Democrats are surging in Georgia. Joe Biden could be the first Democratic presidential contender to win the state’s electoral votes since Bill Clinton in 1992, and a pair of Democratic US Senate candidates—one running in a regular election and one running in a complex special election—could win with him. That delicious prospect is so enticing that Biden swept into the state Tuesday and appeared with the Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock.
“There aren’t a lot of pundits who would have guessed four years ago that the Democratic candidate for president in 2020 would be campaigning in Georgia on the final week of the election,” Biden told a cheering, horn-honking parking lot crowd in Atlanta. “Or that we’d have such competitive Senate races in Georgia. But we do because something’s happening here in Georgia and across the nation.”
Doubling down on his “we win Georgia, we win everything” theme, the former vice president declared, “I can’t tell you how important it is that we flip the U.S. Senate. There’s no state more consequential than Georgia.”
He’s right. If Ossoff and Warnock prevail, Democrats’ chances for taking the Senate away from Mitch McConnell and the Republicans increase exponentially. With Georgia joining Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina in turning out Republican senators—as polls now suggest is possible—Democrats could have the sort of clear control of the both the House and Senate that would allow Biden to govern decisively.
So Democrats really could win it all with Georgia. But that state’s outlier approach to elections, and another Democrat who has allowed his ego to get in the way, could derail the prospect in the Warnock victory on November 3. Because there’s another Democrat, Matt Lieberman, running in the special election contest, which features candidates of all parties running on the same ballot. Polls suggest Lieberman is running far behind. Yet he has refused repeated pleas that he fold his doomed bid that could draw off just enough votes from Warnock to prevent an outright win by the pastor.
Georgia maintains a remnant of the old politics of the South: runoff elections. What this means is that if one candidate does not get 50 percent of the vote on November 3, the top two finishers go on to face each other in one more election. Traditionally, Republicans in Georgia have fared well in runoffs. In 1992, for instance, when Bill Clinton carried the state’s presidential voting, Democratic Senator Wyche Fowler finished first in his reelection bid. But Fowler fell short of the 50 percent threshold and was forced into a runoff. Several weeks later, without the excitement and boosted turnout of the presidential race, Fowler was defeated.
So Democrats are keen on winning both of this year’s races on November 3. In the case of Ossoff, who has surged in the final days of his “you’re a crook, senator” challenge to Republican incumbent David Perdue, that’s looking increasingly possible—especially after a powerful October 28 debate performance in which Ossoff so outclassed Perdue that the Republican dropped out of a final debate that was scheduled for Sunday. Several recent polls have shown the Democrat leading and moving closer and closer to that 50 percent threshold.
It had been assumed that Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, would end up in a runoff with one of two prominent Republicans who are running in the crowded special election contest (and thus splitting the Republican vote): appointed Senator Kelly Loeffler and Representative Doug Collins. But some polls now show Warnock running almost as well as Ossoff. A Public Policy Polling survey from late last week has the pastor of the church that served as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual home just shy of the 50 percent mark—at 46 percent, 19 points ahead of Loeffler. All recent polls have Warnock well ahead of Loeffler and Collins. However, several of them also show Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, continuing to pull as much as 9 percent of the vote while another Democrat, former federal prosecutor Ed Tarver, has been attracting 1 or 2 percent.
There are fears that because of Lieberman’s name recognition, he could pull enough votes to prevent Warnock from winning outright on November 3, thus forcing him into a runoff with Loeffler or Collins.
Early in October, 10 progressive groups—Democracy for America (DFA), Be a Hero Fund, Blue Future, Justice Democrats, Progress America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), RootsAction.org, Social Security Works PAC, and the Working Families Party—begged Lieberman to quit the race.
“We urge you, with everything we have, to do the right thing for our country, end your race for U.S. Senate, and ensure Democrats stand united behind Raphael Warnock in this unique election,” wrote the groups in a letter released shortly after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The letter to Lieberman explained the importance of winning an outright victory on November 3, and concluded, “Unfortunately, your continued presence in this race poses a very real and potentially disastrous threat to Democrats’ chances of winning Georgia’s special election for the U.S. Senate.”
Lieberman, who was at around 11 percent in the polls at the time the letter was sent, has lost a lot of ground in recent weeks. Yet he remains in the race. And he remains the Democrat who could prevent Democrats from winning a Georgia Senate seat on November 3.