Political prediction is mostly a fool’s errand, but I can’t ever resist. Fortunately, I was fairly accurate leading up to the 2020 general election—I got 49 out of 50 states right, only missing North Carolina. I suggested Biden would pull it off in Georgia by a razor-thin margin, and that proved true. I was as surprised as anyone by Sara Gideon and Cal Cunningham losing their Senate races, so I could be just as wrong here. But I think Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are going to win tomorrow. And while community organizers like Stacey Abrams—and a pair of well-run campaigns—will deserve so much of the credit, President Donald J. Trump will deserve a huge helping of the blame.
First, let’s look at the race. Both Ossoff and Warnock started the run-off cycle on Nov. 5 with big disadvantages. Sen. Perdue garnered 88,098 more votes than his 33-year-old challenger whose main political experience (besides interning for the legendary Rep. John Lewis and serving five years on the staff of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson) was losing an expensive and high-profile congressional race.
Warnock won the special election “jungle primary” with 33% of the vote, but Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her fellow Republican candidates received a larger share than all the Democratic candidates put together. And Georgia Republicans have been known to return to the polls in run-offs in greater numbers than their Democratic counterparts in recent history. Plus early polls showed Perdue and Loeffler with leads.
Those advantages have evaporated. Recent polling shows a much more mixed picture with Ossoff and Warnock doing better among likely voters on average—with the trends definitely leaning in the Democrats’ favor. We’ve all come to distrust polling, though, so let’s look at early voting.
More than 3 million Georgians have already cast their ballots for tomorrow’s run-off election, making it a very different kind of run-off than the state is used to. With the balance of power in the Senate up for grabs, all eyes have been on Georgia. As a resident of the state, I can attest that it would be impossible for a registered voter not to know about this race. Driving through any part of DeKalb county, there are signs for both candidates, reminders to vote, admonitions on signs of Black churches that “Your ancestors couldn’t vote, but you can.” Every member of my voting-age family has received multiple hand-written postcards and letters from well-meaning volunteers in a variety of other states. Minutes after getting back from early voting, we got to show off our voter stickers to one of the many door-knockers coming by urging us to the polls—another just came by as I was literally writing this article. You can’t turn on the TV or visit a website without a reminder that there are a pair of important Senate races happening tomorrow and don’t forget to vote!
The turnout numbers mean that you can throw out past run-off behavior in the state as any kind of predictor. But let’s look at the actual voting patterns—who has shown up so far and where those votes are happening. The day before the 2020 general election, the site GeorgiaVotes.com showed that early voters were 56.8% White and 27.7% Black. For the run-off election, those numbers are 55.7% White and 30.9% Black. The only good news for Republicans is that the electorate is a good bit older for the run-off. If the incumbents are to survive this challenge, youth voters not showing back up might be the reason. But even the age numbers show promise for the Democrats as 18-29-year-olds make up the largest group of early voters who didn’t vote in the general election—over 35,000 young Georgians cast their first vote (or first vote in a while), thanks in part to a push to register voters who turned 18 since November.
If demographics show promise, geography paints an even rosier picture for the Dems. No county has had a turnout quite equalling what we saw in 2020, but 29 of the state’s 159 counties have seen more than 80% cast an early ballot. Those include half of the 30 counties Biden carried in the general, including two populous metro Atlanta counties DeKalb (83% of 2020 early voting) and Clayton (85% of 2020 early voting). Fulton, Georgia’s largest county, just misses that cut-off with 79.8% of early voting, but that accounts for a whopping 364,598 votes.
Trump won 129 counties, and while many of his votes came on election day, early voting in those counties shows a dip in enthusiasm among the rural white voting block he managed to bring out the last three election cycles. Twenty-five counties have seen their early turnout drop below 70% of their November 2020 early voting. Every single one went for Trump.
Still, Georgia is a state with more split-ticket voting than average with plenty of suburban voters pulling the lever for Biden along with down-ballot Republicans. I won’t be completely shocked if Senator Perdue manages to keep his seat (I’ll be more surprised if Loeffler holds off Warnock). But all the momentum feels like it’s with the Democrats right now, and they have Trump to thank.
Instead of campaigning on the idea of keeping Biden and Pelosi in check, our states’ two Senators have had to prove their loyalty to Trump in ways that can’t be attractive to those Biden voters who usually lean Republican. Loeffler first had to tack right in the primaries to fend off Trump lackey Rep. Doug Collins. And since Trump has spent most of his time since Nov. 4 trying to sabotage our Democracy and get Republicans to commit election fraud, she’s has had to throw the Gov. Brian Kemp—who stood up to Trump by appointing her—under the Trump post-campaign bus.
Perdue, who mostly flew under the political radar as a bland pro-business politician yesterday encouraged his fellow Senators to object to a democratically chosen slate of electors—including those assigned by Georgia voters. All of their actions have only undermined Trump voters’ belief that the system is fair. And why would you take part in a rigged system?
If the Republicans lose the Senate tomorrow, Trump will blame Georgia’s Republican leaders like Kemp and Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger. He’ll blame Sen. Mitch McConnell for not fighting for him hard enough. He’ll blame everyone who has ever slighted him or failed to bow down and kiss his ring. It’s what he does. But Republicans who see how much Trump has hurt the party should take that opportunity, without mincing words, to throw the blame back in Trump’s face. Because to save the party, they’ll need to minimize his influence. And because, more than anywhere else, that’s truly where the blame will lie.