Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death has given Donald Trump and the GOP another opportunity to stack the court with another conservative who could threaten to reverse Roe vs. Wade, undo the Affordable Care Act and many more progressive pieces of Democratic legislation. Technically, Republicans have enough votes to ram the confirmation through because they control the Senate, and Mitch McConnell has made it clear he intends to move on Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, before a new Congress convenes in January.
The results of a special election in Georgia could help slow his efforts.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, there are two U.S. Senate elections taking place in Georgia. There is the regularly scheduled Senate race in which Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff won his primary in June and will attempt to unseat GOP Senator David Perdue this November. Then there is the other U.S. Senate special election in which some 21 candidates are campaigning to fill the seat of former Sen. John Hardy Isakson, who retired last year for health reasons. Gov. Brian Kemp, appointed Kelly Lynn Loeffler to replace him; the special election will choose a permanent senator. Ordinarily, Isakson’s old seat would be up for grabs in 2022.
The stakes are huge because Democratic candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock is leading the so-called “jungle primary” with 31 percent and Loeffler at 23 percent and Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-9th District) at 22 percent, according to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University. By the way, a jungle primary is a free for all in which members of any party can jump in to win the seat. When special elections are called in Georgia, they fall into this format, unlike regularly scheduled elections that have partisan primaries.
To win the jungle primary outright, a candidate must get 50 percent plus one vote. Otherwise, a runoff with the two highest vote-getters, regardless of party, takes place in January. If Warnock somehow wins Georgia’s U.S Senate special election race on the first go-around Nov. 3, he could be sworn by Nov. 30 in time to possibly vote for Ginsberg’s replacement.
Warnock’s race is similar to Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democratic Senate nominee looking to unseat Senator Martha McSally, another Republican who was appointed to her seat. If he wins he could be sworn in as early as Nov. 30, perhaps in time to vote on the High Court seat with Warnock if he wins.
A Georgia election law expert told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Georgia law pretty much dictates the same scenario.
But there are a number of factors that could derail Warnock’s path to outright victory in November. Warnock could get to that 50 percent threshold easier if the other Democrats in the race drop out and back him—which is what Georgia Democrats are trying to convince them to do to give Warnock a shot. Democrats Matt Lieberman, son of Joe Lieberman, is at 9 percent and Ed Tarver has 4 percent, according to the Quinnipiac poll. Warnock’s campaign recently announced a near-$13 million fundraising haul for the third quarter, an extraordinary amount of money for a senate race of any scale; some 2020 presidential candidates didn’t pull that much green. He has also shored up virtually all of national and local Democratic endorsements.
“Matt is very well respected and widely known and we believe that he would be a terrific senator,” said Michael Rosenzweig, a leader in Atlanta’s Jewish community, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But we believe that he doesn’t have a realistic chance of winning this thing. He does have a chance of knocking Warnock out of the runoff, though, which will be very troubling.”
Many took former Barack Obama’s endorsement of Warnock as a not-so-subtle nod for Lieberman to drop out. (fun fact: Joe, Matt’s dad, made sure to fart in Obama’s face during the healthcare debate that almost threatened to derail it.)
Regardless of whether Warnock wins the race outright in November or has to face Loeffler or Collins in a January runoff, he certainly has enough money to compete with either for television time and maintain as good a campaign on the ground as any candidate can in these COVID-19 times. Recent calculations by FiveThirtyEight have Warnock beating Collins and Loeffler in a faceoff, with one data point showing he beats Loeffler as much as 10 points.
Also, the state’s demographics are in his favor.
As The Root reported from Georgia during the 2018 gubernatorial race, the state’s racial demographics are some of the most rapidly changing in the nation and is expected to be a minority-majority state by 2028. This is a prime opening for Democrats to turn the state blue and those demographics are already benefiting current candidates running nationally, like Ossoff.
Sen. David Purdue, who is in a very tight race against Jon Ossoff in the other Georgia U.S. Senate race, admitted as much during an off-the-record conference call with Republican activists, per CNN:
“We have had our wake-up call in Georgia,” Perdue said, detailing the state’s recent electoral history of increasingly tight races. Perdue said he needs to win “twice the number of votes” than he did in his 2014 campaign to keep his seat due to the influx of new Democrats in Georgia. “The demographic moves against us. But we can still win this if we get out and make sure that all of our voters vote. That’s what this comes down to.”
More than three times as many Democrats voted in this year’s primary than in 2016, despise massive issues at the voting booth in mostly minority districts. Given that record-breaking turnout is expected this year, Warnock has a great shot at becoming the next senator from Georgia. But the real question is when that could happen.
If he ends up making the top two next month and wins the run-off in January, his victory would be historic (he’d be the first Black senator from Georgia), but would not likely be in time to influence the vote over who will replace Ginsberg on the Supreme Court.