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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Thanksgiving in Georgia?

One of the small but potentially important facts about this year’s election cycle is that Georgia requires general election candidates to receive 50%-plus-one of the vote, or the two two finishers must face off in a runoff four weeks after Election Day. With polls showing incumbent GOP Senator Saxby Chambliss in a very close race with Democrat Jim Martin, there’s already speculation in the Peach State that minor-party voting (mainly the Libertarians) could deny either candidate a majority, setting up a runoff for December 2.
From past experience in Lousiana, where post-general-election runoffs are very common, a December Georgia Senate runoff would attract vast amounts of unexpended party and campaign cash, not to mention the attentions of tens of thousands of staffers and volunteers who will be undergoing campaign withdrawal as of November 5. If the fate of Georgia’s seat happens to determine whether Democrats get a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate, then you could expect the runoff to be a huge deal in national politics, sort of a condensed reprise of the entire election cycle.
Georgia’s had one general-election runoff for a Senate seat in recent years: in 1992, when Republican Paul Coverdell knocked Democratic incumbent Wyche Fowler into a runoff, and then beat him as turnout declined by nearly half (the avoid-the-runoff threshold was soon lowered to 45% by a Democratic controlled state legislature, but was then restored to 50% after GOPers took over the statehouse).
The CW has always been the Republicans have a built-in advantage in stand-alone runoffs thanks to a more affluent and motivated voting base, and usually a sizable money advantage. That may not be the case this year, even in relatively conservative Georgia; the national resources available to a Democrat in such a scenario would certainly be formidable.
Jim Martin (a candidate virtually no one expected to be competitive as recently as a month ago) could save everybody a lot of trouble by beating Saxby Chambliss on November 4 with more than 50% of the vote. Martin has certainly earned a break: two years ago he planned a well-financed and -organized campaign for Lieutenant Governor on the assumption that he’d be facing Ralph Reed, and then Ralph screwed things up by losing his primary. But if both Martin and Chambliss fall a bit short, then hordes of political activists from both parties can start planning on spending Thanksgiving Weekend in Georgia.

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