The Peach State holds the distinction of being the only state in the country with two Senate races on the ballot in November. Today, we are going to look at the regularly scheduled election, where Republican Sen. David Perdue is facing a challenge from investigative journalist and former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff.
Perdue, a former Fortune 500 CEO, was first elected to the Senate in 2014, defeating Democrat Michelle Nunn. He caught national attention in recent days after he mispronounced Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’ name at a Trump rally in Macon. His campaign spokesman later said that the Senator simply mispronounced her name and that “he didn’t mean anything by it.” But it became a fundraising boon for his Democratic rival, who said that he raised nearly $2 million in the 48 hours after the incident. But how will this impact the race?
Greg Bluestein, a political reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has been following this race closely. In an email exchange, the two of us discussed the Perdue mishap and I asked him some questions about the race. Here is our email exchange, which was slightly edited to reflect recent developments.
1. Forecasters such as the Cook Political Report are starting to indicate that this race is a Tossup, which is the most competitive rating for a race. Are your sources on both sides indicating that this race is close?
“Yep. One poll could be an outlier, but when a flurry of polls all paint the same picture, you get a better sense of the political climate. Importantly, the internal GOP polls largely mirror the public surveys. Unlike past election cycles, many Republican insiders see Perdue in a tighter-than-ever race. If he holds out, they say, it’s by a razor-thin margin because he out-performs Trump by a half-percentage point or so.”
2. Do you believe that the recent controversy surrounding Perdue’s pronunciation of Kamala Harris’ name at Trump’s Macon rally will have any impact on the race?
“It won’t sway many votes, but it allows Ossoff to soak up more media attention and boost his campaign bank account. It also took attention away from President Trump’s appearance in Macon, and ended up becoming a multi-day campaign story on the trail in local markets. Rest assured that it will come up in the next Ossoff-Perdue Senate debate next Wednesday.”
3. What are Ossoff’s advantages and disadvantages?
“One of his biggest weaknesses is his experience. The 33-year-old runs an investigative journalism outfit and was a former congressional aide, but his biggest claim to fame was his 2017 special election run where he almost flipped a suburban Atlanta district long considered a GOP lock. Contrast that background to Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive with decades of corporate leadership and one term in the U.S. Senate under his belt. Still, Perdue isn’t making that contrast his main line of attack. Instead, he’s focused much of his messaging on trying to brand Ossoff a member of the ‘socialist’ wing of the Democratic party.”
“In terms of strengths, you’d have to start with Ossoff’s fundraising ability. He raised $30 million for his 2017 run, and he’s shattered quarterly Georgia fundraising records for the U.S. Senate in this race. He has a unique ability to stay on message – though his critics say that makes him sound robotic – and he’s proven an effective political communicator who can build the sort of coalition that Democrats need to harness to win.”
4. What are Perdue’s advantages and disadvantages?
“Perhaps no other Georgia Republican gets the rock-star status quite like David Perdue. I’ve been to events where conservatives wait in the rain for hours to snap a picture with him, to compliment him on his jean jacket or his early support of Trump. He’s got the full backing of the political arm of the Senate GOP – Mitch McConnell’s PAC had spent more money on his race than just about any other in the nation – a tight alliance with Trump and a formidable political network in Georgia.”
“Just as Trump is a strength, he’s also a significant weakness. His middling approval ratings give Joe Biden a shot at flipping the state, and Perdue hasn’t sought to distance himself from the president – and probably couldn’t even if he tried. Another weakness is his proclivity for self-inflicted errors. In 2014, he could write gaffes off as stumbling from a first-time candidate. But he had to weather a series of mistakes on the trail long before he butchered Kamala Harris’ name, and his campaign has repeatedly aired false or misleading ads, including insinuating Ossoff is in league with terrorists and wrongly proclaiming he’s supported by the Communist Party of America.”
5. As you recently reported, both sides are bracing for the likelihood that this race may go to a runoff. I’ll just cut to the chase: Do you think this is going to happen? And who do you believe is more likely to win the election outright in November?
“My gut tells me Georgia will be home to twin Senate runoffs in January, though that scenario could change swiftly in this chaotic election cycle. On paper, the GOP would have an edge in both races. Republicans have won every statewide runoff in Georgia history, including two victories in the 2018 midterm. But with national attention seized on Georgia over the winter holidays – and control of the U.S. Senate potentially hanging in the balance – all bets are off.”
Georgia is quickly emerging as ground zero for both the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate. President Trump and his closest allies, from his adult children to Vice President Mike Pence, have made several campaign stops in the Peach State. In fact, Ivanka Trump recently appeared at a campaign even with Sen. Perdue. The two Senate races are also drawing millions of dollars in outside spending. These days, it’s almost impossible for a Georgian to turn on the TV without seeing a campaign advertisement.
Most of the attention in Georgia’s dual Senate contests has largely been on the special election. But the regularly scheduled election is looking more and more like a nail-biter in the final weeks of the campaign. Ossoff and Perdue have ramped up their attacks on one another. Perdue and his allies are trying to portray Ossoff as privileged and inexperienced. They have also tried tying him to some of the more left-wing figures in the Democratic Party, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Ossoff, meanwhile, has tried to portray Perdue as corrupt and has attempted to link him to the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
As was discussed in my email with Bluestein, there is a very real likelihood that both of Georgia’s Senate contests will go to runoffs in January. The most recent Senate runoff in Georgia took place in 2008. Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss faced a competitive race from Democratic State Rep. Jim Martin and failed to secure more than 50% in the general election. As a result, both Chambliss and Martin advanced to a runoff. Chambliss easily won the runoff 57%-43%, though there was a huge decrease in turnout from the general election. Nearly 3.8 million people voted in the general election, while the runoff saw just 2.1 million ballots cast. No one doubts that runoff elections tend to see lower turnout, but two Senate runoffs in one state will surely generate national interest and millions of dollars in outside spending, especially if control of the U.S. Senate is up in the air.
Polling in this race has ranged from Perdue+8 to Ossoff+6. While this race is about as close as you can get, I believe that this is Perdue’s race to lose. Ossoff may have outraised him in the third quarter, but Perdue has the advantage in outside spending. The Wall Street Journal reported in August that the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund has spent more money attacking Ossoff than any other Democratic Senate candidate in the country. Though this isn’t to say that Ossoff doesn’t have any advantages. For starters, Georgia’s electorate is much more affluent and diverse than it was when Perdue was first elected in 2014. And just like he did in his 2017 congressional campaign, he continues to break fundraising records. His $21 million haul in the third quarter was the most money that U.S. Senate has raised in Georgia history.
It is tough for me or anyone to predict such a volatile race in this time of uncertainty that we are all living in. While I believe that it’s Perdue’s race to lose, I can’t confidentially predict who will win the race. And a runoff would only add more uncertainty to the mix. But I am confident in saying that this race will be one of the closest Senate races in the country, regardless of the final outcome.