Can Democrats defy history in Georgia Senate runoffs?

The last time the Georgia Senate race went to a runoff was in 2008

As Georgia descends into two bitter runoffs that will determine the fate of the Senate’s control, Democrats will have to fight off a history that has trended against them. 

With no candidate earning a majority in the general election, the races between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff and the race between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock will be decided in a special election on Jan. 5, under Georgia’s unique election laws. 

In the general, Ossoff trailed Perdue by nearly 87,000 votes, 1.76 percentage points. Warnock was ahead of Loeffler by nearly 344,000 votes, or 7.01 points. But there were 20 candidates in that race and two Republican frontrunners, Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins, who earned 19.95 percent of the vote. 

Joe Biden is projected to win Georgia amid a hand recount, as Georgia’s law requiring a plurality of votes for a win doesn’t apply to the presidential race. Without defeating President Trump on the ballot, Democrats will have to mobilize with a message to those on the left as resounding as the Republican one is to the right. The Republicans are currently running on defeating Warnock and Ossoff is the last stand between America and a radical, socialist agenda. 

The last time the Georgia Senate race went to a runoff in 2008, Republican Saxby Chambliss lead Democrat Jim Martin by 3 points in the November election. Two months later, he pummeled the Democrat by 15 points. 

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In 1992, Sen. Wyche Fowler Jr., a Democrat, garnered more votes than his Republican opponent in the general election. Bill Clinton won the state in the presidential race, the last Democrat to do so before Biden. Fowler lost the seat three weeks later to Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell. 

“Yes, I was disappointed, running six points ahead of the president and being the only state in the country that had this kind of crazy system,” Fowler, now 80, told the New York Times of the race 28 years ago. 

Yet, the Ossoff campaign seems confident it won’t fall victim to the same fate. 

“This is a very very different race than the 2008 runoff,” a campaign spokesperson told Fox News. “Georgia’s changed dramatically. It’s younger, more diverse. … There’s a lot of work by activists and elected officials like Stacey Abrams who really have done a lot of work organizing folks. Democrats in Georgia are a lot more organized today than they were 12 years ago.”

Political insiders say this election will all come down to which party is more effective at getting out the vote, as participation typically falls off in the second round of elections, especially without a president on the ballot. 

“I think everybody knows it’s a turn-out election,” Professor Robert Howard, who specializes in Georgia politics at Georgia State University, told Fox News. 

“One reason you’re seeing Loeffler and Perdue have tied themselves to Trump very tightly, because they want those voters to come out for the special election,” he said. “It’s all going be about turn out, where Republicans traditionally have done better.”

Howard said that “ironically,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp chose Loeffler to succeed Sen. Johnny Isaakson recognizing that Republicans had performed poorly in the suburbs in 2018’s midterm election. He said Loeffler, who had no political experience and co-owned a WNBA team, was chosen to “moderate” the Republican image. 

 “But then Doug Collins got into the race and her strategy was to get in the runoff and go far right. And she’s continued that strategy. It’s strictly a base election,” he said.

Howard said that Republicans, with a traditionally older voting base, are more likely to vote, especially in less-publicized runoff elections. 

The Ossoff campaign is turning its attention to young voters, especially very young ones. 

“There’s definitely room to grow,” the Ossoff spokesperson said. “We’re focusing on turning voters out.” The campaign noted that between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2021, 23,000 17-year-olds will celebrate a birthday and become eligible to vote.

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Douglas Young, a professor at the University of North Georgia who specializes in Georgia politics, predicted that the GOP stronghold in Georgia could be on the way out over the next few years. 

“So, unless the GOP can make significant inroads in the rapidly growing minority communities now comprising close to half the state’s population, as well as win back much of the White Atlanta suburban vote, Republicans may likely face a steady decline in Georgia over the next few decades. There are just no longer enough rural, small town, and suburban White voters to win statewide elections for the GOP,” he said. 

“My thinking is that Georgia right now is about where Virginia was 10 years ago … a state in transition with suburbs diversifying,” Carl Cavalli, fellow professor at the University of North Georgia who specializes in elections, told Fox News in agreeance. 

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But Young disagreed with the Republican strategy of hinging campaigns on President Trump. “Senators Perdue and Loeffler can win on Jan. 5, but have very little if any margin for error. To prevail, they need to paint their opponents as radical leftists and themselves as ‘big tent’ Republicans able to represent all Georgians  – but it will still likely be very close.”