Georgia's two Senate seats still up for grabs as David Perdue & Jon Ossoff await a January runoff

Control of the Senate could depend on who pulls ahead in this special election

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published November 6, 2020 11:22PM (EST)

David Perdue / Jon Ossoff (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
David Perdue / Jon Ossoff (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Georgia's highly competitive senatorial race between Republican David Perdue and his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff will now be decided in a special election as neither candidate cleared the state's needed threshold of 50% of the votes to claim victory.  Voting will take place on Jan. 5, 2021.

According to the Associated Press, Perdue netted 49.8% of the votes, while Ossoff tailed just slightly with 47.9%. Libertarian Shane Hazel — who served in the United States Marine Corps for eight years and hosts the "Radical" and "Rebellion" podcasts — consistently lagged behind in the polls, but pulled 2.3% of the vote. 

In 2014, Perdue defeated Democrat Michelle Nunn and Libertarian Amanda Swafford in the race to replace retiring incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss. Before entering politics, he served as the CEO of Reebok, Pillowtex and Dollar General.

Since 2013, Ossoff has served as the CEO of Insight TWI, a London-based media company; he has never held public office, but did run in the 2017 special election to represent Georgia's 6th Congressional District. He was defeated by Republican Karen Handel by a margin of approximately 3 points. 

Healthcare and pandemic response were two key issues in the race between Ossoff and Perdue; Ossoff accused the incumbent of caring more about his investments than pandemic safety. 

"Perhaps Senator Perdue would have been able to respond properly to the COVID-19 pandemic if you hadn't been fending off multiple federal investigations for insider trading," said Ossoff in an October debate, referencing probes into Perdue's stock trades. The senator's campaign says he has been cleared of wrongdoing. 

"It's that you're attacking the health of the people that you represent," Ossoff said.

Perdue was also criticized for racial insensitivity several times during the campaign. In July, his campaign removed an ad targeting Ossoff, who is Jewish, that appeared to have enlarged Ossoff's nose, after it was condemned as being anti-Semitic. In October, Perdue purposely mispronounced vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris' name at a rally.

Georgia was one of several red states that some political analysts predicted could flip blue with this election. 

As Emma Hurt of WABE, Atlanta's NPR affiliate, said in an Oct. 30 interview with "Morning Edition," the Atlanta area has grown a lot over the last decade, and the demographics of the surrounding state are changing. 

"We've had a lot of in-migration from other states. And a lot of this growth has been in communities of color," Hurt said. "Atlanta's majority minority, and Georgia is getting there. And then all these new people are being registered at unprecedented levels. There are about a million new registered voters this year compared to 2016." 

Additionally, the state saw increased mobilization from Democrats, who targeted suburban women and seniors, as the Washington Post reported on Nov. 1

Georgia's other senate seat was also up for grabs. 

It had been filled by Republican Kelly Loeffler — the former CEO of a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange and owner of the WNBA franchise, the Atlanta Dream — after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her to replace Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson who resigned at the end of last year, citing health reasons. 

Loeffler, who is an ardent Trump supporter and has been vocally critical of Black Lives Matter, advertised herself as being "more conservative than Attila the Hun." 

This year's special election featured an open field of 20 candidates, with the race narrowing down to three top contenders: incumbent Loeffler; Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican congressman bolstered by support from Trump and surrogates like Roger Stone; and Democrat Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. 

But after a close matchup, neither Warnock, who had nearly 32% of the vote, nor Loeffler, who had roughly 27% of the vote cleared the needed 50% threshold for victory in Georgia. The race is now also headed to a runoff. 

The outcomes of both of these races could have a major impact on the control of the Senate. As of Friday night, North Carolina and Alaska's Senate races haven't been called, but Republicans are projected to win in both, which would put Republicans at 50 Senate seats compared to the Democrats' current 48. 

But if Ossoff and Collins both managed to win their elections, the Senate would be at a 50-50 tie and — if Biden wins the presidency — Democrats would effectively take control given the vice president's power to cast tie-breaking votes.

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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David Perdue Elections Georgia Jon Ossoff Reporting Senate