4 possible Georgia election night outcomes and what they tell us about our current politics

A poll worker hands out stickers to voters after they cast their ballots at a precinct on election day in Atlanta, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Elections always tell a story, not just who wins and loses, but why voters choose the candidates they do and what that says about the electorate at that moment.   

After covering this election for a year, the WABE politics team unpacks four possible scenarios and what they would tell us about Georgia politics. 

Outcome possibility 1: Republicans win Senate and governor and hold every constitutional office down ballot

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaign would get a lot of credit for not only defeating a challenger backed by former President Donald Trump in the primary — David Perdue — but also beating a capable and well-funded rival in Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Kemp’s victory likely helped pull other GOP candidates over the finish line, propelling him into a second term with more political capital than ever before. 

A big night for the GOP would also show that Georgia remains a Republican-leaning state and Democrats’ wins in 2020 and the 2021 runoffs did not usher in the new era in Georgia politics that Democrats were hoping for. 

This also likely means that inflation, the economy and crime weighed more heavily for Georgia voters than abortion rights and Medicaid expansion. 

Of course, a deeper dive into the numbers would also tell us about the voters who helped deliver Kemp a second term. Have suburban women come back to the party? Is the GOP  making inroads with minority voters? Does Georgia’s GOP remain a party of rural voters?

Outcome possibility 2: The split ticket

In this scenario, Kemp wins the governor’s mansion and Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock wins the Senate race.

That would showcase the power of incumbents and illustrate that voters felt generally satisfied with those currently in office, even though they represent different political parties. 

It could also signal that individual candidates matter more than party affiliation for some voters and suggests that Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker was a flawed candidate with too much baggage for some voters.

A split ticket would also suggest that Georgia may have a lot more “independent” voters than pollsters predicted.  It’s not clear how down-ballot candidates would do in this scenario. Warnock could be the only Democrat to win — or Georgia could end up with a mixed bag of statewide officials. 

Outcome possibility 3: Abrams and Warnock win, Democrats prevail down ballot  

Georgia would make history by electing the first Black, female governor in the country.

Abrams’ victory would be the pinnacle of a decade-long project to turn Georgia blue after years of Republican rule. It would also solidify Georgia as a purple battleground and show how the state’s growing and diversifying population is accelerating Georgia’s tilt toward Democrats.

Despite gloomy prospects for Democrats nationwide and President Joe Biden’s struggling approval ratings, Abrams’ focus on abortion rights may have helped her campaign override at least some voters’ frustration with inflation and the high costs of groceries and gas. 

A Democratic sweep for statewide office would set up a divided government in Georgia, with Republicans likely to retain control of the state legislature, due in part to partisan gerrymandering. 

Oh, and again the polls were wrong and Black voter turnout was higher than expected. 

Outcome possibility 4: Runoffs

With Libertarians in the governor and Senate races, as well as other down-ballot contests, it’s possible no candidate gets 50% of the vote in some races. And that means runoffs for those offices.

This means Georgians need to vote again on Dec. 6, with early voting underway along with Thanksgiving holiday prep.

The shortened four-week runoff window is due to Georgia’s new election law, which shortened the time from nine weeks.

Polls suggest the tightest race is the U.S. Senate election. With an evenly-divided U.S. Senate and tossup races across the country, it’s possible control of the body could again come down to Georgia, as it did last cycle. 

If that happens, expect another flood of flyers, phone calls, texts and visits by high-profile politicians and celebrities — and Georgia solidifies its reputation as the center of the political universe.