Georgia presents a unique situation in 2020 with all 14 House seats, a Presidential election, and two Senate seats up for grabs. Let’s start with the Senate seats. In the “regular” election, Republican incumbent David Perdue will face Jon Ossoff. The latter has proven a prolific fundraiser although Perdue came into the race well-funded with a greater cash-on-hand advantage than Ossoff. Further tilting the scales in Perdue’s favor is that the vast majority of his funds are in-state while Ossoff’s funds are largely coming from out-of-state. Additionally, Perdue enjoys rather decent favorability ratings in Georgia at about 49%, usually an indication for reelection.
In 2014, Perdue ran for the seat being left vacant by the retiring Saxby Chambliss and entered the GOP primary against some very formidable opposition including three fairly popular sitting US House members. Given the crowded field, he advanced to the runoff and defeated Jack Kingston and prevailed by a little more than 8,000 votes. Michelle Nunn was his opponent after John Barrow declined to run and she had an easier time winning her primary, but went onto defeat in the general election losing rather handily. It may be closer this year, but Perdue should prevail.
Georgia’s other Republican Senator, John Isaakson, resigned to battle Parkinson’s disease. Governor Brian Kemp was charged with appointing a replacement until a special election could be held to complete the final two years of Isaakson’s term. Although there were many names in the mix, he appointed Kelly Loeffler on December 4, 2019 catching many pundits somewhat off guard since she is no conservative firebrand. According to media reports at the time, Trump was leaning on Kemp to appoint Doug Collins who was the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee at the time and firm supporter of the President, especially as it concerned impeachment. One of Trump’s concerns was that Loeffler had never run for any office and conservative groups complained she was soft on social issues.
Given the inaction and lack of legislative accomplishments (other than judicial appointments) in the Senate, it is hard to determine where Loeffler exactly stands when the chips are down. While she held true to her pledge to vote against impeachment, most analysts classify her as a “moderate conservative,” which usually indicates she says the right things, but sometimes does not act or vote conservatively.
As for that special election, it will essentially be a jungle primary on Election Day where if someone obtains a majority of the vote, they win. If not, then it proceeds to a runoff between the top two vote getters. With eight Democrats and six Republicans (plus seven others) on the ballot, the likelihood of a runoff is very high. The biggest question is whether this will come down to a Republican vs. Democrat runoff, or a Republican vs. Republican runoff. On the Democrat side, the “biggest name” is Matt Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman while the biggest fundraiser is Rev. Raphael Warnock who is also black, an important consideration in Georgia.
On the GOP side, besides Loeffler, is Doug Collins who is certainly to the right of Loeffler on many issues and has a voting record to back that up. Loeffler said she expects to spend about $20 million defending this seat and is well-positioned to do so. But first she has to dispense with Collins which is the $20 million question in Georgia. In reality, he and demographics are her two biggest challenges.
Assuming she advances to a runoff, she will then have to take on most-likely Warnock who appears best positioned among all the Democrats. However, if there is a massive GOP turnout that offsets votes for any Democrats, there is the possibility- however slight- that she may face Collins in a runoff. This writer does not see it that way as it will likely come down to a Collins or Loeffler versus Warnock runoff. By the time runoff is held, we should have an idea of the partisan makeup of the Senate and, hopefully, who the President will be.
The current House delegation favors the GOP 9-5 in DC. There are, however, three open Republican-held seats up for grabs. None of them are at risk of being lost. Of the five Democrat held seats, including that of the deceased John Lewis, four are out of reach for the GOP- the Second, Fourth, Fifth, and 13th. That leaves only the Sixth District which encompasses the northern suburbs of Atlanta.
In 2017, Karen Handel won a special election defeating Jon Ossoff (the same one running against Perdue) in a relatively close race by about 9,000 votes of over 250,000 cast. Dating back to 2000, Republicans won this district by no less than 60,000 votes. With the close special election results, Democrats smelled blood in 2018 and managed to defeat Handel with current Democrat Lucy McBath winning the expensive and hard-fought race by less than 5,000 votes. There is no mistaking the fact that 2018 was a bad year for the GOP in House races.
However, just as the 2017 close race piqued the interest of Democrats, the close 2018 race has perked up Republican aspirations this year. And Karen Handel is back for a rematch to reclaim this seat. McBath, because of incumbency, holds a fundraising advantage of about 5:2 and a cash-on-hand total of a 3:1 advantage for McBath. This may not be as expensive as 2017 or 2018, but one thing in Handel’s favor is that the majority of her funds are in-state while McBath gets most of her funds from out-of-state. This is often more indicative of outcomes than raw amounts raised, unless they are incredibly out-of-whack.
Everyone knows that Handel sports some conservative credentials while McBath has been cagey and stealth in her views in an attempt to appear moderate. Regardless of money, the main determinant of an outcome may be the top of the ticket.
In 2016, Trump won this district by about 1.5 percentage points at 48.3% of the vote. For comparison purposes, since 2000 no Republican candidate for President took less than 60% of the vote. Part of it is changing demographics in the district. In the 2018 gubernatorial election, Democrat Stacey Abrams carried this district with more than 50% of the vote. The big question is whether Biden can generate enough enthusiasm to maintain this apparent swing of the district? (I think not) Hence, I may be wrong here, but I am predicting a Handel victory that will be very, very close.
As for the top of the ticket, Democrats dream of turning Texas blue, but Georgia may be a more attainable target. The problem for the Democrats is that in the short-term they have a candidate (Biden) who fails to inspire any enthusiasm. In the long-term, their far leftward lurch is likely turning off the more moderate Democrats in the party and there are likely many moderate Democrats left in Georgia. A Georgia Democrat is a lot different than a Democrat from New York City, Minneapolis, Boston, or Detroit.
In 2016, Trump won Georgia by less than 200,000 votes, which is decent, but low by recent standards. This year, polling shows a close Trump victory, but a victory nevertheless, and has been consistently in plus territory. If Georgia voters can reject an ethically-challenged Hillary Clinton, they will reject a senile, doddering old fool like Joe Biden. Like elsewhere, this writer fails to see much enthusiasm for Biden despite having a woman of color on the ticket. It may get him a few extra votes in areas where Trump is not going to win anyway. Hence, by about the same margin as 2016, this writer is predicting a Trump victory in Georgia.
Running totals: With Trump’s victory, he now trails Biden by only 16 electoral votes, 223-207. Retaining both Senate seats, the GOP now holds a 47-41 advantage and with the pick-up in the Sixth District, Pelosi’s tenuous grasp on the House gets more worrisome, but the Democrats still lead 177-162.