Monday, December 5, 2022

BTRTN Midterms: Our Prediction for Georgia’s Senate Runoff Election

Tom with the BTRTN prediction for the Georgia Senate runoff tomorrow.

The Georgia Senate runoff election is not quite the “center of political universe” event that it was in January, 2021 (when there were two of them).  It lost that special luster when Catherine Cortez Masto eked out a win in Nevada, thereby giving the Democrats their 50th seat thus maintaining control of the Senate.  But it is still a highly consequential race.  With all 505 Senate, House and gubernatorial races now complete (California’s 13th House district was finally called by AP just a few days ago), we end up once again in Georgia.  To end the suspense, let’s get to our prediction:

Our official BTRTN prediction for the Georgia Senate runoff is that Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock will defeat GOP challenger Herschel Walker by a 51.5% to 48.5% margin. 

POST-ELECTION UPDATE:  Warnock did indeed win, and with 99% of the vote in, his margin is 51.4% to 48.6%, which is about as close to our prediction as one might reasonable hope to get.

The race is still important because of three factors.  The first is committee assignments; if the Democrats get a clear majority of 51 seats, they will have a majority on each committee as well, which is not true today.  This will enable the Dems to bring legislation to the floor faster, including judicial appointments.  The second is that the extra vote is a cushion against Joe Manchin and Kristyn Sinema, should either seek to block passage of otherwise party lines votes on a piece of legislation or a judicial appointment.  This would also allow Manchin to vote against the party on some issues which might actually help him get reelected in 2024 in deep red West Virginia, which the Democrats surely want.  And that brings us to the third reason: the Democrats are facing a tough Senate electoral map in 2024, so the more seats they hold now, the better their chances of holding the Senate again in 2024.

The rationale for the Warnock-win prediction is pretty straightforward; virtually all of the factors one would typically assess are leaning in Warnock's direction:

·        Warnock “beat” Walker in the regular election four weeks ago by a 49.4% to 48.5% margin, by about 38,000 votes (just a reminder here that this race went to runoff because neither candidate achieved 50% of the vote, as required by Georgia law).

·        The remaining 81,000 votes (out of roughly 3.9 million cast) went to Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver, which amounts to 2.1% of the vote.  While Libertarian supporters might typically be more likely to gravitate to the GOP candidate in the runoff, in this instance, given Walker’s obvious defects, it is more likely that many of them were Republicans who voted for Oliver as an alternative to Walker.  Those folks will be far less likely to bother to show up at all without another GOP candidate on the ballot to motivate them.  It seems incongruous that they would go back and vote for either Walker or Warnock.  They’ll just sit it out. 

·       The argument the Walker campaign used before November’s Election Day was that Walker’s election was crucial to stopping the Biden agenda by flipping the Senate to GOP control.  With the Democrats already winning the Senate, that argument has been undercut.  A material portion of Republicans may have held their noses and voted for Walker to stop Biden in November.  But finding a reason to vote for Walker in December is clearly going to be more difficult, in large part because Walker is such a hideous candidate, with more baggage than Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on a Thanksgiving travel day.  Why go to the voting booth when the Senate is no longer on the line and there are no other Republicans to vote for?  Thus Walker faces erosion even from the 1.9 million that voted for him before.  (Warnock could face erosion, too, but his support seems to be personal as well as partisan.) 

·        The polls seem conclusive, if still close. There have been seven runoff polls and all seven have favored Warnock, all within a tight range of +2 to +5.  In all but one of those polls Warnock reached the 50% threshold, meaning there were very few “undecideds.” 

·        Speaking of Thanksgiving, Walker did something that was unfathomable – he took the entire holiday weekend, five full days, off from campaigning.  The runoff is occurring only four weeks after Election Day, a measure passed after the 2021 runoff by the Republican controlled Georgia legislature.  They thought they would benefit from the compressed schedule, but if your candidate is going to take 20% of the compressed time off, that tends to defeat the purpose.  The languid pace did not stop there.  Walker did exactly one event over the last weekend of the campaign.  Warnock did six. 

·        It’s not like Walker can count on deep pockets to counter the effect of abandoning retail politics – Warnock has outraised him and outspent him on advertising, by a wide margin.  As of mid-November, Warnock has $30 million cash on hand, dwarfing Walker’s $10 million. 

·        The early voting metrics appear to favor Warnock.  The highest turnout levels are in areas of Democratic strength.  

·        One of our rules is, in a very close election, go with the incumbent.  Incumbents tend to get the benefit of the doubt from those making last minute decisions.  We wish we had followed our own rule when we predicted Nevada last month, and stuck with Catherine Cortez Masto.  Had we done so, we would have swept all 35 Senate races without a blemish.  Warnock is the incumbent here, and this race, right now, is not as close as Nevada.

From this vantage point, we believe tomorrow will be the last day of Hershel Walker’s political career.

Just in case you are a first-time reader, here are a few interesting links for you:

·        How we did in our Election Day predictions (spoiler alert:  quite well):

 ·      Our predictions for the Georgia January, 2021 runoffs (we picked the Dems to win both):

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  1. One other factor worth consideration: In the regular election, Kemp vs. Abrams was on the ballot and it appears clear that the pro-Kemp, anti-Abrams vote substantially outperformed the Senate results. Perhaps many came to the polls to vote against Abrams or for Kemp and while there, voted Republican as well. There is no pro-Kemp, anti-Abrams incentive to come to the polls in the runoff.

    1. Yes, Rich, that is an excellent point. The fact there is no other GOP candidate to drag Walker along is going to hurt him.

  2. Hershal Walker had a political career?

  3. Two other elements
    * Warnock has had substantial outside help from volunteers among party stalwarts and activists, working phones, texts, and cards to Georgia voters. If Walker has gotten any such help, it's been kept out of the nonpartisan press I read. And that push seems likely to relate to the 78,000 voters among the run-off who did NOT vote in November's election.

    * Walker and Trump have gotten a variety of "bad" press over the past 4 weeks. Walker's vampire vs. werewolf speech, a former sexual liaison going public with more tales of violence, his "erection" gaffe, his babbling about status of "the House" (and others I'm forgetting, probably) do not inspire voter participation. Trump's announcement as a candidate for 2024 was flat. His low-key and remote presence in the run-off isn't likely to stir voters. The continuing bad news on various legal fronts is likely to stimulate more negative partisanship among Democrats and increase reasons for Republicans to reject Trump's proxy, Walker.

  4. My wife and I voted early for Warnock and so have almost all of my neighbors, love living on a small blue island here in Thomasville, GA. Appreciate your post today, it helps calm the nerves a bit to see others believe that we aren't going to spend the next 6 years hearing about werewolves.

  5. You were pretty accurate, thanks!


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