Tom with the BTRTN prediction for the Georgia Senate runoff tomorrow.
The Georgia Senate runoff elections are both virtual manslaughter in the polls. The environment in which they are kept is unparalleled. The races are therefore completely unpredictable.
This is not a particularly good attitude for an election predictor. But we’re nothing if not fearless, so let’s go.
Our official BTRTN forecast for the Georgia Senate runoff election is that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will both win by a marginal 51% to 49% (or closer) lead, giving the Democrats control of the Senate. This choice could take days or even weeks.
The background here is known. After the dust cleared in the November election, the GOP appeared with 50 seats in the Senate, while the Democratic caucus (including the two independents) held 48. The two remaining races were both held in Georgia, where the law requires a candidate to receive at least 50% of the vote to be declared a winner. No candidate reached this mark in the November Senate elections, so both will be decided in a two-person runoff election tomorrow, January 5, 2021. Both races will be attended by Republican incumbents David Perdue, who won his first term in 2014, and Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by GOP Governor Brian Kemp for health reasons following the resignation of Johnny Isakson in 2019.
Joe Biden’s victory left the Democrats with the option to take control of the Senate if the two Democratic Senate candidates oust the GOP incumbents in the runoff elections tomorrow. So the Democrats would get the 50 seats in the GOP, but under the chairmanship of Vice President Kamala Harris, they would be in control. Chuck Schumer would become the new Senate majority leader and be able to control what laws stand before the Chamber, along with many other powers that current leader Mitch McConnell ruthlessly wields.
In November Perdue beat Ossoff by 1.8 percentage points, 49.7% to 47.9%, while Warnock won the Georgian “jungle primary” against Loeffler’s 26% with 33% of the vote. Perhaps the more important figure, given the length of the field in this elementary school, was that the total number of Democratic candidates (48.4%) was close to that of Republicans (49.3%). Georgia is clearly a purple state. In 2017, Ossoff himself almost caused a surprise when he ran for 6 in a special election in Georgiath Congressional district, only to lose three percentage points. And in 2018, Stacey Abrams was almost the first black woman to become governor – not just in Georgia, but in the US as well – losing just two points to Kemp.
But after that streak of nearby but no cigar defeats, the Democrats made a major breakthrough in the most important elections of all: when Joe Biden took Georgia in November.
The drain polls show near-dead heat in both races. The two Democrats hold a very slight lead, well within the margin of error. The latest polls by GOP pollster Trafalgar have raised Ossoff by +2 and Warnock by +1.
If you’re wondering why we should bother paying attention to the polls given their supposedly poor performance in the 2020 election, these two things should be considered.
First, we correctly predicted 97 out of 102 races in November, based largely on polls, including 8 out of 12 races like these two. (The 102 races included 56 states or districts of the presidential race, 35 Senate races, and 11 gubernatorial races.) Second, the presidential and senate polls in Georgia were correct.
Biden was slightly ahead in the Georgia polls, we predicted he would win Georgia, and he did. The Ossoff / Perdue polls were also very close, so close that we predicted that none of the candidates would reach 50% and drain, and that’s exactly what happened. (A third candidate received about 2% of the vote.) If the current runoff polls say these will be close races, we believe them.
The stage is now ready.
Make no mistake, the two Senate races will be decided based on the voter turnout. That choice will mirror the pattern of many close races in November as the momentum created by the pandemic is still in place. Democrats are more likely to vote early, while Republicans are more likely to vote on January 5th. That is the calculation that each side has to master in order to assert itself.
And the evidence so far seems to favor the Democrats.
In terms of early voting, the current results are impressive for the Democrats – and extremely worrying for GOP officials. There were already 3 million votes in the early vote for the Georgia runoff, an astonishing number in every respect (the general election had 4 million early votes). The Democrats seem proportionally better off than in general.
Voting in democratic strongholds in cities and suburbs is going well, while North Georgia, Trump’s heartland, is lagging behind. The black voice is ahead of us (31% versus 26%). In essence, the Democrats now seem to have an even better lead than they did in November.
This puts tremendous pressure on the other side of the equation for the GOP, which will therefore have to top its turnout on election day 2020 when the polls begin tomorrow. But so many factors work against them. For starters, Trump was on the ballot in November, and he won’t be tomorrow. He’s the driving force in the GOP today, and neither he nor his strongest supporters appear to care much about the fate of the Senate.
And then, of course, Trump himself attacked the electoral process in Georgia to call the runoff election “both invalid and illegal”. By subjecting the Senate’s potential GOP loss to his own interests, he has shown massive distrust of the electoral process among his supporters, to the point where a certain percentage of his supporters may refuse to vote in the runoff elections. Even a modest protest without a vote could swing the election to the Dems.
Additionally, Trump has tortured Perdue and Loeffler with every split he has made since the election, be it beating Governor Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (both Republicans), vetoing the National Defense Authorization Act (which includes pay increases for the military) and the initial rejection of the COVID Aid Act and the associated State Expenditure Act on the amount of aid checks. Perdue and Loeffler each had to perform different degrees of gymnastics, which were hardly helpful for their campaign. (They remained silent about the attacks, decided not to vote on the Defense Act override, and supported Trump in his groundbreaking call for $ 2,000 checks instead of the $ 600 checks included in the bill.)
Trump came to Georgia once, ostensibly to support Perdue and Loeffler, but spent more time on his own complaint than advocating for the GOP senators. His relentless pursuit of upgrading the presidential race had the devastating effect that both Purdue and Loeffler were denied the opportunity to make the strongest argument for their choice: that they alone are all that stands between the Democrats who control the White House and both Houses of Congress. (In essence, they cannot make that claim as it undermines their own position that Trump is the real winner and will ultimately prevail upon reaching a second term.)
There has been a debate in every race since Election Day, and none of the debates was Red Letter Day for the GOP nominee. Loeffler, unlike the all-too-human Warnock, was largely attuned to a robotic performance, while Perdue chose not to show up at all instead of facing the slick Ossoff again after being gutted by Ossoff in his October debate. Instead, Ossoff accepted an empty chair and struck Purdue in absentia.
None of this means Ossoff and Warnock will win, but in a very tight competition, all of these factors together could be just enough to improve the balance. Or not. Another fact is that Republicans have historically tended to do better in Georgia because voter turnout tends to decline faster in democratic segments. So the race could go very well in terms of form. But both races are classic mistakes.
The final ingredient in the pre-election witch brew was yesterday’s release of the already infamous tape of a phone call from Trump to Raffensperger on Saturday, a clear, mob-threatening and completely illegal request to the Georgian Foreign Secretary Find the 11,780 votes Trump needs to beat Biden and win Georgia. He cited a litany of debunked conspiracy theories as a possible source of these voices.
Trump will be holding a rally in Georgia today to support the GOP Senators, but there is little doubt about his real main issue.
If there are new polls that definitely suggest a different result, we may return tomorrow with an update.