By Terence Huie, NGA Manager of Grassroots and PAC
The tumultuous 2020 election cycle is not over yet. Following an extended period of vote counting, neither party won the Senate majority. Although polling pointed to a Democratic victory, Republicans performed better than expected. Several incumbent GOP senators defied gravity to win back their seats. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Steve Daines (R-MT) fended off well-financed challenges to return to Capitol Hill next year. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) were defeated by their Democratic challengers while Doug Jones (D-AL) lost to Republican Tommy Tuberville. Democrats made a net gain of one seat – leaving 50 Republicans in the Senate.
However, Georgia’s two Republican senators failed to exceed the 50% necessary to win outright. This occurred because there were more than 2 candidates on the ballot in each of the two Georgia Senate races, pulling votes away from the top candidates. Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler must now compete in runoffs against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on January 5. If either Perdue or Loeffler prevails, Mitch McConnell will remain Senate Majority leader for at least another two years.
However, the runoff gives Democrats one last chance to reclaim the majority by securing a double victory. If successful, and if Biden secures the White House after electoral college votes are certified in December, the 50-50 Senate would tilt to the Democrats once Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president. Democrats would have a much freer hand at implementing their policy agenda if Biden is inaugurated as they already control the House of Representatives.
It is unusual for a state to elect both senators on one ballot, let alone in a second round. However, the circumstances of these races are unique. David Perdue’s first term in the Senate expires in January, having first been elected in 2014. The winner of this race will serve a full six-year term. Neither Perdue nor Ossoff obtained 50%, forcing them to a second round under state law.
Unlike Perdue, Kelly Loeffler was appointed to her seat by Governor Brian Kemp (R) earlier this year after Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) resigned due to health reasons. This triggered a special election to fill the remainder of his term ending in 2022. In Georgia, special elections are “jungle primaries” allowing more than one Democrat and Republican to run on the same ballot. The top two vote getters advance to second round if nobody clinches a majority. Aside from Loeffler, five other Republicans were on the ballot. Warnock sat alongside seven other Democrats. Warnock placed first on 33% with Loeffler coming in second at 26%, triggering another round of voting. This week, the Georgia Secretary of State ordered a hand recount of all races in Georgia, which could alter the results of these contests.
Historically speaking, runoffs favor the GOP as Democratic turnout lags compared to the general election. In 2008, the Georgia Senate race between incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin went to a runoff. Chambliss narrowly survived the first round, 49.8 – 46.8%, but handily defeated Martin in the runoff 57.4 – 42.6%. History tells us this January will be a similar situation, but caution is advised. Biden looks set to flip the state for the first time since the 1990s and the political winds in the Peach State have changed dramatically in 12 years. Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts are much more sophisticated this time around. The contest is expected to be hard fought, with both sides pouring in millions to secure the Senate majority.
If you have any questions about this election or other related matters, please visit grocerstakeaction.org or contact a member of NGA’s Government Relations team:
Chris Jones, Senior Vice President and Counsel, Government Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org (currently on parental leave).
Molly Pfaffenroth, Director, Government Relations, at email@example.com
Robert Yeakel, Director, Government Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Terence Huie, PAC and Grassroots Manager, at email@example.com