Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Race of the Day- Georgia U.S. Senate B

Georgia U.S. Senate B

91 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

For the second straight day, the Race of the Day features a Peach State Senate contest. My ranking is the same for both. These are races that might lean slightly towards the GOP but due to the changing nature of the state and the expected national dynamic, the party will have to sweat out holding both of these seats.

This special election features much more uncertainty. For one thing, it is almost guaranteed not to be decided on Election Day as upwards of 20 names will appear on the ballot and whomever receives the most votes will likely still be well under 50 percent. The top two finishers, regardless of party, will advance to a January 5 runoff and potentially the entire U.S. Senate balance of power could depend on the outcome. It may also be the case that the regular Georgia Senate election between Republican incumbent David Perdue and Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff also goes to a runoff the same day. Would there be two races featuring the major parties or one traditional one sharing the ballot with a runoff here featuring two Republicans? What would Democrats do in such a situation? If this is the only statewide runoff on January 5, many will probably stay home.

I believe the new Congress will be sworn in the same day at the voting is being held in Georgia. If someone other than the current incumbent wins, they might suffer in terms of seniority. I wonder why Georgia is not doing runoffs in December anymore. Whomever is eventually sworn in will have to be ready to run all over again in the regular 2022 election for this seat.

A vacancy occurred at the end of last year with the resignation of Republican Johnny Isakson, who was elected to a third term in 2016, after having been around the state's politics for decades before that. Months earlier, Isakson announced he would be leaving at the end of the year due to health issues. The retiring Senator was widely respected across party lines for civility and cooperation. Politics itself and the nature of the political parties in Georgia had begun to change though. This put the state's new Republican Governor Brian Kemp in an interesting and perhaps unwelcome situation as a large bench of ambitious Republicans in the state wanted the appointment.

Kemp established a website asking Georgians to apply for the post of United States Senator and scores did. The Governor made it clear he wanted to pick someone not to just be a caretaker, but who would be able to hold the seat in 2020 and then run on a ticket with him in 2022. He had struggled with the African-American vote against a black opponent in his 2018 narrow and controversial election and had the opportunity here to name a black a Republican and it was said that a black female was among the finalists. Others wanted him to pick Congressman Doug Collins, a conservative, and former pastor, from the rural part of the state who had made a name for himself by being a strong defender of Donald Trump on the House Judiciary Committee where he served as the top Republican. Collins definitely wanted the appointment and seemed to have the White House in his corner. Despite this pressure, Kemp went in a different direction and chose financial executive Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy woman from Atlanta whose long blonde hair makes her somewhat resemble the wig wearing blonde from "Real Housewives of Atlanta."

Loeffler, who had never run for office was perhaps thought of as a more moderate Republican, in the realm of Isakson, but she pledged her strong support to Donald Trump and the Tweeter in Chief, who may have been a bit irked Kemp went against his wishes, offered her words of support upon taking the job. Collins though said that he would set aside his safe House seat to challenge her in the 2020 special election.

While Collins happens to share the name of a former NBA luminary, Loeffler is also attached to the world of professional basketball. She holds a stake in the ownership of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. Becoming a Senator has taken her away from day to day decisions regarding the franchise, but she recently received much criticism from players on her team who took issue with her vocal opposition to the Black Lives Matters movement and national anthem walkouts. While her position may be a popular one with conservative primary voters in Georgia, some African-American players said they felt betrayed by the woman who they had considered a friend and who is technically their boss.

Of more significance perhaps for Loeffler were questions regarding allegations of insider trading right before the Covid 19 Pandemic hit. By virtue of her marriage, the Senator is believed to be the wealthiest Member of Congress. Democrats and her GOP opponent Collins have both tried to claim that she benefited financially via illegal tactics on the impact of the virus but she claimed that all the stocks owned by her and her husband had been put into a blind trust when she became a Senator and she had no decision making abilities on any of them. The couple has reportedly been cleared by the Justice Department of any wrongdoing but the damage to the reputation of a still largely unknown politician might have stuck.

