Commentary: Georgia's Senate Race: Who'll Win?

Charlie Harper

Friday, September 6th, 2013

This is the question that I’m asked most frequently when people want to chat about Georgia politics:

Who’s going to win?

It doesn’t matter the race really. The question is almost the political equivalent of commenting on the weather. It is an entry into picking the brains of other politicos to compare notes and strategies for an upcoming campaign season.

And yet, for this election cycle in Georgia, it is the wrong question at this time.

In many of the Republican primary contests, there are multiple credible candidates. Seven are currently competing in the race for U.S. Senate. At least six have indicated they will run for Georgia’s 11th Congressional District, with four of them considered contenders. Georgia’s 10th and 1st Congressional Districts are also a bit of a jump ball, though one candidate who sought to replace Congressman Jack Kingston withdrew his name from consideration last week.

It should be noted that on the Democratic side, there are at least four who have announced their intention to run for Senate. Good luck getting a Democratic official to acknowledge this, however. Unlike the GOP, there does appear to be motivation for the party structure to assist in picking the eventual winner.

Prognostication this far from Election Day is difficult under normal circumstances in a crowded field. An added degree of difficulty has been thrown in, courtesy of a federal judge who moved Georgia’s primary dates in order to extend time for runoff elections where necessary.

The result will be Georgia’s earliest primary on record — May 20. The change also gives an unprecedented nine weeks for runoffs where necessary, with the runoff elections scheduled July 22. The effect is much more significant than adding six weeks to an extension of the runoff calendar.

A three-week runoff generally favored whoever had the momentum going into the primary election. After all, three weeks allows scarce time to raise additional funds, get endorsements of former opponents, integrate grass roots supporters into a campaign structure, cut new ads and produce new direct mail, and then get all of that in front of voters before they return to the polls.

An additional six weeks turns a nine-week runoff into an election that will be different than the primary campaign. This is time to hone issues much more suited to a head-to-head contest based on which two candidates have survived that long. This is time for a extra debates. And time for significant fundraising.

The element of money should never be discounted in political campaigns, and the extended runoff cycle will likely have an effect of depressing overall fundraising for the first part of this campaign.

Many contributors are likely to sit on their checkbooks until they have a 50-percent of making a prudent investment. In a seven-candidate race, there is no rush to bet early. There will be plenty of time to buy friendships during a nine-week runoff. So expect candidates to have difficulty raising money going forward for reasons other than the economy.

The Georgia Legislature is expected to move the dates for statewide elections to coincide with those for federal races, adding another fundraising wrinkle.

Statewide office-holders are prohibited from raising money when the legislature is in session. Thus, incumbents will be facing re-election with perhaps just eight weeks to raise money during 2014 before the first votes are cast.

While those in leadership will not likely be hurt, those down the seniority list will face an increasingly anti-incumbent electorate and have less time to raise money to promote their good deeds. The playing field may have just become a bit more level for those who are considering primary challenges.

The move of primary dates will have more of an effect on who Georgia chooses to nominate than a simple bit of timing. Those who invest money in campaigns have been given incentive to sit on the sidelines and slow play their decisions. The money will still show up, but many contributors won’t start writing checks until May 21. That’s the date when it is time to start asking the question, “Who’s going to win?”

Charlie Harper lives in Atlanta and edits the Peach Pundit political blog.

About Charlie Harper

Charlie Harper is a Marietta Georgia based conservative-leaning policy and political strategist.