Georgia Is Temporarily the 'Center of the Political Universe'

Control of the US Senate will come down to the Peach State
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 11, 2020 11:00 AM CST
Updated Nov 11, 2020 1:00 PM CST
Georgia Is Temporarily the 'Center of the Political Universe'
In this June 23, 2020, file photo, Rev. Raphael Warnock is seen at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.   (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool, File)

"For the next eight weeks, Georgia will be the center of the political universe." So writes FiveThirtyEight in explaining that control of the Senate will come down to the fewer than 5 million voters who live in Georgia. With the North Carolina Senate race decided in GOP Sen. Thom Tillis' favor on Tuesday and Alaska's seat called for GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan on Wednesday, that gives us 48 Democratic seats to 50 Republican ones. The remaining two seats will be determined in dual runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5. So how's it looking, and who are the major players? What you need to know:

  • The candidates: Republicans currently hold both seats. It's GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler vs. Democrat Raphael Warnock, and GOP Sen. David Perdue vs Democrat Jon Ossoff.
  • The polling: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports "the first major publicly released poll" of the runoffs, conducted Sunday and Monday by a GOP-leaning group, found no obvious leading candidate. Loeffler is ahead of Warnock 49% to 48%, but 3% of voters are undecided and the margin of error is 2.6 percentage points. Perdue leads Ossoff 50% to 46%, with 4% undecided.
  • How'd we get here? As to why Georgia's races weren't decided when the rest of America's were, FiveThirtyEight explains the state's "unusual requirement" that a candidate must get a majority of the vote to win; otherwise, the Nos. 1 and 2 candidates move to a runoff. The site says this outcome was expected in Georgia's special election for Senate, as there were 20 candidates on the ballot. Indeed, no one came close, with Warnock taking 32.9% to Loeffler's 25.9%. But as of now Perdue is just a hair behind where he needs to be at 49.7%. Ossoff got 48%, with Libertarian Shane Hazel scooping up the rest.

  • Good news for Dems: Because a runoff was expected in the special election, there are months' worth of polls asking about a Warnock-Loeffler matchup, and Warnock has come out on top. "And while it's true that the polls were significantly off in some states this election, they were actually quite accurate in Georgia," observes FiveThirtyEight.
  • Bad news for Dems: But FiveThirtyEight also notes that it's now an off-cycle election, and that in the eight previous runoffs between candidates from both parties in the state, "Republican vote share margins improved" in seven of them, "sometimes substantially so, as turnout fell sharply from the general election vote in November." And at New York Magazine, Eric Levitz backs up that line of thinking by pointing out that "parties that have just lost the presidency tend to overperform in any ensuing special elections, as their voters thirst for vengeance while the other side's supporters get complacent."
  • But then good news for Dems: But this is no typical runoff. There's going to be big money and big names pouring into the state in an attempt to get out the vote. Warnock is also the first Black candidate to feature in a Senate runoff, which could help drive Black voters to the polls.
  • A side effect: Politico reports that the need for those major players to flock to the state is why most Senate Republicans, as of Tuesday, had yet to embrace Biden as president-elect. The party needs Trump to crusade for the GOP candidates in Georgia, "and accepting the presidential results ahead of Trump, a politician driven by loyalty, could put Republicans at odds with the president and his core supporters amid the must-win elections."

  • The money: It's already coming in. Stacey Abrams' voting rights organization Fair Fight has raised $9.8 million since Friday, and it tells Fox News Ossoff and Warnock will each get a third of that sum.
  • The 2024 hopefuls: Fox News reports Republicans who may be eyeing 2024 are also planning visits to the state in support of the GOP candidates. Among them: Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Mike Pence, and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.
  • A path for Dems? Levitz presents what he sees as the most viable way forward for Democrats: Make it all about the size of stimulus checks and expanded unemployment. He explains that Dems need to make "a strong, affirmative case for unified Democratic government. To my mind, the best way to do this is to make voters understand what is actually at stake in whether Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer is majority leader: namely, whether the next round of COVID stimulus legislation will be large or small."
  • What if the Senate ends up 50-50? Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would serve as tiebreaker.
(More Election 2020 stories.)

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