In huge news for the battle for the Senate, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson announced Wednesday that he would resign from the chamber at the end of 2019 for health reasons. GOP Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement, and that person will need to defend the seat in a 2020 special election. The winner will be up for re-election again in 2022.
Georgia’s other Republican senator, David Perdue, will have to run for a full six-year term next year, and Democrats were already targeting him. A Democratic victory in one of the Peach State’s two seats would go a long way toward helping Team Blue turn its 53-47 deficit in the Senate into a majority, and it now has the tantalizing possibility of taking both. Georgia is still a tough state for Democrats, but it’s been moving to the left in recent years and will likely be fiercely contested in next year’s presidential campaign.
While both of Georgia’s Senate races will be on the 2020 ballot, they will operate by different rules. In the special election, which we’ll be referring to as GA-Sen-B from now on, there won’t be traditional party primaries. Instead, all the candidates will run together on one ballot on Nov. 3, and if no one takes a majority, the top-two vote-getters would compete in a Jan. 5 runoff (just like in the 2017 special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District). This means that it’s possible that two members of the same party could wind up competing against one another in January.
By contrast, in the regularly scheduled race to take on Perdue (which we’re calling GA-Sen-A), the parties will hold their primaries in May, and a runoff will take place in July if no one takes a majority of the vote in either primary. The general election would also take place on Nov. 3, but Georgia has an unusual law that also requires a Jan. 5 runoff if no one takes a majority in November. This means that there’s a chance that both Georgia Senate seats could be on the ballot in January of 2021—and possibly control of the Senate along with them.