Loeffler, left, and Warnock, second from left, on debate Sunday.

Editor’s Note: This was excerpted from the December 7 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

CNN  — 

Everyone in Washington has Georgia on their mind.

The southern state that Joe Biden won by a whisker last month is holding two Senate run-off elections in January that will help define his presidency. If Democratic challengers win both races against incumbent Republicans, control of the Senate will deadlock 50-50 – but new Vice President Kamala Harris will get to wield her constitutional powers to cast deciding votes. If Republicans win just one of the two Georgia seats, they will control the Senate and retain power to block Biden’s Cabinet picks, legislation and court nominees in a Washington stalemate that could strangle his administration.

So it’s not surprising that both parties are throwing everything at the Peach State. Ad spending for the runoffs has already hit $300 million. Former President Barack Obama has been stumping for the Democratic candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff over Zoom. “This is not just about Georgia,” Obama told a virtual event. “This is about America and this is about the world.”

Even President Donald Trump emerged from his post-election sulk to hold a wild rally in Georgia on Saturday. But the outgoing President may not have done much good for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, since he spent more than an hour-and-a-half mostly spewing nonsense and falsely claiming he won November’s election. Republican strategists are worried voters will buy his claims that voting was rigged in Georgia and skip the coming election. Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a Republican, told CNN on Sunday that the President’s “mountains of misinformation” were counterproductive.

Even without its significance for the balance of power in Washington, Georgia is a fascinating political story. Biden is the first Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 to win the state. His victory points to shifting demographics and fast growing suburbs that are creating openings for Democrats in the Deep South for the first time in generations. Black voters who helped put Biden in the White House are crucial, and their willingness to vote in big numbers after the New Year could be decisive again.

Only three of the four candidates in Georgia's Senate runoff races participated in a debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club Sunday. Republican David Perdue skipped out, leaving his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff to hold court onstage alone.

‘I like cucumbers. I’m the only one’

During his rambling weekend rally in Georgia, Trump expanded his usual litany of claims to seemingly assert that he might be the only person who likes cucumbers. “At the urging of Kelly (Loeffler) and David (Perdue), my administration took historic action to protect growers of Georgia blueberries, peppers, squash and cucumbers,” he said. “Who does cucumbers around here? Because I like cucumbers. I’m the only one. I like cucumbers.”

Postcard from Caracas

Maduro shows his ballot on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020.

It’s a tale of two votes – and two rival presidents.

On a quiet, sunny Sunday, Venezuelans trudged to the polls in parliamentary elections widely seen as engineered to consolidate the power of authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro. “Whoever does not vote, does not eat,” Maduro’s right hand man Diosdado Cabello had threatened earlier in the week. This week, the same Venezuelans will be asked to vote again, this time in an online referendum about the legitimacy of the Sunday vote, organized by the country’s other president: Juan Guaido, considered the country’s de jure leader by the EU, UK, Canada and most of Latin America.

Guaido was once seen as a promising figure for democracy in Venezuela, even receiving a standing ovation at Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this year – but global plaudits haven’t helped him wrest actual control of the state from Maduro. So next year, US President-elect Joe Biden can expect to face a Venezuela even more tightly controlled by the man he once termed “a dictator, plain and simple.” Sunday’s vote is expected to give Maduro a new grip on the once-independent legislature, making it easier to sign new deals with allies like Cuba, China and Russia.

Maduro’s Venezuela is not healthy. It is increasingly weakened by the coronavirus, choked by global sanctions, and crippled by its own internal mismanagement. Salaries are paid out in valueless bolivars, and most products traded in US dollars. Inflation is still a staggering 6,500% rate this year, the IMF predicts Venezuela’s GDP to fall a further 25% and 94% of the population live below the poverty line. Yet experts warn against any foreign hopes to oust Maduro by amplifying these internal pressures.

As Luis Vicente León, a pollster and political analyst in Caracas told CNN, “The idea that all of this is unbearable and will have to crack is nonsense. Look at Cuba, North Korea, Zimbabwe. This can go on for long, and those who are having a harder time can leave and this benefits the government once again.” – CNN’s Stefano Pozzebon writes to Meanwhile from Caracas