By Jim EllisJan. 6, 2021 — In a rather surprising finish, it appears the Democrats will win both of yesterday’s Georgia runoff races and clinch a 50-50 majority in the US Senate (with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote).
Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) has been projected a 50.6 percent winner over appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) to claim the special election, while documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff (D) is poised to defeat incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R).
The races are extremely close, as correctly predicted in polling. Rev. Warnock’s margin is currently 53,430 votes from a current turnout of 4,401,162 votes with a projected 98 percent of the vote reporting. The Ossoff spread is even closer. He leads Sen. Perdue by 16,370 votes of 4,401,064 cast ballots, a margin of 50.2 – 49.8 percent. The latter race has not been declared, but it is clear, when looking at where the outstanding ballots remain, that Ossoff will increase his percentage.
The runoff campaigns, made necessary under Georgia election law that requires majority support to win office, came down to a turnout battle within the evenly split state. Democrats did just slightly better than Republicans in getting their votes to the polls, and that made the final difference.
It is likely that the African American vote that appears key. In the early voting trends, black voter participation comprised an estimated 32.6 percent of the voting populace in the runoffs versus 29.8 percent in the regular election. Clearly, this increase was enough to change the outcome of both campaigns. In the regular election, Sen. Perdue missed winning outright by just one-quarter of a percentage point, and the entire Republican special election field outpolled the entire Democratic candidate group by just over 47,000 votes.
We clearly have a record voter turnout for this Georgia runoff election. In the past, these types of contests have produced drop-off rates of approximately one-third of the number of people who voted in the regular election. In this 2020 runoff, understanding that the numbers will increase by approximately 90,000 more votes when all ballots are processed and counted, the turnout will likely reach in the neighborhood of 90 percent of the total number of people who voted on Nov. 3.
As the special election winner, Rev. Warnock will stand for a full six-year term in 2022. It is unclear whether Loeffler will challenge him in that election and even if she does, it is probable that she will draw Republican primary opposition. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) was elected to this seat in 2016 but resigned because of health reasons at the end of 2019. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed Loeffler to replace Sen. Isakson to serve until an election could be held to determine who would hold the office for the balance of the current term.
Assuming the Ossoff margin at least remains constant, he will win the in-cycle seat featuring the six-year term and next face the voters in 2026.
The Senate and presidential results two months ago are clear evidence that Georgia is a politically changing state. Demographics show a significantly increased black population that is moving the state to the left. This suggests that the 2022 midterm political contests will be quite interesting.
Gov. Kemp will stand for election to a second term, and with taking heat from his own side about how the first election was conducted makes him no sure bet to even secure re-nomination. It is also clear that 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, who will receive a great deal of credit for the 2020 results because of her work concentrating on minority voter turnout, will almost certainly again become the party’s nominee for the state’s top office, providing her a chance to reverse her 54,723 vote loss to Kemp.
Comparing the 2018 midterm turnout to the 2020 participation rates, voting saw an increase of approximately 1 million voters in the regular election, and over half-million increase when comparing the runoff aggregate vote to the last gubernatorial campaign, an increase of approximately 27 percent for the November election and 14 percent for yesterday’s runoff. This, when the state population increased only one percent during that same interval.