An earlier version of this blog post was posted on Funologist.org, and has been edited and expanded for publication here.
Usually in tight presidential elections, the focus is on Florida. More polls are taken there, more rallies are held there, more money is spent on advertisements there than almost any other state. Rich with electoral votes and a highly split electorate, Florida can make or break the top race. But Florida is shifting from purple to blue. This is in part because the 2018 referendum added a Florida state constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to ex-felons. This added 1.5 million people to the voter rolls, most of them Democratic. [I was fortunate to be part of a canvassing team of of communitarians in Tampa in 2018 working on this referendum.]
But 2020 is not a usual year, as you have no doubt noticed. This year all eyes are going to be on Georgia, because it is quite likely to surprise most of the nation with an expensive, expansive senate race and may delay knowledge of which party controls the Senate until 2021.
If you are tracking the election closely, you know two of Biden’s top VP choices are from Georgia (more than any other state except California), Stacey Abrams and Keisha Bottoms. If there were fairness in the world, it would go to Abrams, who was literally robbed of the Governorship of this state by Brian Kemp. Kemp as the Georgia secretary of state purged the election roles of 670K voters, in 2017 (mostly POC) and then won the election by 50K votes and became governor. Abrams did not concede her “loss” and went on to start Fair Fight 2020 which works to stop voter suppression just like this.
If you are an election geek (as i am becoming these days) you know that there a rere actually two Senate seats available in Georgia in this upcoming election. One seat is up for a regularly-scheduled election, while the other is up for special election due to a resignation. Thus the term of the Senator who fills this special election seat will only be 2 years long, but it might just determine which party controls the US Senate during those years.
What you likely do not know (unless you are one of the afore-mentioned geeks) is that the special Georgia election is really a “top two primary.” Unless one of the candidates acquires over 50% of the votes (which is quite unlikely given the crowded field) in will spark a 2 candidate run off election in January of 2021 which might determine the majority party of the US Senate. The Biden campaign has recently recognized the importance of Georgia and is sending top staff there.
Let me tell you a story, based on probabilities and guessing.
It is a week after the election, Nov 10th 2020 and most of the election results are in- polling places closed last week and the absentee and mail-in ballots have all been tallied. Biden has won both the popular vote and the electoral college by a comforting 65 points beyond the 270 needed. It is unclear whether Trump will respect the win, and at this point he has not yet conceded. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Joni Ernst of Iowa were all able to hold onto their incumbencies for the Republicans, by tight margins. Political novice Tommy Tuberville forced out Democratic incumbent Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama to raise the bar for flipping the Senate to 4 seats.
The Democrats did well in Colorado and North Carolina Senate races, wrestling seats from incumbents. And former Montana Governor Steve Bullock took the Republican seat from Steve Daines. Georgia repeated its primary fiasco and incumbent David Purdue eeked out a <1% victory over Democrat Ossoff, in an election mired in too few polling stations and the deeply suspicious purging of the voting roles of over 100K voters, mostly in the Atlanta metro region and thus disproportionately impacting POC voters.
As it looks today (Nov 10th) the Democrats have picked up 3 Republican seats in the Senate, bringing the final tally to 49 Democratic Senators and 50 Republicans. The 100th seat and the determination of which party controls the Senate is on the shoulders of the Georgia special election, which is actually a top two primary also known as a Nonpartisan blanket Primary. In this free for all fight, with candidates going after members of their own party as well as the opposing one, Rev Raphael Warnock lost to incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler by 2 points, despite Loefflers insider trading scandal.
But Loeffler’s narrow lead does not matter. What matters is that Loeffler and Warnock were the top two vote getters and thus will runoff against each other on January 5th 2021, which is two days after the new Senate is scheduled to be sworn in.
In this possible future, the result of this critical tie breaking race will not be known for 2 months after the general election These two candidates, who most people have never heard of before today (incumbent Loeffler was appointed just 5 months ago to finish the incomplete term of Johnny Isakson), will become the center of attention in a race which determines if Mitch McConnell can maintain legislative gridlock for two more years.
This is the future the Flip 2020 Project is working to change. We are seeking canvassers who are willing to travel to senate swing states and we also are looking for analysts, social media mavens, fundraisers, and networkers to work from home and with flexible hours. Help us get through this gridlock and take the senate from obstructionist Republicans.