By Jim EllisOct. 21, 2020 — Georgia Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) began the 2020 special Senate election campaign as the early leader, enjoying an advantage over appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), Atlanta businessman Matt Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut US senator and 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, and Baptist pastor Raphael Warnock (D), who now ministers the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father once pastored.
The race, however, has changed significantly since those early days.By taking advantage of her huge personal wealth and being cleared of wrongdoing over controversial stock transactions that she and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, made just after she received early COVID senatorial briefings, Loeffler eventually moved past Rep. Collins in the political standings.
Once Democrats began to coalesce around Rev. Warnock, the race again changed. The pastor began securing first place in multiple statewide polls after receiving many key national endorsements. This left Rep. Collins and Sen. Loeffler, the two Republicans, fighting each other for second place.The congressman, knowing he couldn’t compete with Sen. Loeffler’s wealth, or even the Democrats institutional money once the party establishment began to support Rev. Warnock in earnest, held a large portion of his resources for a strong late finish after raising $6 million for the race through Sept. 30.
Rep. Collins’ campaign strategy may be paying dividends. A new Emerson College survey (Oct. 17-19; 506 likely Georgia voters, interactive voice response system and online responses) finds another change in this rather uneven special election campaign. According to their data, Rep. Collins has now tied Rev. Warnock for first place in the jungle primary with 27 percent apiece. Sen. Loeffler trails with 20 percent and Lieberman, who had dropped well into single digits in many other polls, also rebounded to 12 percent support.
This poll conflicts somewhat with a recent Survey USA study (Oct. 8-12; 677 likely Georgia voters, online) that found Rev. Warnock at 30 percent, Sen. Loeffler posting 26 percent, Rep. Collins attracting 20 percent support, and Lieberman back in single digits with eight percent preference. Previous polls returned similar numbers to that of S-USA, but with larger percentages for Rev. Warnock.
Because he has largely coalesced the Democratic vote, though S-USA also detects Lieberman slightly regaining some lost support, Rev. Warnock is in the best position to capture first place, but he will be far from securing majority support in order to win outright election. Therefore, the true battle for Nov. 3 is between Sen. Loeffler and Rep. Collins for the second runoff position.
The special election is held to fill the balance of the term that former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) won in 2014. As you will remember, he was forced to resign at the end of 2019 due to health problems. When Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed Loeffler, he also had to schedule the special election to fill the balance of the Isakson term, which has two years remaining prior to the 2022 election when this seat is again placed in its regular six-year electoral cycle. Therefore, despite the special election having a 2020 election day, it remains outside the regular voting schedule.
Instead, Gov. Kemp chose a jungle primary format with the preliminary election running concurrently with the regular general election on Nov. 3. Assuming no candidate achieves outright election that day, the top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation, will advance to a runoff election on Jan. 5, 2021.
This means, if the Senate majority comes down to this final seat in Georgia, we will have to wait until Jan. 5 for the culmination of which party will assume Senate control.
The Georgia special is just one of 16 competitive Senate elections currently in voting mode. How they unfold could historically change America’s public policy direction meaning the Nov. 3 election will go well beyond only electing one national leader.