2022 midterms

Control of Senate Could Again Be Determined in a Georgia Runoff

Raphael Warnock campaigning in 2020. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

One of the reasons that Election 2020 was fascinating for political junkies is that it went into overtime. No, I’m not referring to the effort by Donald Trump and his cronies to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory, which was called on November 7. The battle for control of the U.S. Senate was delayed, quite legitimately, until not one but two seats were decided in a general-election runoff in Georgia on January 4, 2021. Had it not been for the dual victories of Jon Ossoff over David Perdue and Raphael Warnock over Kelly Loeffler, then we would not be discussing the party-line passage of the Inflation Reduction Act or any other Democratic congressional victories.

The Warnock-Loeffler runoff was the product of Georgia’s “jungle primary” rules for a special election; the contest was held to fill the remaining two years of a term won in 2016 by Republican Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons (and was temporarily replaced by Loeffler, who was appointed to the position by Governor Brian Kemp in a step that fed his feud with Trump). But the Ossoff-Perdue race was just a regular old Senate race. Georgia requires majorities for general-election victories as well as primaries. When that doesn’t happen, there are general-election runoffs. In addition to 2020, it happened in Senate races in 1992 and 2008 and could happen again this year.

Warnock is now battling Republican Herschel Walker for a full Senate term in one of the races assumed to be central to the fight for party control of the upper chamber. The heavily funded incumbent currently leads the challenger in the RealClearPolitics polling averages by a margin of 47.6 to 43.2. But that number is quite likely to tighten up if the pro-Republican wave dynamics of a midterm election kick in. And it’s worth noting that in the most recent Warnock-Walker poll, from InsiderAdvantage, Libertarian Chase Oliver was pulling 3 percent of the vote. That sounds about right: In the Ossoff-Perdue race that went to a runoff in 2020, Libertarian Shane Hazel received 2.4 percent of the vote, more than the 1.8 percent that separated the major-party candidates.

2022 won’t be a complete do-over of 2020 in Georgia, though, since Kemp and Republican legislators, as part of their infamous 2021 voting law, changed the date of general-election runoffs from January to December, in an apparent effort to cut down on the early-voting opportunities that Democratic voters tend to rely on disproportionately. Based on early reviews of the two campaigns, Walker may need all the help he can get.

We obviously won’t know until after November 8 whether there is going to be a Georgia U.S. Senate runoff and whether it will matter in terms of party control. There are other states holding Senate elections this year where the results could take some time to sort out, notably Alaska with its new ranked-choice-voting system for general elections. If the Senate’s on the line in December in Georgia, though, the state will again be a boon for political-advertising outlets and unemployed campaign workers, at least for four more weeks.

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Senate Control Could Again Come Down to a Georgia Runoff