The Georgia Senate Race: Perdue vs. Ossoff

Documentary film maker and former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff has secured the Democratic US Senate nomination with just over 52% of the statewide vote.

He defeats former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and ex-Lt. Governor nominee Sara Riggs Amico to win the party nomination outright.

On election night and since, Mr. Ossoff teetered around and over the 50% mark, but finally cemented the necessary margin as the counted vote totals have now exceeded 99 percent. Had he finished with just 49%, it was still possible that a runoff could have been avoided. Second place finisher Tomlinson could have immediately conceded the runoff since it was obvious that Ossoff would have been a prohibitive favorite moving forward into an August 11 secondary election.

You will remember Jon Ossoff as a candidate who ran in the 6th District 2017 special election when then-Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell) was appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services and resigned from the House. The succeeding special drew national attention and resulted in Ossoff raising $36 million for the lone congressional race. Despite the huge resource advantage, Ossoff lost to then-former Secretary of State Karen Handel* (R), who would in turn lose the next regular election to Democrat Lucy McBath.

For the 2020 Senate race, Ossoff’s fundraising is still good, but not nearly as impressive as when he became a national congressional candidate. For the current campaign, Mr. Ossoff attracted slightly over $4 million, significantly more than Ms. Tomlinson’s $2.5 million but well behind incumbent Republican David Perdue’s* $13.2 million raised. All of the financial figures were current through the pre-primary May 20 filing deadline.

In 2014, David Perdue defeated Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former veteran Sen. Sam Nunn (D). While projected as a close race, and one that could even be forced to a post-election runoff – Georgia is one of the few states that requires their general election candidates to obtain majority support – Mr. Perdue won the seat by eight percentage points, 53-45 percent.

Looking back at the entire polling matrix for that race according to the Real Clear Politics survey archives, we see that 45 different polls from 13 individual pollsters were conducted from early August of 2014 through Election Day.

The polling results found 27 surveys where Mr. Perdue was leading Ms. Nunn, but only two projecting him to have the type of margin that he actually recorded on Election Day. A dozen of the polls forecast Ms. Nunn with an advantage, and one going as high as a seven percent margin, some 15 points away from the actual result. Six more surveys found the two candidates tied. Certainly the 2014 aggregate polling underestimated Republican Perdue’s support by a significant margin.

With this backdrop, we turn to the impending 2020 race and the political pundits and prognosticators are clamoring that Georgia is in play for the Democrats this year. A lot of this background is based upon the 2018 results, but are they still over-estimating Democratic strength?

While the closeness of the 2018 Governor’s race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams attracted significant national political attention, and the result was undeniably tight (Kemp + 1.4%), it is important to underscore that Democrats still failed to win any statewide Georgia race even in that poor Republican year.

While the margins were close in every situation, the GOP still managed to go 8-0 in statewide races and clear 52.3% of the aggregate congressional vote when compared to the Democratic statewide total with each party having one unopposed race. So, while the Democrats may be improving their Peach State standing, they are still losing.

Polling again under-estimated Republican support in the 2018 Governor’s race, but not nearly to the degree of 2014. Nine pollsters conducted 13 surveys in the midterm Georgia Governor’s campaign, and Republican Kemp finished ahead in six of the surveys, and never by more than two percentage points. Democrat Abrams, on the other hand, finished on top in three studies, but never with a margin that exceeded three percentage points. An additional trio of surveys found the race landing in a dead heat.

Therefore, and disregarding one poll from the Trafalgar Group that was a clear outlier in forecasting Mr. Kemp with a 12-point lead that was never realistic, the Republican under-poll factor was one percentage point as Mr. Kemp averaged a 0.5% polling edge and won with a 1.4% margin.

With this recent political history, Sen. Perdue and Mr. Ossoff begin their general election campaign. While the race will again be competitive, Sen. Perdue still must be regarded as a favorite even though another robust polling schedule might potentially again arrive at different conclusions.

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