georgia.

More than three million Georgians have already voted early in the runoffs because of the pandemic, according to data compiled by Georgia Votes. The runoffs are taking place because no candidate secured more than 50 percent of the vote the first time around, per state rules.

Trump lost the presidential election in Georgia to Biden. He has since made unfounded allegations of widespread electoral fraud in the state that cost him victory, and has publicly and aggressively attacked Georgia's Republican officials for not reversing the result.

On Sunday, just two days before the runoffs, The Washington Post published the audio of a leaked call in which Trump tries to pressure Georgia officials, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to "find 11,780 votes" in his favor so he wins the state.

How much Trump's disruption over his own election loss plays into the runoffs will be seen in Tuesday's results. But 538's polling average for the state puts both Warnock and Ossoff ahead of Loeffler and Perdue respectively—leads that are within the margin of error.

In the weighted average, Ossoff is backed by 49.2 percent of Georgia voters, while Perdue is backed by 47.4 percent. By comparison, Warnock is supported by 49.5 percent of voters, while Loeffler is backed by 47.2 percent.

Trump and Biden are in Georgia campaigning on Monday, trying to rally the last crucial votes before polling day. For Biden, the significance of the election is particularly profound and will be a defining moment in his presidency before he has even been inaugurated.

Newsweek has contacted the Ossoff, Perdue, Loeffler, and Warnock campaigns for comment.

Senate runoff voters in Georgia
Voters stand in line to cast their ballots during the first day of early voting in the US Senate runoff at the Gwinnett Fairgrounds, December 14, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia. The fate of a third stimulus check rests with Georgia's voters. TAMI CHAPPELL/AFP via Getty Images