Polls have tended to show Loeffler and Collins atop the very large field in Georgia, with both in the the 20 percent range. In some, the two Republicans are very close, while others had Collins somewhat ahead. If they were to finish as the top two, it would be a great relief to many Republicans, but then things might get even nastier among them headed into a January runoff. Would they ignore Democrat voters altogether and just try to appeal to the base in what would be a potentially very low turnout or would Loeffler suddenly start trying to appeal to Democrats? It is hard to see Doug Collins doing so. The outcome of the Presidential election and the potential dynamics of the other Senate race going to a runoff may also play a part.

Democrats will hope to somehow get into this runoff where they think they can pick up this seat. It seems quite possible that one could advance, but right now, it seems like they might have too  many candidates dividing up the vote and that could lead them completely shut out at the next round. Pressure may mount for one of the Democrats with some support but behind that of at least two others, to drop out. It is worth noting that several of the Democrats running for this seat are black (and there are lesser known black Republicans on the ballot as well), as well as Independent candidates including a female black State Representative running as one. No black Democrat of note entered the primary for the regular Senate seat, in which the party's nomination went to Jon Ossoff, a Jewish-American. The one notable white Democrat in the special election is also Jewish. Ossoff has endorsed the leading black candidate in the field hoping that such a coalition will help him in his race.

Now, let's look at just some of the players on that part of the very large "jungle primary" ballot. All of them seem to be first time candidates. Businessman Matt Lieberman is the one white candidate who has generated a significant amount of support. He is the son of former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, whom 20 years ago was the well-liked Vice Presidential nominee of his party, but who later fell out of favor as the party shifted left and he would go on to support his friend Republican John McCain.

The Democrat who seems to be polling the highest though  and who has by far captured the most in the way of endorsements is Raphael Warnock, a longtime civil rights activist who happens to be the Senior Pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, one time home base of MLK. In that role, Warnock received international attention for presiding over the funeral of Congressman John Lewis.

The next most prominent African-American Democrat in the race is Ed Tarver, a former State Senator and U.S. Attorney. He has been polling at around fifth place, behind the two main Republicans, Warnock, and Lieberman. If he were to end his campaign, it would theoretically increase the chances of one of the Democrats, most likely Warnock, finishing ahead of either the incumbent Loeffler or Collins to make the January runoff. There are also four African-American women running as Democrats. The party is likely to put pressure on one or more of these candidates to exit before November.

So, what could happen? Well, if Collins and Loeffler advance, the seat is Safe Republican and my "Leans" classification here is all for naught. That is a possibility, but it would be a very disappointing one for Democrats. I am trying to keep all options under consideration at this point until the race takes a clearer shape. The possibility definitely exists for a Democrat to advance to face a Republican who will be tied to Donald Trump in a state he may have failed to carry. That could make this race an immediate Tossup. Lieberman could appeal to moderates and disaffected suburban Republican types, while Warnock could benefit from a very large and energized black turnout in a state where that could make all the difference. However, if Trump were to be defeated nationwide, there will be more of a possibility for voters to pick a Republican (both here and/or in the other potential runoff) as a vote for divided government. I was prepared to call this Tossup (R), but the more I thought about it here caused me to go slightly in a different direction. That may change again before all is said and done.

If I absolutely had to make a guess, I would say that Collins narrowly finishes first statewide, with Warnock closely edging out Loeffler to advance to January. This would be a highly visible battle nationwide, but potential President-Elect Joe Biden does not wade too heavily into the waters, for fear of riling up angry Republicans, and because Georgia Republicans have still tended to win in the end (though perhaps Trump may taste defeat there himself), Collins pulls it off in the runoff, and Georgia gets a junior Senator to the right of the former incumbent, current incumbent, and everyone else who ran against him.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

3 D (1 Safe, 2 Lean) 
5 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Lean, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

38 Democrats (35 holdovers, 1 Safe, 2 Lean)
35 Republicans (30 holdovers, 1 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Lean, 1 Tossup)


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