Georgia got another Senate candidate Tuesday — a familiar face who’s running in the same race that several Democrats are already running for.
Jon Ossoff, who lost the most expensive special House election in U.S. history, is challenging Republican incumbent David Perdue.
Ossof had his choice of contests to jump into. With Georgia’s senior senator, Republican Johnny Isakson, resigning at the end of the year, the Peach State will have two Senate races on the 2020 ballot. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint Isakson’s replacement, who will then face an election next year to fill the remaining two years of Isakson’s term.
Several Democrats are already running to challenge Perdue next year, including former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, 2018 Georgia lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico and Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry. All of them decided to stay in the race against Perdue after Isakson announced his departure.
Ossoff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was preparing his campaign before Isakson made his announcement at the end of August.
“David Perdue is a caricature of Washington corruption,” Ossoff said in declaring his campaign.
Although running for an open seat can often be an easier bet, running against a sitting GOP senator with a voting record may be a more attractive gamble for ambitious Democrats than waiting to see whom Kemp appoints to the other seat.
Perdue has voted with the president 99 percent of the time Donald Trump has been in office, compared to 97 percent for the average Senate Republican, according to CQ Vote Watch.
The elections for the two seats will look slightly different, too. Candidates from all parties will run together for the Isakson seat in November 2020. The winner must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. The race for the Perdue seat will have regularly scheduled primaries.
The Perdue race could also be more attractive for Democratic candidates because it’s for a full six-year term. Running (and winning) the Isakson seat in 2020 would require running again two years later.
Ossoff entered the race with the backing of Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, and he had $426,000 left over in his congressional campaign account at the end of June. But he doesn’t necessarily clear the field. He also joins the ranks of losing 2018 House candidates who are running for Senate this cycle, such as Amy McGrath in Kentucky and MJ Hegar in Texas.
Even without knowing the candidates in the Isakson race, Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates both Georgia Senate races Lean Republican, especially since there’s a high correlation of results when a state hosts two Senate elections at the same time. In order to win the Senate, Democrats need a net gain of four seats or three if they win the White House.
Trump carried Georgia by 5 points in 2016. Demographic shifts are making the state competitive up and down the ballot, and it will likely be a battleground at the presidential, Senate and House levels next year.
Ossoff fell just short of winning the 6th District special election outright in April 2017. He took 48 percent of the vote in an 18-candidate field but failed to pass the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
After defeating Ossoff by about 4 points in the June 2017 runoff, Republican Karen Handel went on to lose the 6th District last fall to Democrat Lucy McBath, who’s now being mentioned as a candidate for Isakson’s Senate seat. GOP Rep. Rob Woodall, who had the closest election in 2018, isn’t running for reelection to the 7th District. Inside Elections rates the 6th District Tilts Democratic and the 7th District a Toss-up.
Ossoff may have lost the 2017 special election, but he was able to tap into an enormous grassroots fundraising base. Revealing his Senate plans on MSNBC on Monday night may have helped him tap into that same national liberal donor network.
But a frequent attack on him during the House campaign was that his support came from outside of the district. The nationalization of the race backfired on Democrats, who ended up losing the district by more than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.
It remains to be seen whether that grassroots network will still be there for Ossoff, who, at the time, represented Democrats’ best chance of sending a message to Trump. Since then, though, Democrats have won the House, and money next year will be spread out trying to help maintain their majority — and retake the Senate.
Ossoff has hired staff with experience in last year’s historic midterms. Ellen Foster, who managed New York Democrat Anthony Brindisi’s victory in the conservative upstate 22nd District, will manage the Georgia Democrat’s campaign.