The reduced runoff period came about after an election cycle where Republican Sen. David Perdue led Democrat Jon Ossoff 49.7-47.9 in November’s election. Perdue did not quite take the majority of the vote he’d need to win outright under state law, though, and Ossoff defeated him 50.6-49.4 in January. Republican candidates running in the fall’s special election all-party primary also outpaced the combined Democratic vote 49-48, but Democrat Raphael Warnock beat appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler 51-49 earlier this year.
Perdue was pissed how things turned out. Last month the former senator ranted that “[m]ore than 52% of Georgians rejected my opponent and the liberal Democrat agenda” in November without bothering to mention the majority that voted for Ossoff two months later. Perdue also suggested that the runoff itself was unfair, carping that Ossoff and Warnock “do not fairly represent most Georgians.”
Perdue’s complaints about the election process were particularly rich coming from a Republican, since it was Republican lawmakers themselves who in 2005 reinstated the runoff law that would force him into a second round. Republicans knew that Black voters—who disproportionately favor Democrats—tend to turn out at lower rates whenever there’s a second round of voting, a pattern that held true in every statewide runoff from 2006 to 2018.
However, legislative Republicans did not take Perdue’s griping, or their loss in January’s overtime elections, as an invitation to get rid of the general election runoff and require that candidates only win a plurality of the vote in November, which is the law in almost all other states. Instead, Team Red seems to have decided it will benefit them more to keep that second round and hope that the shortened calendar will harm Democrats. They may very well have the chance to test this theory out next year when Warnock will be up for a full term.
The move to change the special election system, meanwhile, comes a little more than a year after a different drive to do away with it collapsed amid GOP infighting. In January of 2020, Republican Rep. Doug Collins announced that he would challenge Loeffler in that November’s all-party primary. Just before that declaration, though, a state House committee overwhelmingly advanced a bill that would have required a partisan primary in May and a general election in November.
Collins’ Republican allies backed the push believing that an earlier race against Loeffler would benefit the congressman, a Trump ally who initially had far more name-recognition than Loeffler. Democrats also supported it believing that, with Warnock and several Democrats already running, it would be all but impossible for one of their candidates to secure the majority of the vote they’d need to avoid a second round of voting. There was also a chance that a multi-way split on the left could also lead to the nightmare scenario of both Loeffler and Collins advancing to what would be an all-GOP runoff.
However, Kemp liked the status quo just fine last year and threatened to veto any measure that would change the rules of the 2020 special Senate race. Ultimately, the bill never even reached Kemp’s desk, and Loeffler and Collins were left to keep fighting it out until November. That scenario likely benefited the deep-pocketed Loeffler, who now had several more months to enjoy the benefits of incumbency and run ads promoting herself and attacking Collins.
It’s impossible to know if Republicans would have kept that Senate seat if they’d switched to a primary system a year ago, but they sure didn’t win the special election that took place. While polls taken as recently as mid-September found that an all-GOP runoff was a possibility, Warnock vaulted to first place as he got his name out during the fall. Loeffler and Collins, meanwhile, both tacked hard to the right as they spent months and months fighting it out. Warnock ended up securing first place with 33%, while Loeffler beat out Collins 26-20; Warnock then went on to beat Loeffler in January.
Both Loeffler and Collins are considering taking on Warnock in 2022 for a full six year-term, a contest that will take place using the state’s regular primary system.
● MO-Sen: Wealthy businessman John Brunner on Thursday finally directly acknowledged that he was considering seeking the Republican nomination for this open Senate seat. Brunner unsuccessfully campaigned for Senate in 2012 and for governor in 2016, which gives him the dubious distinction of taking second place in primaries against two of the most notorious names in Missouri politics: former Rep. Todd Akin and ex-Gov. Eric Greitens.
Greitens is currently running in the Senate primary, and there’s absolutely no love lost between him and Brunner. In 2015, Greitens angrily called his rival to complain about a campaign website that had been linked to former Brunner aide. “Oh, John Brunner, oh my God, you are such a weasel! Are you going to meet tomorrow or not?” demanded Greitens, an ex-Navy SEAL, ominously warning his rival: “I can’t wait to see you in person, John. I want to look in your eyes!” Unbeknownst to Greitens, though, the conversation was recorded and later became public.
Things didn’t get any better between the two over the next several months. Days after losing to Greitens in the primary, Brunner tweeted, “I now believe erroneous, and retract, any statements that a contributor to the Greitens campaign was the owner of a teenage sex slave.” You can find the backstory here.
● NC-Sen: Democrat Rett Newton, the mayor of the small coastal community of Beaufort (pop. 4,300) told the Carteret County News-Times Thursday that he would run for the Senate. Newton, who is a retired Air Force colonel, said he was motivated by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
● MA-Gov: Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey has continued to fuel speculation about her 2022 plans in recent weeks as she’s adopted an increasingly public profile, and she did not rule out a potential bid against Republican Gov. Charlie Baker when given the chance.
On Wednesday, in the midst of what Spectrum News 1 characterized as “eight campaign-style stops” around Worcester to address pandemic-related topics, the channel directly asked Healey if she was thinking about taking on Baker. Healey notably avoided answering and instead said that the day’s “schedule is like the normal schedule I have as Attorney General, whenever I’m out and about.”
The following day, Healey attracted more attention when she took to Twitter to take the Baker administration to task for continuing to employ a consulting company that Healey said had advised “opioid companies how to ‘turbocharge’ opioid sales to increase profits.” Boston.com called her message an “unusually direct rebuke” against Baker, who has not yet said if he’ll run for a third term in 2022.
If Healey ran for governor, she would almost certainly start the primary as the most-high profile contender in the race: Healey won re-election in 2018 by a 70-30 margin, and she has nearly $3 million on-hand in her state account. Healey would be both the first woman elected to lead Massachusetts (Republican Jane Swift ascended to this office in 2001 but never sought election in her own right), as well as the Bay State’s first LGBTQ governor.
● VA-Gov: Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe earned an endorsement Friday from Rep. Elaine Luria in his June primary campaign for his old job. Luria is the first member of Virginia’s Democratic congressional delegation to take sides in the contest.
● MD-01: Former Democratic state Sen. James Brochin recently told Maryland Matters’ Josh Kurtz that he was considering a run against Republican Rep. Andy Harris. Brochin also said he might instead launch another campaign for Baltimore County executive if incumbent Johnny Olszewski, who beat him in the 2018 primary by 17 votes, runs for governor.
Brochin, whom Kurtz characterized as a “conservative anti-machine Democrat,” may not want to run for Congress no matter what Olszewski ends up doing, though. The former state senator said he wasn’t sure he wanted to be on the ballot next year, and that it might be better if Harris instead faces a primary challenge from Harford County Executive Barry Glassman or state Sen. J.B. Jennings. Glassman has been talking about running against Harris, whom he blasted earlier this year for helping foment the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, while this is the first time we’ve heard Jennings mentioned.
Brochin also noted that former Del. Heather Mizeur is running for the Democratic nomination, and argued that, while she’d be hard to defeat in a primary, she’d struggle in a general election. Brochin is right that any Democrat would be an extreme long shot in the current version of this seat, which backed Donald Trump 59-39 last year, but the seat could look very different after the Democratic-dominated state legislature completes the redistricting process.