ATLANTA — It’s likely but it’s not certain there will be a January runoff after the votes get counted Tuesday in the two US Senate races.
The so-called jungle primary requires a majority vote for the winner – not easy with 20 names on the ballot.
The math and conventional wisdom says a January runoff is likely but Raphael Warnock’s backers are crossing their fingers hoping Democratic voters will give him a 50% plus one majority in the race. That would avoid a runoff.
Warnock is the Democrat who has won funding and support from the Democratic establishment. He tops all the polls in the US Senate special election.
He faces two major Republicans – Senator Kelly Loeffler and Congressman Doug Collins. They have spent much of the year badmouthing each other in an effort to get into the runoff with Warnock – much to the consternation of the state Republican chairman.
"I would prefer that they both talk more about their strengths than the other’s weaknesses," said former state Sen. David Shafer Tuesday, now chairman of the state GOP. "But in the end, it’s going to boil down to one Republican and one Democrat. And we will be successful in that runoff election."
Shafer knows the history. In a 2017 special election jungle primary for Georgia's sixth congressional district, the ballot had 18 candidates. Democrat Jon Ossoff almost won it outright – getting 48.12 percent of the vote. Republican Karen Handel finished a distant second at 19.7, but made the runoff with Ossoff.
In that runoff, Handel won with 51.8 while Ossoff’s plurality stayed about the same at 48.22 percent.
That race shows it would a tall order for Warnock to win the primary outright —and why the Democrats might want to worry about a possible runoff.