• Fenna Milbauer

Lost in the Jungle ~ What's Happening with Georgia's Senate Race?

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

A senator leaves his post and chaos ensues.

Welcome to the Georgia Senate primary

Known as a jungle primary or a nonpartisan blanket primary, it is an unorthodox model of electing representatives. At the end of 2019, Republican Johnny Isakson vacated his U.S. Senate seat due to health problems. Following his departure, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp selected Kelly Loeffler to succeed Isakson. Yet, the elections for the contested seat were imminent. The primary to determine who would replace Isakson contains 21 different candidates (6 republican, 8 democrats, 1 green party, 1 Libertarian, and 5 independents) (1). Georgia voters will have a busy election day this November with two extremely galvanizing and divisive elections, on the ballot are two Senate seats and the Presidential election.

Image: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

But what exactly is a jungle primary?

Essentially it is a multi-round process of primary voting, where its top two candidates (those receiving the most votes) advance to the next round. A jungle primary essentially eliminates the individual partisan primary model. This means that it is entirely possible that two candidates from the same party could advance to the second round (2). A winner-take-all scenario is unlikely in such elections with most resulting in a runoff election. This is because the winning candidate would need to secure the majority, not a plurality, of votes. With so many candidates in the race, this is highly unlikely to occur. Jungle primaries also create interesting race dynamics, as candidates from the same party attack each other, while at the same time candidates are trying to fend off their opponents from other parties.

The Georgia election is unique because jungle elections are only common in a handful of states. Many states have passed legislation which limits jungle elections. The amount of candidates in the Georgia election is staggering, the majority of voters will only know of a select few and will be bombarded with advertisements. There are a few candidates who stick out from the rest. There are two Republican front-runners, Doug Collins and Kelly Loeffler.

As mentioned before, Loeffler was appointed by the state Governor to this position. She is a businesswoman and political newcomer, best known as a co-owner of the Atlanta WNBA team, the Dream and as the former CEO of Bakkt (a subsidiary of the Intercontinental Exchange). She has the potential to win over suburban female voters, which is reportedly why Kemp selected her for the position (3).

Image: WABE 90.1

Her main opponent is Representative Doug Colllins, who is an impassioned defender of President Trump, specifically during the impeachment hearings. Collins will most likely frame Loeffler as an out-of-touch millionaire who does not represent the needs of Georgians (3).

On the Democratic side, two prominent Black candidates having the highest polling numbers. Reverend Raphael Warnock is a Baptist pastor. He is extremely well known in the religious community in metro Atlanta. He is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and has gained notoriety after he led the prayer service at former President Barack Obama's second inauguration (3).

He is opposed by Ed Tarver, who is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Tarver is very politically experienced, but does not share the same popularity as Warnock. Outside of the Augusta area, which he previously represented in the 2000s, he is considered unknown (3).

Alongside these candidates there are several others ranging in profession from businessmen to professors to Air Force veterans, including Deborah Jackson, Tamara Johnson-Shealy and Joy Felicia Slade. The race is diverse in levels of political experience and name recognition. With such a large field, in order to get noticed, candidates must put in hours of work (or money).

It is important to note that the race is not set in favor of a solid Republican candidate rather a more moderate Republican or even Democratic candidate may have a viable chance of securing a place in the run off (4). Georgia is rapidly becoming a purple state, which presents an opportunity for Democrats. The Democrats in the jungle primary in Georgia are a prime example of hard-hitting candidates who see the importance of gaining and maintaining blue seats in the Senate. Despite the unlikelihood of a Democrat winning, the rise of such candidates is a reflection of a growing trend among southern states. States like North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kentucky have seen growing support for Democratic candidates. This points to a possible victory for a Democrat in one of the most unusual election cycle taking place in Georgia this November.


If Georgia's Democratic truly want to flip this seat from Red to Blue, candidates polling in single digits, who may be in the race to influence the party platform or raise their national profile for a future race, should gracefully exit and backing the front runner. To stay in the race and split the Democratic vote, nearly guarantees a Republican run-off between Loeffler and Collins in January


  1. https://www.johnsonsenate.com/georgia_s_unique_jungle_primary_november_3rd_2020_explained

  2. https://politicaldictionary.com/words/jungle-primary/

  3. https://www.businessinsider.nl/kelly-loeffler-vs-doug-collins-georgia-senate-election-polls-fundraising-2020-8?international=true&r=US

  4. https://cookpolitical.com/ratings/senate-race-ratings

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