There hasn't been a whole lot of talk around here during this cycle devoted to races other than the presidential race. [I don't think there are too many people that are complaining about this.] However, with the Senate race here in the Peach state heading for a December 2 runoff between incumbent Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin, I thought it appropriate to shift the focus to the one remaining high profile race anyone's campaigning for.
[It certainly isn't the only undetermined race at this point. There will be a recount in Minnesota's senate race and the Ted Stevens' situation in Alaska makes that one worth watching if only for more speculation about who would potentially fill his shoes if he were to win and be forced out of office. Sarah Palin, I'm looking in your direction. The former VP choice on the GOP side won't have direct appointment powers on a replacement because the two conflicting laws Alaska has on the books call for a special election within 90 days. However, what is not known is if the governor has the power to appoint someone on an interim basis for that period of time. We'll have to hold off on that speculation for now, but part one -- Stevens winning -- looks likely.]
But back to Georgia...
So what do we know about this race? I could tell you, but I better show you with a map first.
Sure, that doesn't tell you anything more than you already knew. Chambliss spent the evening of November 4 watching his percentage in the vote returns creep closer and closer to the 50% plus one vote mark that the candidates had to avoid in order to prevent a runoff. And the incumbent Republican missed it by .2%. That aside, though, Georgia likely won't become the center of the political universe for the next month since the Democrats won't get to 60 seats in the Senate, and unless the Minnesota recount overturns the apparent result -- and I can't think if a case where a recount led to a anyone other than the original projected winner winning -- then the best the Democrats can hope for is 59. And Ted Stevens will have something to say about that.
Like Al Franken in that recount in Minnesota, Jim Martin will have a difficult time getting over the hump in Georgia. But let's talk a little about where the former state senator will have to do well between now and December 2. The first thing we can do is look at where the race was close but favored Chambliss on Tuesday. But let's filter that through where Lt. Governor Mark Taylor did well in 2002. Why Mark Taylor and not Max Cleland? To start, Taylor won in 2002 when Cleland did not. But Taylor was also the last Democrat to win a statewide office this high. Where the former lt. governor did well six years ago -- in a Republican-leaning election -- would add quite a few more counties to the map, but when you factor in how well Martin did on Tuesday in some of those south Georgia counties, you only end up with a handful of additional areas to potentially target. If you look at the map below, those are the counties in white. And all of them share a border with a county that went for Martin (except Turner County which borders another potential target county, Ben Hill County).
Well, let's not leave that 2002 Cleland-Chambliss senate race out of the equation altogether. We can add one other layer to this by asking where Chambliss won on Tuesday that he did not six years ago. Again, we can add a few more counties to the list (the ones in gray above), but none of them, other than Seminole County in the far southwest corner of the state were within 13 points on Tuesday night. In other words, they just aren't viable targets for Martin.
The flip side of the coin on this is that there are also areas where Martin outperformed Cleland and could be vulnerable in the runoff. Oddly enough, there are six counties in this category (those in light blue) to counterbalance the six counties where Chambliss exceeded his own numbers from 2002. That is somewhat problematic for Martin and throws it back to those white counties. The problem there is that while there were seven close counties that favored Chambliss a couple of days ago, there were 18 close counties where Martin edged out the incumbent. And as we saw in the presidential race, if any momentum develops toward the end of the race, the potential that all the close areas break for the momentum-possessing candidate increases. By that measure, Martin clearly had some level of momentum on Tuesday; if only Obama's coattails.
But Martin won't have those coattails on December 2, but he will have to face the challenges described above as well as to overcome what is likely to be a rather significant drop in the turnout rate. The last time that there was a Senate runoff in Georgia under this 50% plus one vote law was the Wyche Fowler-Paul Coverdale race in 1992. Fowler, an incumbent Democrat, won the first round, but lost to Coverdale in the runoff when turnout decreased by 44.31%. Not only will Martin have to gain ground on an incumbent in some of the counties above (and likely more), but he'll have to get out the vote in a more efficient way than Saxby Chambliss. Paul Coverdale did come from behind, but for Martin, the state isn't trending toward the Democrats in 2008 the way it was moving toward the Republicans in 1992.
President-elect Obama could still be the wildcard here. But will the incentive be there to intervene without a 60th, filibuster-proof seat on the line?
Obama is the Unofficial Winner of North Carolina
More on North Carolina: UPDATE
What's the Matter with North Carolina?