Getting to Know the Georgia Runoffs

The Senate comes down to Georgia. Two runoff elections, scheduled for January, will decide the balance of power in the upper house of the U.S. Congress. The best Democrats can hope for at this point is a 50-50 split, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. If Republicans win either (or both) of the runoffs, Republicans will retain control of the Senate, which they’ve held since 2010.

Both Georgia Senate races were close, and since no candidate cleared the 50 percent threshold required to declare victory, the field was whittled down to the top two vote-getters. So what’s going on in these all-important races, and who’s running in them?

Kelly Loeffler (R) vs. Raphael Warnock (D)

The Initial Results

With more than 98 percent of the votes counted as of Thursday, Warnock (32.9 percent) led Loeffler (25.9 percent) by roughly 350,000 votes. There was a smattering of other Republicans and Democrats on the ballot, including Doug Collins (Republican, 19.9 percent) and Deborah Jackson (Democrat, 6.6 percent). If you gave Warnock and Loeffler all the votes cast for Democratic candidates respectively, they’d be running in a virtual dead heat.

The Breakdown

You might know Loeffler as being one of the two senators investigated for insider trading after a COVID-19 briefing in March. Or as reviled co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream who made waves when she called on the league to drop its support for Black Lives Matter. She was appointed to her seat by Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson, and took office in early 2020. Loeffler’s brand is her Trump alignment—she’s proudly voted with the president 100 percent of the time since she’s been in office. Her campaign is almost entirely centered around her adherence to Trump and exaltation of his accomplishments. In fact, Loeffler and David Perdue issued a joint statement condemning Georgia’s Secretary of State—a fellow Republican—for a lack of transparency around vote counts to placate and please Trump.

Warnock, meanwhile, has served as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005, and chaired the New Georgia Project to register voters until he began campaigning earlier this year. Warnock’s campaign has piggybacked off his earlier work fighting to expand Medicaid in Georgia. He’s centered his candidacy around healthcare, voting rights, and what he calls “the dignity of working people.” Warnock’s endorsements include several prominent Democratic senators, former presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, as well as members of Loeffler’s Atlanta Dream, who wore shirts supporting him during their restarted season.

The Skinny

This race is a true toss-up. There are plenty of independent and third party votes to be won here, which doesn’t really tilt the race in either direction. Warnock’s got the better pitch, but he’s already facing bad faith attacks as the Republican special election machine kicks into high gear.

David Perdue (R) vs. Jon Ossoff (D)

The Initial Results

With 99 percent of the votes counted, Perdue (49.7 percent) led Ossoff (48 percent) by about 85,000 votes. Libertarian Shane Hazel (2.3 percent) garnered almost 115,000 votes, which alone could be more than enough to push Perdue over the top (assuming most Libertarian voters skew right).

The Breakdown

Perdue has held his Senate seat since 2015. He’s been mostly in line with Trump since the president took office, and took a similar path to politics himself—Perdue was the CEO of Dollar General and profiled as a businessman when he first ran. His current candidacy is virtually lockstep with Trump, as he’s lamented the “socialist” policies Biden and other Democrats are desperately trying to implement. Like most Republicans, including Trump himself, that’s what his entire campaign is based on (as well as the nebulous phrase “national security”; Perdue is a noted Iran hawk). As mentioned above, he and Loeffler attacked Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State in a move designed to appease Trump and his challenges to election results in the state.

Ossoff lost a special election for Georgia’s 6th district in 2017, a race that was considered the first proxy fight over then-new President Trump. He raised a ton of money and his profile in the process, and parlayed his popularity from that race into his current candidacy. Ossoff is a mostly straight-line Democrat who echoes an overwhelming majority of President-elect Joe Biden’s positions and hasn’t been eager to adopt more progressive messaging (possibly because his opponent seems so eager to attack those messages).

The Skinny

Perdue has to be the favorite here based on the initial results alone. Libertarian voters tend to skew toward Republicans, so Ossoff would need massive new voter registration to help push him over the top. Landing a few more of these atom bombs on Perdue’s head would probably help, too.