Georgia’s Dual Senate Races

By Jim Ellis

May 5, 2020 — Georgia is the only state this year that features two US Senate races, and a new poll suggests that both are interesting.

The Peach State’s politics have garnered more national attention since 2018 as election results suggest that Georgia is moving closer to the ideological center. Still conservative, the 2018 governor’s election that saw Republican Brian Kemp slipping past former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (who has since become a national figure and one of the contenders to be Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running mate) by just over one percentage point. Additionally, the Democrats gained a congressional seat in the Atlanta metro area and came within 419 votes of converting a second.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed businesswoman Kelly Loeffler (R) to the U.S. Senate to succeed retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is leaving office at the end of the year due to health issues.

A substantial increase in the state’s minority population, almost all of which is occurring in the Atlanta metropolitan region, during the past decade (Asian, plus-31 percent; African American, plus-17 percent; Hispanic, plus-14 percent) is the chief reason for the uptick in Democratic candidate support.

With this background, the Cygnal research organization released the results of their most recent Georgia statewide poll (April 25-27; 591 Georgia voters, all but six of whom say they are definitely or probably voting) and their data finds two competitive US Senate races unfolding.

The results reveal one incumbent in serious trouble and the other headed for a potentially competitive re-election battle. In fact, appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) trails not only US Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville), who leads the jungle primary field by over 17 points, but actually places fourth in the field behind two Democratic candidates yet close enough to them to become entangled in a statistical tie. Sen. David Perdue (R) maintains just a six-point lead over the only Democrat tested against him, former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff.

The state has two races because Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) resigned his seat at the end of last year for health reasons and Gov. Kemp replaced him with businesswoman Loeffler. At the same time, he scheduled the special election to fill the remaining two years of Isakson’s final term concurrently with the general election in a jungle primary format. If no one receives majority support on Nov. 3, a Jan. 5, 2021 runoff will occur featuring the top two vote-getters.

First-term Sen. Perdue was originally elected in 2014 in a race that polled closely – according to the Real Clear Politics polling archives, the final five polls in his contest with Democrat Michelle Nunn yielded Perdue advantage margins of zero to four percentage points – but ended with an eight-point Republican victory. A field of seven Democrats has filed to oppose Sen. Perdue, but the race is narrowing to a battle between Ossoff and ex-Columbus mayor, Teresa Tomlinson.

Sen. Loeffler begins her election campaign embroiled in a stock trading controversy that finds both her and her husband accused of executing multi-million dollar stock transactions related to the coronavirus outbreak-affected companies after receiving confidential Senate briefings. The controversy is exacerbated because her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

In addition to interim Sen. Loeffler and Rep. Collins, Democrats Matt Lieberman, son of former Connecticut senator and 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, Joe Lieberman; Baptist pastor Raphael Warnock; and ex-US Attorney Ed Tarver, comprise the major candidate field for the special election. The eventual winner serves the final two years of the current term and then would run again in 2022 for the full six-year stint.

The actual ballot test finds Rep. Collins holding a 29-12-10.6-10.5-4 percent lead over Lieberman, Pastor Warnock, Sen. Loeffler, and Tarver. This is consistent with other contemporary polling that also projects Collins to be holding a large lead and Sen. Loeffler trapped within a pack of trailing opponents.

The Cygnal poll is one of the first to cover the Perdue race, and they post the senator with a 45-39 percent edge over Ossoff. Democratic primary results were not included in the Cygnal polling analysis, but the pollsters must believe that Ossoff is the leading Democratic candidate because he was the only individual tested against Sen. Perdue. Former mayor Tomlinson is also viewed as a competitive candidate, so it is surprising that she was also not isolated in a one-on-one pairing with Sen. Perdue.

These and the Trump-Biden ballot test results that give the president only a one-point 45-44 percent edge provide more data that Georgia is moving into battleground status. It is one of the five core states that President Trump must win in order to favorably position himself in the swing Great Lakes region. On the positive front for the president, however, of those saying their vote is “definite”, Trump leads 41-34 percent.

In terms of how people will be voting, 30 percent say they will cast their ballot at the polls, while 28 percent indicated they will use the mail process, and 26 percent would do so through in-person early voting. Giving Democrats a potential opening, both President Trump and Gov. Kemp are viewed negatively for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic (Trump: 46:51 percent; Kemp: 41:54 percent). On the positive front for the GOP, by a margin of 50-36 percent, the respondents “trust the Republican Party most to reopen our businesses and get the economy back on track.”

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