Donald Trump, David Perdue & Kelly Loeffler: Georgia Republicans Face Campaign Dogfight

President Donald Trump gestures during a campaign rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Ga., October 16, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President Trump is locked in a dead heat with Joe Biden in the long-red state. If he loses, its two incumbent Republican senators could follow suit.

Four years ago, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Georgia by about five points, or a little less than 12,000 votes. Though it wasn’t considered a battleground during that race, Trump had won the state by a far smaller margin than Mitt Romney, who in 2012 defeated Barack Obama there by eight points, or more than 300,000 votes.

This year, many election watchers have decided that something serious has shifted and Georgia now might be a swing state, despite the fact that it hasn’t gone for a Democrat in a presidential race since 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated President George H. W. Bush by under five points.

While the Cook Political Report still rates the Georgia presidential race as leaning Republican, the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics sees it as a tossup, and FiveThirtyEight’s model has Biden as a slight favorite. The RealClearPolitics polling average agrees, placing Biden ahead by less than half a percentage point. According to the site’s poll tracking, Trump enjoyed a steady three-point lead over Biden throughout the summer, but that advantage dwindled heading into the fall before Biden overtook the president this month.

Georgia also plays host to two Senate races this cycle, both of which have incumbent Republicans on defense.

One, which I covered for NRO in more detail over the summer, features the return of Jon Ossoff, a former Democratic political consultant who in a 2017 special election ran unsuccessfully to represent Georgia’s sixth congressional district. Ossoff won a competitive June primary for the right to face first-term Republican senator and former businessman David Perdue, avoiding a runoff by earning more than 50 percent support.

Like the state’s presidential race, the contest between Perdue and Ossoff once favored the Republican, but has been growing tighter over the course of the year. Over the summer, Perdue held a consistent lead of four or five points. Though Ossoff has yet to overtake the incumbent in the RCP polling average, he’s now closer than he’s ever been to doing so, trailing by just two-tenths of a point.

Still, Perdue’s campaign is projecting confidence: It has announced that the senator will skip the final debate with Ossoff to attend a rally with Trump on Sunday night.

“As lovely as another debate listening to Jon Ossoff lie to the people of Georgia sounds, Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia,” a campaign spokesman told CNN.

Biden’s team, meanwhile, announced on Friday morning that his running mate, Kamala Harris, will travel to Georgia for her own campaign events on Sunday.

The other Senate race in the state is a special-election contest to fill the seat vacated by former GOP senator Johnny Isakson, who retired late last year. The seat is currently occupied by Republican Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Governor Brian Kemp to serve until the special election.

Because there was no primary election for the race, Loeffler is running against two candidates: fellow Republican Doug Collins, a congressman from Georgia’s ninth congressional district, and Democrat Raphael Warnock, a pastor and political activist. If none of them receives more than 50 percent of the vote next week, the top-two candidates will advance to a runoff election on January 5.

The Cook Political Report and UVA’s Center for Politics each rank both Georgia Senate races as tossups. Complicating predictions in all three of the state’s federal races is the fact that early voting has been underway in Georgia for weeks, and turnout has been quite high. In fact, the number of people who have voted early in Georgia this year has already reached nearly three-quarters of the total votes cast in the state in 2016. Georgia voters younger than 30 account for a slightly larger share of the early vote than they did four years ago, but black voters are voting early at about the same rate as they did in 2016.

Some forecasters suggest that there are still several paths by which Trump could win a second term, despite the advantage Biden seems to enjoy. But it’s difficult to imagine a path to victory for the Republican that doesn’t include winning in Georgia. And if he doesn’t win Georgia, that could be very bad news for Perdue and Loeffler.

There may have been a time when Republicans could afford to take this long-red state for granted. It seems clear that that time has now passed.

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