Last week, longtime Sen. Johnny Isakson announced he will retire at the end of the year due to health problems. To fill his seat, the state will elect someone to serve out Isakson’s term in a special election next year.
Isakson’s retirement has major political ramifications, moving Georgia into the national picture going into the 2020 election.
Since last year, I have been dismayed at how little attention Georgia races have received, especially compared to states like Texas. To some extent, I understand why Texas has received such extensive coverage. Last year, Beto O’Rourke posed a serious threat to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a nationally-known senator.
Like in 2018, Texas has been at the center of the 2020 election analysis because of its 38 electoral votes. But the news of Isakson’s retirement could shift attention to Georgia.
Though smaller than Texas, Georgia could play a pivotal role in the next election. Georgia has the same number of votes as Michigan, a state crucial to President Donald Trump’s victory. Georgia is also more likely to be competitive. The Cook Political Report lists Georgia as a lean Republican state and Texas as a likely Republican state, and FiveThirtyEight says Georgia has an 11.8% Republican lean, less than the 16.9% Republican lean in Texas.
The two Senate races will be important too. Republicans have a 53-47 advantage in the Senate. Democrats’ chances of winning the Senate in 2020 were pretty slim before Isakson’s retirement. However, an additional Senate race has the potential to flip the Senate to Democrats. To win the Senate, Democrats must win four Senate seats or win the presidency and three Senate seats.
And, in today’s partisan environment, the stakes are high. According to FiveThirtyEight, the 2016 election was the first time the same party won the presidential and Senate races in every state. Thus, whichever party wins Georgia’s presidential election could also win both Senate seats.
The 2020 election will be a tight race for the White House and Congress. For a long time, the country has ignored Georgia, seeing the state as unimportant to the national picture. However, because of Isakson’s retirement, that will all change next year. Instead of being overlooked, Georgia will be at the forefront of national attention.