Georgia’s ‘Other’ Senate Race Likely Headed for Runoff

Georgia’s ‘Other’ Senate Race Likely Headed for Runoff

The early conventional wisdom that Loeffler and Collins would emerge from the primary has been altered by Warnock’s rise.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The 117th Congress is scheduled to convene on Jan. 3. Georgians likely will elect at least one of their two Senators two days later.

Odd as that sounds, the expectation is that none of 21 candidates on the ballot in the Nov. 3 all-comers primary will win a majority. The top two vote-getters would advance to a Jan. 5 runoff.

This is the contest referred to as Senate race #2. Race #1, the face-off between Republican incumbent David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, could itself go to a runoff if Libertarian Shane Hazel prevents either winning a majority.

About one-third (35) of the Senate’s 100 seats are up for election. Republicans currently hold a 53-seat majority, which makes the two Georgia seats being contested crucial for both parties.

The so-called “jungle primary” in Senate race #2 is to fill the two years remaining in the term of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired in December citing health issues. The ballot will list eight Democrats, six Republicans (though one dropped out), five independents, one Green Party candidate, and one Libertarian.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to fill Isakson’s seat until the election. President Donald Trump reportedly favored Rep. Doug Collins, the 9th District representative who was a staunch defender when Trump was impeached by the House.

Based on their campaign ads, public comments, and social media postings, there is no love lost between Loeffler and Collins, both of whom are on the primary ballot. Each portrays the other as being less than a true conservative, including using images of the other with Democrat Stacey Abrams.

The early conventional wisdom was that Loeffler and Collins would advance to a runoff. But Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, running as a Democrat, may be in position to edge out one of the Republicans. Warnock has the backing of the national Democratic campaign apparatus, as well as former Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, along with Ossoff and Abrams.

A survey of 1,106 likely voters — conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 6 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public & International Affairs for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — put Warnock ahead at 27.7 percent; followed by Loeffler, 21.8 percent; Collins, 21.2 percent, former state Rep. Ed Tarver, 3.6 percent, and Democrat Matt Lieberman, who is Jewish, 3.4 percent. Nearly one in five voters said they were undecided. The poll’s sampling error was 2.9 percentage points.
A Quinnipiac University Poll of 1,125 likely Georgia voters — conducted Sept. 23-27, with a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points – gave Warnock with 31 percent, Loeffler 23 percent, Collins 22 percent, and Lieberman 9 percent. Of the four, Lieberman’s supporters were far more willing to say that their vote might change.

Loeffler has pledged to spend $20 million of her own money to support her campaign. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Loeffler has put more than $15 million of her own into the campaign, a bit more than 85 percent of the funds it had raised.

As of June 30, the latest campaign finance report available, Loeffler had $7 million cash on hand; Warnock, nearly $2.9 million; Collins, $2.6 million; and Lieberman a bit more than $300,000. The remaining candidates had far lesser amounts.
Responding to a question about anti-Semitism asked by the Jewish Insider news site, Loeffler and Collins both pointed toward Democrats and the political left. Loeffler named Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Collins cited “a growing number of members in the Democratic Caucus voicing their support for the BDS movement, which attacks Israel’s very right to exist.”

Warnock has built bridges into Atlanta’s Jewish community, particularly through Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple, working on such issues as gun violence and criminal justice reform, as well as publicly supporting the Jewish community against acts of anti-Semitism. Warnock and Berg co-authored a June 2019 op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution urging that racism not be weaponized in public policy debates.

All of this may have Lieberman, the first candidate to enter the race, feeling marginalized. A health care entrepreneur and former head of school at Greenfield Hebrew Academy (now part of Atlanta Jewish Academy), he is the son of former Connecticut Sen. and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.
In August, Lieberman stood his ground when the chair of the Democratic Party ofGeorgia and the president of the Georgia NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) called on him to withdraw because of language Lieberman used in a novel with a plot that centered on racism.

“I am first and foremost the Democrat who can win this in January,” Lieberman told an interviewer on MSNBC in September, referencing the expected runoff. “I am the only candidate at the top of this race who wasn’t put here by someone in Washington or Atlanta,” he said, blaming “power brokers,” citing Kemp’s appointment of Loeffler, Trump backing Collins, and Warnock receiving Democratic Party support.

In late September and early October, calls for Lieberman to drop out of the race were proliferating and increasing.

As if to illustrate the challenge Lieberman faces, an email to “Fellow Jewish Georgian” from prominent local Jewish Democrats warned against a runoff involving Loeffler and Collins. “That would be a tragic loss of a unique opportunity to elect two Democratic Senators in Georgia. To prevent such an absurd and abhorrent outcome, it’s critical that Democrats and independents unite behind a single candidate – Rev. Raphael Warnock – the only Democrat with a real chance to win. The race is so close that the votes of Jewish Georgians alone could make the difference,” the email read. Several hundred members of the Jewish community signed an ad to this effect that ran in the AJT.

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