Georgia GOP Senate Runoff Pits D.C. 'Outsider' Against Longtime Congressman

Last month, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) won a tricky runoff game against his opponent, Tea Party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Instead of only campaigning to bring out his loyal voters, Cochran also reached across party lines to convince African-American Democrats to vote for him against McDaniel.

In an open election, anyone can vote for either party in the primary. What’s more, those who didn’t vote in the original primary can still vote for either party in the case of a runoff. McDaniel alleges that several thousand votes will be discovered illegal upon review – as those who voted Democrat in the original primary cannot vote in the Republican runoff. But for now the tactic seems to have worked.

While we haven’t seen this kind of campaigning in Georgia, there’s nothing against Democratic voters coming out anyway. Nor is there anything saying many voters will come out at all. Midterm elections garner significantly less turnout than years with a presidential election, and primaries glean fewer voters than that. But a primary runoff in a midterm year? It doesn’t seem likely that many will show up beyond the core constituents.

But what should trouble Republicans about this open primary is that Democrats might cross party lines legally and vote for the candidate they feel will fare poorest against their own in the general election. Could this have been why Perdue held more votes in the primary but came up short in most of the polls taken since?

This year could be different

For the most part, Georgia has been a tried and true conservative state. Even recent Democrats to hold office, like former governor and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, have held “Southern Democrat” status. But there’s also a very tight voting history between Republicans and Democrats in Georgia. With Nunn up to bat this year, the general election could give the GOP candidate a real run for his money.

Still, Republicans on average are more enthusiastic to vote this year, which makes sense as Republicans are counting on states like Georgia to help turn the tide in the Senate.

Not over till it’s over

The final debate between the two candidates was particularly nasty and pointed. Perdue brought up the campaign funds scandal that shook the Kingston camp last month – of which Kingston again denied knowledge. Perdue further glorified the notion of his own “outsider” status.

“You live inside a gate inside a gated community with a gate on your house.” Kingston accused Perdue. “I think being a public servant is being public and knowing how to serve.”

“The decision in this race is very simple.” Perdue retorted. “If you like what is going on in Washington, then vote for my opponent."

The GOP race toward the general election has been a particularly long one, running a full 90 days – much longer than previous Georgia runoffs. The polls have tipped both ways, and the mudslinging has been constant. With less than a week before Election Day, the candidates have little time left to pull ahead.

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)