As you might already know, both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot next November.
But questions about who Gov. Brian Kemp will pick to replace Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson on the ballot in 2020 (and, if successful, the governor’s reelection campaign in 2022) has created an unending cascade of speculation and game theory about who will mount campaigns for the elected offices.
One contest will have the winner of a Democratic primary contest facing Republican Sen. David Perdue. The other will be a “jungle” style special election, where all candidates appear on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters – regardless of party – go to a runoff if no candidate gets above 50% of the vote.
What’s at stake
Both Republicans and Democrats have an increased interest in capturing these seats, as the road to control of the Senate appears to take a detour through Georgia. The Republican Senate majority is currently 53-47, and Democrats would need to win only three seats if they win the presidency and the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote.
Historically speaking, the “double-barrel” Senate races end up with the same party winning both seats. In 2018, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota won her third term, and recently-appointed Democratic Sen. Tina Smith won the race to serve out the rest of Sen. Al Franken’s term after he resigned due to allegations of sexual harassment.
According to the University of Virginia Center for Politics, there have been 55 instances where both senators have been on the ballot at the same time and only eight of them have resulted in a split ticket.
The last instance was in 1966, when newly-Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina won reelection while former Democratic Gov. Ernest Hollings captured the seat opened up by Democratic Sen. Olin Johnston’s death.
So who is running for what seat, when? This story will be updated as more information is known. For now, here’s what we have:
The original contest
Perdue is up for reelection in 2020. He was elected for his first term in 2014 and this seat was always going to be on the ballot, so let’s call this race Georgia Senate #1. Perdue launched a two-minute campaign video previewing a stump speech focused on the economy and “stopping socialism.”
On the Democratic side, former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson officially launched her campaign in the beginning of May. The one-time Republican touted her record as mayor and said she would bring “smart, pragmatic, effective government” to Washington.
At the end of July, current Clarkston mayor Ted Terry announced he would join the Democratic primary and “bring courage back to Washington.” He has pushed a number of progressive policies in Clarkston, such as a $15 minimum wage for city employees and a push to have the city run on 100% clean energy by 2050.
At the end of August, former Lt. Gov. nominee Sarah Riggs Amico launched her campaign centered around “faith” and a promise to renew voters’ faith in elected officials. The car-hauling executive pointed to her business experience and her statewide run for office last year as reasons she could win the nomination and defeat Perdue.
On Sept. 10, Jon Ossoff became the fourth Democrat to mount a campaign for Senate. The one-time Congressional candidate and investigative documentary filmmaker said he wants to root out corruption in Washington.
A new challenger approaches
All three candidates say they are staying in the race against Perdue, in light of Georgia Senate #2 coming into play. Isakson is resigning from office at the end of 2019 due to health concerns, so Kemp will have to appoint a replacement.
State law dictates that person will hold the seat until a special election occurs during the next-planned statewide election, which happens to be… November 2020.
The special election is often known as a “jungle primary.” All candidates of all parties who qualify for the race appear on the same ballot, and the top-two vote-getters regardless of party advance to a runoff if nobody gets above 50%.
The winner of that race will hold office until the regularly-scheduled election for that seat in 2022, a gubernatorial election year.
Several Republican names have been floated as potential appointees, though Kemp has not yet indicated a timeline or a framework for his selection. Current Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is a former Isakson staffer and married to his current chief of staff.
Some have floated Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville), one of President Trump’s staunchest defenders in the U.S. House, who represents a safely-conservative stretch of northeast Georgia. Others have conjectured that former 6th Congressional District Rep. Karen Handel, who is running to regain her seat from freshman Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Roswell), could be a viable choice to meet the fundraising and campaigning needs of two statewide elections in two years.
That’s caused numerous politics-watchers to speculate about the Democratic challengers that could emerge, including McBath. The wide-open nature of the election could bring more moderate Democrats to the stage.
One candidate not running for either race? Democrat Stacey Abrams, whose unsuccessful 2018 campaign for governor came expanded the electorate and helped contribute to record-breaking turnout across the state.
Abrams is working on her voter protection group Fair Fight Action and plans to work in Georgia (and 20 other states) to support Democrats running for office and fight for “free, fair and secure elections in 2020.”