Temperature Check: Georgia

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There are two heavyweight matchups shaping up in Georgia this year, with the governor’s mansion and the Senate seat both on the ballot. In the former, Stacey Abrams looks to set to take on one of Brian Kemp or David Perdue in what might be the most expensive gubernatorial election in a generation. And in the latter, Raphael Warnock will face off against Herschel Walker in what may very well become the most expensive midterm Senate election of all time.

In the race for the governor’s mansion, much of the oxygen is being taken up by the vicious primary between Brian Kemp and David Perdue, and the race is mainly centered around Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Perdue, who lost the runoff for his Senate seat to Democrat Jon Ossoff in January, has been enthusiastically endorsed by Trump and has repeatedly echoed the former president’s baseless allegations of voter fraud as a cudgel against Brian Kemp. However, in a trend that is beginning to be mirrored nationally, these attacks are not making a sizable dent in the race; while initial polling upon Perdue’s entry showed a dead heat, recent polling implies that Kemp is beginning to pull away, with the incumbent governor enjoying an 11-point (50-39) lead in a recent Fox News poll.

Trump has rallied for Perdue in response, aiming to resurrect his flagging candidacy; however, whether these rallies actually have an impact is yet to to be seen. If campaign finance is any indication, Perdue may be in even more trouble, with the former senator struggling to raise cash, with just $1.1M cash-on-hand as compared to Brian Kemp’s $12.7M as of January. With the incumbent governor enjoying a sizable advantage in both polling and money, we rate this primary as Lean Kemp; primaries are volatile and Perdue can certainly mount a comeback, but it is increasingly difficult to make an argument that he is on equal footing here.

This would likely come as a welcome relief to Republicans aiming to hold the state; recent polls suggest that Kemp would do around three points better than Perdue against Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams. While we hold this race at a Tossup at the moment, if we were forced to pick a favorite in a Kemp-vs-Abrams matchup, we would probably pick Brian Kemp, whereas Abrams might have the slightest of edges against Perdue.

On the Senate side, Herschel Walker continues to cement his stance as a prohibitive favorite in the Republican primary, with the Trump-endorsed former football superstar taking a massive lead in polling and fundraising and consolidating endorsements from all around the Republican establishment. In response, primary challenger Gary Black, the state’s agricultural commissioner, is trying a last-ditch effort to block Walker from the nomination by going extremely negative on him, arguing that his scandals are significant enough to sink Republican chances once Democrats go negative on him.

While Republican polling shows that Walker’s support does take a serious hit once voters are made aware of his domestic violence baggage, Black is extremely far behind in cash, endorsements, and polling; his best hope is to push Walker to below 50%, triggering a runoff, but even that is still far more unlikely than not at the moment given Walker’s widespread GOP support. For this reason, we have the primary rated as Safe Walker at the moment.

We previously had this race rated at Lean Democratic in late December for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Herschel Walker has been dogged by a host of problematic scandals, including financial fraud and domestic abuse, including allegations that he threatened his ex-girlfriend’s life. Secondly, at the time of the rating, polling pointed to a Warnock lead; a nonpartisan Redfield & Wilton poll found Warnock up by 6, while a Republican internal from the NRSC only had Walker up by 1. Lastly, President Biden’s net approval was at -6.6 on December 15, two days after we released our ratings; while he was not above water, it was still high enough, in our opinion, to tilt the race towards Warnock given the other dynamics at play in the race.

In the time since the rating was released, however, two things have happened. Firstly, President Biden’s net approval has plummeted to a new low of -11.9 on FiveThirtyEight, which implies that the national environment has likely gotten a bit worse for Democrats as a result. Given that Warnock only won his first election by two percent, however, every point of slippage is critical in a state this close. Secondly, polling has since pointed to a significantly tighter race; Walker has led every poll in FiveThirtyEight’s tracker since the turn of the year, though generally by the barest of margins and with enough undecideds for either side to credibly argue that they would win.

Warnock continues to enjoy a huge fundraising advantage, and with Walker’s well-documented scandals, it is not at all unreasonable to think that a candidate like Warnock might pull away as campaign season kicks in to full gear, regardless of the environment, especially given that the Republican primary may become more contentious. But with President Biden’s approvals mired in the low 40s and with candidate quality mattering less and less over time, it is also plausible to think that a wave scenario may see a candidate like Walker swept into office simply due to voter disaffection with the Democratic Party. Which one of these scenarios materializes will likely become clearer as the election nears; however, for now, we are shifting this race to a Tossup.

Our expectation is that Warnock will run a couple points ahead of Abrams on margin. This is borne out by polling; in every single poll, Warnock polls a point or two better against Herschel Walker than Stacey Abrams does against Brian Kemp. In an unusual turn for a state this inelastic, it is now quite easy to imagine a split in which Warnock and Kemp both win; in fact, if forced to make a choice, this would probably be the outcome that we see as the most likely at the moment.

Georgia is a state that is rapidly shifting towards the Democratic Party; with lots of college-educated White voters and a large Black voting base, the trends in this state are perhaps among the most favorable ones for Democrats; in fact, it has gotten bluer by margin in every election cycle since 2010. But while the long-term picture is still unchanged in our eyes, the short-term one is quite unclear. With a deeply unpopular president in office, 2022 is shaping up to be a cycle that likely tests the recent trends in this state to a previously unseen degree.

I’m a software engineer and a computer scientist (UC Berkeley class of 2019 BA, class of 2020 MS) who has an interest in machine learning, politics, and electoral data. I’m a partner at Split Ticket, handle our Senate races, and make many kinds of electoral models.