Update: A new CNN/Opinion Research poll on Friday showed Democrat Michelle Nunn leading Republican David Perdue by three points in the Georgia Senate race, 47-44. That's within the margin of error, but it reinforces the increasing likelihood that this race could be headed for a runoff. With that in mind, we are re-posting our runoff primer from two weeks ago below, with updates.
Do you folks love the 2014 election?… Anybody?
Well, in case you do, good news! It might last a couple more months. That's because it's looking increasingly likely that the Georgia Senate race is headed for a runoff. And that runoff, as it happens, wouldn't even be decided in 2014. It would be decided on Jan. 6, 2015, just more than two months after Election Day. That's right, D.C. reporters — New Year's in Atlanta!
We wrote about this possibility back in April, and Gallup has broken down the party I.D. numbers in Georgia, determining that it's "likely" the state's Senate and gubernatorial races are headed for runoffs.
Even if that's true though, it might be academic, because a runoff in the Peach State has been as good as a GOP win for two decades.
We looked at the history of general election runoffs in Georgia, and while there aren't many to speak of (just five statewide since 1992), there is a clear pattern. And that pattern is that Republicans win -- and often quite easily.
Here's the recap (noting that "PSC" stands for public service commissioner -- a statewide elected position):
Since 1992, the GOP has improved its margin between Election Day and the runoff by an average of nine points. For example, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) faced a runoff in 2008, and after leading on Election Day by four points, he won by 14 in the runoff.
The Democrat in that race, Jim Martin, actually saw his overall share of the vote drop between the general election (46 percent) and the runoff (43 percent), despite the race boiling down to just two candidates. The same thing happened in three of the other four races too.
In fact, the only race in which the Democrat even increased his share of the vote between the general election and the two-candidate runoff -- not his margin, mind you, but his overall share of all the votes -- was the 1992 Senate race. In that race, Democrat Wyche Fowler went from 49.23 percent to 49.35 percent -- a massive improvement of 0.12 percent of the vote. Fowler, who led on the Election Day, lost the runoff by just more than a point to Republican Paul Coverdell.
In other words, if Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue go to a runoff, Nunn will be up against plenty of history.
(Update: A reader makes the very valid point that both 1992 and 2008 were presidential election years, in which the difference between Election Day turnout and runoff turnout would be bigger -- and potentially worse for Democrats -- given higher turnout in presidential elections. The 2014, election, meanwhile, is a midterm. For what it's worth, the lone midterm example-- the 2006 public service commissioner race -- fits the trend. But that's just one race.)
Could she actually pull it off? Well, maybe. Martin's fate aside, Fowler at least kept it close in the other high-profile Senate runoff, even as he wound up losing. And while Democrats generally lose runoffs because their voters don't turn out for runoffs as much as Republicans, a high-profile runoff -- potentially with control of the U.S. Senate at stake -- could drive more Democrats to the polls.
But it's unlikely the stakes would be quite that high. And even as Democrats think their ground game in Georgia is better and the state's demographics are more favorable than they have been in decades, we're still talking about a runoff in which the turnout questions would loom large -- particularly whether black voters from the Atlanta area would turn out en masse for Nunn, a moderate white Democrat.
And unlike previous runoffs, which have been held in early December and even late November, this one would be held just after New Year's Day. Jan. 6, quite simply, is a very difficult time to get casual voters to the polls.
But how likely is it that we'll come to that?
Nunn currently has a small edge in the most recent polls. In fact, the last four public polls have her up between one and three points -- a very competitive, margin-of-error race. The race goes to a runoff if no candidate gets to 50 percent plus one, and Nunn hasn't been above 47 percent in any poll.
But these polls also show between 5 and 9 percent of voters are undecided, so clearly there is room to get to 50 percent -- for either Perdue or Nunn.
The x-factor here is Libertarian Party candidate Amanda Swafford. Swafford doesn't have much of a campaign -- she raised less than $8,000 as of June 30 -- but she has taken part in debates and comes off as a serious candidate. In addition, libertarian candidates in Georgia get a pretty predictable 2 to 4 percent of the vote (a number that is consistent with where polls currently put Swafford).
That means if the margin between Perdue and Nunn is two to four points or less, we could very well see a runoff. As long as the Nunn-Perdue margin is less than Swafford's vote share, it's a runoff.
The average of all the polls right now, but the way, shows Nunn ahead by 0.9 points, according to Real Clear Politics. So we're right in that range.
So basically, if you're the Republicans, you love the runoff right now. It means that, for Nunn to win, she's probably got to get to 50 percent plus one on Election Day. Meanwhile, you can still trail narrowly on Election Day and, if she doesn't crack 50, probably be favored in the runoff. (The CNN poll shows Nunn ahead 51-47 in the runoff, but that's using the same sample as Election Day, which isn't really going to be the case.)
And given that this race could be pivotal for control of the Senate, that's a nice fall-back plan for the GOP -- and a potentially huge headache for Nunn and the Democrats.