Monday, August 03, 2020

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

Georgia U.S. Senate A

92 Days Until Election Day

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

Outlook: Tossup (R)

The Peach State is the one this year that will have two Senate elections, and both will be highly watched on Election Night. This is the more traditional regular election featuring a Republican incumbent seeking a second term, while the other race will be a jungle primary of sorts special election which will almost certainly require a January 5 runoff. That could feature a Democrat and a Republican or possibly two Republicans. The contest being discussed today will be mainly contested between a Democrat and a Republican. It may or may not also require a January 5 runoff if the winner does not receive 50 percent of the vote. Such a post-Presidential contest will take on dynamics all of its own.

Six years ago, wealthy businessman David Perdue, despite sharing a name with a cousin, who was the former Republican Governor of Georgia won nomination over more well-known primary opponents. He spent freely from his own pocket and criticized the others for mud slinging. Running  more as a private sector outsider than a staunch conservative, Perdue advanced to a runoff and then consolidated support to advance to November. The 2014 general election polls looked close, but in a good night for Republicans, Perdue won by a surprisingly large eight percent and there was no need for a runoff as the GOP as the party nationwide took control of the Senate. Perdue's cousin Sonny is now the Secretary of Agriculture and the Senator from Georgia has played up his relationship and "outsider" similarities to Donald Trump.

Now, as both seek reelection, Trump looks to be in a real battle in Georgia, as the state has made demographic changes that have tempted Democrats to look for a big breakthrough. While they have come close, they have yet to get that big statewide win. In fact, their nominee for Governor has not won since 2002 and the state has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1996.

One example of a recent "near miss" for the party occurred in a 2017 special Congressional election, in a district that had long been a GOP bastion, but had moved towards Democrats under Donald Trump with many upscale suburbanites. Nationally, the then 30 year old Jon Ossoff received much attention and raised a lot of money. The documentary filmmaker and former Congressional aide tried to burnish himself as a centrist of sorts but seemed to be painfully in the act of imitating the cadence and hand motions of Barack Obama. For a while it looked like he had a real chance of winning, but the race became nationalized and Republicans tied him to then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In what was a surprise to some, Ossoff lost 52-48. The female Republican who defeated him would then herself lose in the regular 2018 election to a Democrat in a more under the radar contest. She is now attempting a comeback herself.

Ossoff, who declined to run for the House seat again, has set his sights higher and is now his party's nominee for the U.S. Senate. Similar to Perdue, he outspent opponents and was able to capitalize by a lack of a political record to attack. With some bigger names sitting out this race, Ossoff faced the most competition from former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. Also in the race was Sarah Riggs Amico who was just coming off a statewide loss for Lt. Governor. Had a strong African-American candidate gotten into this particular race, they may have had a very good chance of winning, or at least forcing a primary runoff. Instead, those candidates looked towards the other seat in Georgia that is up this year. Ossoff was favored in this primary but many thought it would require a runoff. Nonetheless, he captured 53 percent of the vote in a high turnout. Tomlinson was far behind with 16 percent and Amico only mustered 12 percent. This was a break for Ossoff and the party to avoid the need to campaign further for the nomination and the general election was sent.

While the other Georgia Senate seat has much uncertainty about who if anyone among Democrats can advance to a runoff to face two possible Republicans, this contest has started to take shape. The polls look close although Perdue seems to have a lead of a couple of points or so. He generally does not get to the edge of 50 percent though. That is usually not a great sign for Republicans and Democrats are expected to be very energized in Georgia once again this cycle. Both nominees are wealthy but the parties will also spend heavily to try to sway this race. The Perdue campaign had to pull a recent ad which seemed to enlarge the nose of Ossoff. The Jewish challenger said this was a deliberate attempt to appeal to anti-Semitic stereotypes while Perdue placed the blame on an outside vendor and said it was unintentional.

It is worth noting that the incumbent is over 37 years older than his opponent, who would seemingly become the youngest member of the Senate. This is a true generational contrast and both nominees will try to paint the other as out of touch with the state. Clearly, more white suburbanites (especially from outside the South), as well as growing populations of African-Americans and Latinos have made Georgia less Republican than it was say ten years ago. Will that be enough to oust an incumbent? I think Perdue has weaknesses as a candidate and Ossoff comes close, but does not quite pull it off. Georgia still has plenty of conservatives after all.

Right now, the race looks like a Tossup, but there are many factors to take into consideration. If this goes all the way to a January runoff, the results of the Presidential race (even if there is not a formal concession) will have a role to play. If Donald Trump is reelected, Ossoff might benefit from the desire to elect someone to oppose hm. If Joe Biden defeats Trump though, and especially if the Senate already has gone Democrat at this point, there will be less motivation for Democrats and more of a push for Perdue to serve as one of the Republican "checks and balances."

Georgia Republicans are clearly all in on Donald Trump and by extension of that have lost some voters in the suburbs or the ideological middle that might otherwise be there. Whether Ossoff can win enough of them remains to be seen, but this should not be as much of a contest as it currently is.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

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

Total with predictions thus far:

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


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