Oct 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The cliffhanger could be ... Georgia

Illustration of a peach with an "I voted" sticker on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1992, but Georgia's changing demographics may prove pivotal this year — not only to Trump v. Biden, but also to whether Democrats take control of the Senate.

Why it matters: If the fate of the Senate did hinge on Georgia, it might be January before we know the outcome. Meanwhile, voters' understanding of this power in the final days of the election could juice turnout enough to impact presidential results.

Here's why it could come down to Georgia:

  • Not just one, but both of Georgia's Senate seats are on the ballot this year because of the special election to fill Johnny Isakson's seat.
  • Polling shows they're crowded or close races with no clear winner.
  • Georgia law sends general-election races to a Jan. 5 runoff if no one hits 50%+ — and right now no candidate is reaching 50% in the polling. So if control of the Senate isn't clear by then, we'll have to wait for the Georgia runoffs.

Driving the news: GOP incumbent Sen. David Perdue was tied with Democrat Jon Ossoff at 43% in the latest public polling, a New York Times/Siena College poll out this week. Libertarian Shane Hazel had 4%, potentially drawing enough support to block either major-party candidate from crossing 50%.

  • Perdue drew national attention recently by intentionally mispronouncing Biden running mate Kamala Harris' name.
  • An internal memo from Ossoff's campaign manager out this week argued they "expect much of the third-party vote to move to one of the major party choices."

The intraparty battle for the other seat, between Sen. Kelly Loeffler (who's filled the seat since January after Isakson retired early for health reasons) and Rep. Doug Collins, has split the GOP side of the vote, with Loeffler holding an edge.

  • That's allowed Democrat Raphael Warnock to slide into the lead, though no one's close to 50%.
  • The poll also showed President Trump and Joe Biden running tied in Georgia in the final stretch.

By the numbers: Demographic shifts have worked against Republicans’ hold in Georgia, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Nearly a third of Georgians are Black, and white people’s share of the population has fallen significantly in the past two decades.
  • With the pandemic and push toward early voting, white early voting has increased 64% in Georgia compared to the same point in 2016, according to TargetSmart. But early ballots cast by Black voters has increased 88%.
  • While they together make up less than 5% of early votes cast so far, Hispanic American and Asian American early voting has increased 227% and 277%, respectively.

What they're saying: Democrats may be bullish about their momentum, but they can't ignore the influx of cash from Republican super PACs aimed at holding the state.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, has already spent more than $32 million on attack ads against Ossoff, per the Daily Beast.
  • Dems hope registration efforts since 2016, and their gains in 2018 midterms, gives them the boost they need to break through. "This is yet another battleground state in Republicans’ firewall that’s falling apart," Stewart Boss, national press secretary at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Axios.

Republican operatives tell Axios that they think both races will go to a runoff, but they say Perdue still has an advantage because of a history there of runoff elections breaking for the GOP.

  • “Both races are critically important for the Senate math, for both parties, in seeking the majority," Jack Pandol, communications director for the Senate Leadership Fund, tells Axios. "That’s why you’re seeing the amount of spending in this state.”

Flashback: Before Bill Clinton won Georgia in 1992, the only other Democratic nominee the state has backed since the 1960s was Georgia's own Jimmy Carter.

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