1/5 Election Previews
Georgia Senate Runoffs (2 Republican Defenses, both incumbents running)
Candidates: Regular Election — Jon Ossoff (D), Incumbent David Perdue (R) Special Election — Raphael Warnock (D), Incumbent Kelly Loeffler (R)
Overview: We start with what everyone is focused on right, now the two US Senate runoffs in Georgia. While these two elections are separately voted on, I decided to join them together in this preview because the circumstances surrounding them are basically the same, with no real evidence suggesting a split outcome is likely except if both races are extremely close. The reason both of these elections are happening is due to a unique law in Georgia requiring winning candidates to win a complete majority (more than 50%) or face a runoff election with the second place candidate. This was not unexpected in the special election to finish the term of Republican Johnny Isakson, who resigned last year, as there were multiple serious candidates running on the ballot in a jungle primary. Democrat Raphael Warnock, the preacher at MLK’s church in Atlanta, and appointed Republican Incumbent Loeffler advanced to the runoff, despite a strong challenge from Republican Congressman Doug Collins. The regular election was much more of a surprise, with Incumbent Republican David Perdue finishing narrowly ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff, a filmmaker who previous ran in a 2017 special election for the US House. In that election, Ossoff narrowly lost a runoff to Republican Karen Handel. However, despite finishing ahead of Ossoff, Perdue failed to reach 50% due to the presence of Libertarian Shane Hazel on the ballot. Although Warnock and Perdue started out the runoff race by outperforming their fellow party members in polls, that gap has narrowed in recent weeks. In the latest 538 poll average, Warnock is up by 2.1 and Ossoff by 1.8. Early voting has been strong for Democrats, similarly to November, although it will likely be even stronger this time thanks to a spike in the share of early voters who are Black. As a result, Republicans will likely need an election day turnout that exceeds their election day turnout in November. However, there is no indication that this cannot happen, given the rhetoric against mail-in/early voting by Donald Trump which has only intensified after the election. In fact, it could be just as plausible that Trump’s attacks of Georgia Republicans in the wake of his defeat deflate Republican turnout.
As seen in the above map, there really wasn’t much crossover between Biden’s victory and Perdue’s near miss of 50%. Only 2 counties, Baldwin and Washington split their votes. If Warnock and Ossoff don’t win these 2 they could be in trouble, although winning them is no statewide guarantee. In the special election, voters preferred Democratic candidates in those 2 counties even while the state as a whole selected Republican candidates by a 49–48 margin. As a result, it will really be all about two things: turnout and whether conservative suburbanites who may have backed Biden and Republican Senate candidates in November stick with their previous votes. Additionally, there is the other variable of new voters in the state, with 100,000 people who did not vote in November voting in this election. This group skews younger and less white than the state as a whole, which is good for the Democrats. Overall, if I had to pick someone, I’d rather be Ossoff and Warnock, but this race is really a true tossup with so much uncertainty.
Rating and Prediction: Tossup. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both win by .5%
Virginia House of Delegates District 2 (Democratic defense)
Candidates: Candi King (D), Heather Mitchell (R)
Overview: Next we move on to Prince William and Stafford Counties in Northern Virginia, for a competitive special election in a suburban district recently reclaimed by Democrats in 2017. In 2017, it was Jennifer Carroll Foy who gained this seat, an unsurprising result given Hillary Clinton’s 58–37 victory here in 2016 and the 26% Black and 18% Latino populations. Foy won by a wider 63–37 margin in 2017, then won again in 2019 by a margin of 60–39. However, in December, Foy announced she was resigning to focus on campaigning for Governor, and Republicans believe they have a chance at winning the seat back. Their nominee is Heather Mitchell, who was an aide to staunchly conservative former Senate nominee Corey Stewart. Mitchell also previously ran against Foy in the aforementioned 2019 election. While Mitchell’s campaign has had an effective ground game due to her prior experience, her views and especially her connection to Stewart may not be the best fit for the suburban district. On the Democratic side, small business owner Candi King is the nominee, making her first run for elected office. King is mostly focusing on increasing DC Metro service into Prince William County and COVID-19 issues such as ensuring a safe return to classrooms for children. Mitchell has focused a lot on COVID-19 and reopening schools and businesses as well, and also has gone after King for the Defund the Police movement. It’s worth noting that King does not actually support defunding the police, and in fact is married to a police officer, although she has argued for departmental reforms. Special election turnout is always unpredictable, and while I am confident King would win in a November election, Mitchell could definitely pull off an upset due to low turnout in a state where special election results are often poor for Democrats.
Rating and Prediction: Likely D. Candi King wins by 10 points
Virginia House of Delegates District 90 (Democratic defense)
Candidates: Angelia Williams Graves (D), Sylvia Bryant (R)
Overview: Finally, we conclude with a special election in a majority-Black district in Norfolk and a small portion of Virginia Beach. This seat opened up in November, when incumbent Democrat Joseph Lindsey was elected to serve as a judge. Norfolk Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves is the Democratic nominee, and she will be heavily favored to win this seat, which Hillary Clinton won by a 64–31 margin. Lindsey was not opposed in the last 3 election cycles, but he did win his only contested election, a 2014 special election, 80–19. However, the lines have been redrawn since then, so this will not be the most apt comparison. Republican nominee Sylvia Bryant is a first time candidate who works as an office administrator, and will undoubtedly face a massive uphill climb. While low turnout could help her overperform, I would be shocked if she won.
Rating and Prediction: Safe D. Angelia Williams Graves wins by 25 points.