A combination of money, name identification, a consistently progressive message, and the restricted circumstances of a campaign held during a pandemic has lifted political wunderkind Jon Ossoff of Georgia to the Democratic nomination to face U.S. Senator David Perdue. The race was finally called for Ossoff on Wednesday, the day after a primary plagued by major voting problems in the Atlanta area and a slow count produced by heavy voting by mail. Ossoff’s vote totals eventually drifted above the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff, with a lot of mail ballots still uncounted in his metro Atlanta stronghold. The two women who chased Ossoff after his relatively late entrance into the race, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Briggs Amico, finished second and third, respectively.
Endorsements were an important part of Ossoff’s strategy, as I noted earlier in the contest:
Often criticized by progressives in 2017 for being too centrist and for having too little outreach to minority voters, Ossoff has been working on his left flanks, picking up an endorsement from onetime opponent and local progressive champion Ted Terry (mayor of Clarkston) and relying heavily on ads featuring Congressman John Lewis (for whom Ossoff once worked).
Clearly, Ossoff harvested some lessons from his famously well-financed but ultimately unsuccessful 2017 special-election run for a suburban Atlanta U.S. House seat, along with the fundraising list that he will count on against the well-heeled Republican incumbent. (Ossoff’s vanquisher in 2017, Karen Handel, lost her seat to Democrat Lucy McBath in 2018 and is in a rematch with McBath this year). Perdue has always been a Trump loyalist, and his cousin, former governor and now U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, will make sure he has all the national support he could desire.
The Ossoff-Perdue race will fight for attention with a wild melee for the other Senate seat, a special nonpartisan “jungle primary” that will coincide with the general Election Day in November. This contest was triggered by veteran GOP Senator Johnny Isakson’s resignation for health reasons at the end of 2019 and the appointment of political newcomer Kelly Loeffler to the seat by Governor Brian Kemp, against the advice of President Trump, who wanted North Georgia congressman Doug Collins, his Judiciary Committee pit bull during impeachment proceedings, placed in the Senate.
Collins immediately challenged Loeffler, and she has done poorly in the left-right crossfire, mostly thanks to heavy publicity about her and her husband’s stock deals (he is the CEO of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange) just before the coronavirus pandemic hit. A Department of Justice investigation of Loeffler and two other senators has been dropped, but the whole brouhaha reminded economically struggling Georgians of the personal wealth that was reportedly much of the reason Kemp chose her (as a self-funder, she wouldn’t compete with other party financial needs this year and in 2022, when Isakson’s term expires and she’ll have to run again if she survives this cycle).
With Collins and Loeffler splitting the Republican vote, the odds of either winning a majority in November are low, so the survivor will likely be in a January runoff against a Democrat, probably Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock, who has far and away the most endorsements and financial potential. It’s even possible that control of the Senate could hang in the balance in that runoff. The odds of that happening would go up considerably if Ossoff first knocked off Perdue in November. All in all, Georgia is looking like a major battleground this fall, with two competitive Senate races, at least two competitive House races, and Team Biden giving the state a long look as well. It’s a new day in a state where Republicans have won every presidential, Senate, and gubernatorial contest since 2002.