Republicans Still Have a Chance in Georgia
All eyes are on the Peach State. Once a reliably red stronghold, Georgia surprised everyone — except perhaps Stacey Abrams — with its November outcome: Joe Biden received 49.51 percent of the vote, edging out President Donald Trump’s 49.25 percent. Biden won the state by 12,670 votes, the closest margin in the 2020 presidential election.
Election season has not ended in Georgia. With both Senate seats up for grabs in a January run-off election, the two major political parties are pouring millions of dollars into the state. Control for the Senate is at stake.
It is easy to focus on all the ways that Trump is sabotaging the Republicans’ effort to re-elect Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Even though Georgia poll officials have conducted a hand audit and an additional machine recount of the vote tallies, Trump still asserts that he lost Georgia due to voter fraud. Republicans have a difficult needle to thread: if the November election was rigged, will the January election also be rigged? And if the January election is also rigged, what is the point of voting in it?
Cue Lin Wood. The prominent lawyer, who first entered the public eye as Richard Jewell’s lawyer and most recently solicited funds for Kyle Rittenhouse’s bail, held a “Stop the Steal” rally alongside Sidney Powell in which he implored his fellow Georgians to refrain from voting in the run-off election. Should enough Republicans follow his advice, Perdue and Loeffler’s re-election campaigns may not prevail in January.
As if this situation was not already bad enough for the Republican Party, the two Senators are particularly poor candidates. Both Loeffler and Perdue were already wealthy before reaching office; they amassed more wealth while in power. Loeffler was selected by Governor Brian Kemp, a fellow Republican, after her predecessor Johnny Isakson resigned for health reasons in December 2019. In January 2020, she attended a classified briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak. Following that briefing, she and her husband Jeffrey Sprecher — the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange — sold millions of dollars in stock and purchased shares of Citrix Systems, which sells teleworking software. (She was investigated and later cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee.)
For his part, Perdue attended the same briefing. He sold stock as well, while also purchasing shares of DuPont, which manufactures personal protective equipment. Furthermore, he was the subject of an FBI investigation over the summer for possible insider trading of the financial company Cardlytics, where he once served on the board. The case was closed without any charges.
Despite all these hurdles, the Republicans still have a strong chance to hold on to both Senate seats.
Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight shows that the polls for both Senate races are virtually tied. While there were polling problems in other states in the presidential election, the November results showed that Georgia polls were largely accurate.
Georgia holds run-off elections due to a 1963 law which requires that a candidate must receive a majority of the vote to win an election. Should no candidate break the fifty percent threshold, a runoff election is scheduled. A report from the Interior Department found that the run-off law was instituted to diminish the chances for Black politicians to win in multi-candidate elections.
In terms of run-off elections, Democrats have a terrible track record. Since 1992, only one Democrat has won in a run-off election. That Democrat — Lauren “Bubba” McDonald — has since switched party allegiance to Republican.
Moreover, even though Trump lost Georgia, down-ballot Republicans fared better. Perdue received 49.73 percent of votes, while his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff only received 47.95 percent. In raw numbers, Perdue received 88,098 more votes than his opponent. These numbers indicate that a segment of the electorate voted for Biden but did not want to be represented by a Democratic senator. (The numbers are more complicated for Loeffler; her race was a “jungle primary” with twenty candidates on the ballot.)
Georgia reveals a conundrum that Democrats nationwide must confront: Biden outperformed down-ballot Democrats. This was true in Georgia and in swing districts all across the country. Strategists and pundits will debate what message voters were trying to send. Do voters respond — either positively or negatively — to socialism? Are they repelled by a “defund the police” slogan? Do they like Biden in particular? Or are they primarily repulsed by Trump?
Until these questions are answered, Democrats should not assume that they will add two Senate seats next year.