The January 5, Georgia Senate elections are critically important - for the nation; for the fortunes of several politicians; and for the profits of the well oiled fundraising/advertising industry. Polling is totally discredited and used only to inspire donors. The early conventional wisdom that these were safe Republican seats has badly eroded along with Trump's loss of the state by some 12,000 votes out of nearly 5,000,000 cast. Let's look for clues where we can.
David Purdue v Jon Ossoff: This is a replay of November when first-term Republican Purdue won 49.7 % to 47.9% with Libertarian Shane Hazel drawing 2.3% to deny Purdue the necessary 50%.
- David Purdue - whose prior somewhat dodgy business career spanned a number of struggling companies - has been a solid conservative vote and Trump supporter, but not much more. His greatest political weakness is that he remains an active stock market participant, including a significant number of trades following a private Senate briefing about the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic.
- Jon Ossoff - a 33 year old investigative journalist who ran a strong, but losing special election campaign for the House in a Republican-leaning suburban Atlanta district in 2017 - was an early Bernie Sanders supporter and is a favorite of unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Somewhat like Beto O'rourke in Texas, he is a darling of the media Left, and a major beneficiary of national Democratic fundraising organizations - spending twice as much on the election as did Purdue.
Kelly Loeffler v Raphael Warnock: In November Democrat Warnock led with 32.9 % of the vote in the primary to fill the remaining two years of the seat of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson who resigned for health reasons. Incumbent Loeffler had 25.9 % , Republican Congressman Doug Collins had 20.0%, and Democrat Deborah Jackson had 6.6% with the remaining 14.6 % split among 16 other candidates. (Combined, the Republicans got 49.3% and Democrats got 48.4%.)
Kelly Loeffler - the wife of the owner of a large financial services company and herself the co-owner of a Women's NBA franchise - was appointed in 2019 by Governor Brian Kemp against the wishes of Trump who had advocated for Representative Doug Collins. (The thought was that she would play better in the Atlanta suburbs - and is a big donor. Collins was a major player in the impeachment hearings.) She has since claimed a "100 per cent Trump" voting record, and followed the Trump line in criticizing the management of the November election by the Republican Secretary of State.
Raphael Wornock - the most controversial of the candidates - has been pastor at Reverend Martin Luther King Junior's 's Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005. He brings quite a bit of baggage - recently acrimoniously divorced; early work at a church in New York which welcomed Fidel Castro; sermons supporting Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright's of "God Damn America" fame; a claim that one cannot serve God and be in the military.
And the clues:
History: Republicans have held the Georgia governorship and both legislative chambers since 2005. The last Democratic senators were Max Cleland who was defeated in 2003, and Zell Miller who retired in 2005. Activist Atlanta lawyer Stacey Abrams lost the governorship by 55,000 votes in 2018, refused to concede, and has spent much energy registering new Democratic voters who were partly responsible for the Democrats' surprisingly good performance in November.
Money: Purdue and Loeffler were outspent on the November election - in line with the national $716 million to $435 million Democratic Senate campaign advantage. The runoff has the four campaigns spending over $330 million, over 90 % of it from out of state. This time it is about equally distributed, and way past the point of diminishing returns.
The election: Early voting begins on December 14; over 1 million mail-in ballots have already been requested. This will be the most closely supervised election in the nation's history. Contrary to Trump team claims, the rate of rejection of mail in ballots in the November election for bad signatures was about .15% - similar to past years. Proving that useless idiots can sometimes find a moment in the sun, Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood have called for a boycott unless a secure election can be guaranteed.
- Advocates: Every national politician who has any following is taking their moment on the stage. Two that may have an impact: New Yorker Chuck Schumer whose boast that the Democrats could take Georgia and change the country was a gift in Dixie; and long time Trump friend / former Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner Hershell Walker, whose emergence reminds us that this is Southeast Conference football territory where former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was just elected to the Senate in neighboring Alabama.
- The debates: The Atlanta Press Club hosted two debates on December 6, one between Loeffler and Wornock, and the other between Ossoff and an empty podium after Purdue declined to participate. Loeffler dodged her position on whether the November election had been fairly run; Wornock dodged on whether he would vote to pack the Supreme Court and what his version of the Green New Deal would cost.
So, a supposition:
- Georgia will continue to be a bit like Texas - a bright shiny object for Democrats, worth spending money and efforts and for Republicans, a great instigator for campaign donations. For good reason the early presidential and senate maps did not have Georgia as a Democratic pick-up. Without Trump on the ballot, a few hundred million campaign dollars to villify the socialist Democrats, and an army of poll watchers and lawyers, the dominant Georgia Republican machine should survive the challenge, with the Loeffler / Wornock race providing the clearer case of a Democratic candidate who is outside of the state's sensibilities.