Edward Lindsey- A Republican win in Georgia seems like the safer bet

With record-setting fundraising of over $200 million by Georgia Democratic US Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, can Democrats expect to win next week's runoffs? Probably not.

Just ask former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and former South Carolina Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison how their record-setting fundraising turned out for them in their respective US Senate races.

However, this does not mean that a Republican Party, still deeply divided and embittered after a presidential loss, cannot manage to lose what should be two winnable races.

While President-elect Joe Biden eked out the first Democratic presidential victory in Georgia since 1992, Democrats in the Senate and other down-ballot races lagged behind. Ossoff trailed incumbent Sen. David Perdue by over 80,000 votes, and in the scrambled 20-person special election to succeed Sen. Johnny Isakson, in which Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Warnock emerged as the top two candidates, the total Democratic votes trailed Republican votes by almost 48,000.

This pattern continued down to statehouse races. Of the contested ones, Republican candidates outperformed President Donald Trump in all but nine.

However, Republicans aren't without their own challenges. While they appeal to conservative voters to vote in the runoff, many continue to support Trump's claim that Georgia's political system is rigged. Trump, who will return to Georgia to campaign on the eve of the runoff, highlighted this contradiction in the past week.

While urging Georgia Republicans to vote in the runoff, he also attacked Georgia's Republican governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, who have defended the validity of the state's November election results.

With this in mind, let's take a look at where things stand one week out and what to focus on in the final days of the race:

Democrats embrace their national party

For better or worse, Georgia Republicans' embrace of Trump is a continuation of a long tradition of welcoming their national party leaders -- but for Georgia Democrats it is a relatively new trend. When former President Barack Obama came to Georgia in 2010, the Democratic nominee for governor, Roy Barnes, had a "scheduling conflict" that kept him away from greeting the President.

The scene repeated in 2014, when Democratic gubernatorial and senate nominees Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn avoided greeting the President during a visit.

Those days are now over -- with both Ossoff and Warnock joining Biden on stage at a rally earlier this month and Biden appearing prominently in a campaign ad touting the two candidates.

Ossoff and Warnock's embrace of Biden and the Democratic Party's agenda is a two-edged sword. While it whips up the Democratic base, it also assists Republicans in sending the message to their base that the stakes of this special election are bigger than just the Senate -- they could decide the fate of the first two years of Biden's presidency.

Shifting electorate demographics and party loyalty

Much has been written about demographic shifts in Georgia changing its political landscape. While Georgia is an evolving and growing state, Biden did not win in Georgia solely due to changing demographics. In 2016, Trump carried Georgia by a five-point margin and by over 200,000 votes.

While the percentage share of White voters did drop from 2016 to 2020 from 61% to 57%, the percentage share of African American voters, the Democratic Party's most reliable demographic group, remained virtuallyunchanged at 28%. The demographics that increased their share of the electorate included Hispanics and Asians.

Of growing interest to demographers, however, is the increasing gap between college-educated and non-college educated White voters. This shift has played out throughout upper middle-class White neighborhoods in the metro Atlanta suburbs, where support for Trump dropped by over 20 percentage points compared to the GOP ticket eight years ago -- in part because of support for Biden among college-educated voters.

Whether these voters return to the Republican camp in the runoff or vote for the Democrats remains an open question. However, judging by the added support down ballot Republicans received in races around the state, this is a likely demographic where Republicans could pick up votes previously lost to Biden.

Campaign ads versus direct voter contact

If you are a Georgia voter watching the evening news, a football game or a Christmas movie, you have been bombarded with nonstop election ads. Each ad makes serious accusations -- from one falsely claiming Loeffler profited off the pandemic (when both the Justice Department and Senate Ethics Committee closed their investigations without bringing any charges) to another falsely claiming that Warnock is a socialist and anti-American.

But given the sheer volume of ads purchased at over $500 million, most voters are likely to tune them out, and recent studies show that such ads have little effect on voters' opinions about candidates.

The more effective, and less costly, outreach in this campaign will likely be in the direct microtargeting being conducted by both political parties, the campaigns and third party advocates on both sides. This includes mining voter registration and voter history data to target likely voters for their candidates through text messages, live phone calls, robocalls and old-fashioned door knocking.

The key in this runoff will not be to broadcast to the world the candidates' message, but to push likely supporters to the polls.

Focus on turnout

Georgia voters enjoy three methods of voting -- early in-person voting, no excuse needed absentee and Election Day in-person voting.

Some controversies have erupted over allegations of a reduced number of early voting locations opened for the runoffs. County election officials have blamed the reductions on a combination of "COVID, the workload, and the holidays" leading to a reduced number of available people, but voting rights groups fear it will lead to fewer working-class and low-income voters being able to vote.

That said, until the beginning of the Christmas weekend, early in-person voting was generally tracking with turnout in the general election. This has now dropped off significantly in the last few days -- and there is a 24% drop in turnout to date, according to Georgia Votes, a privately run website tracking voting data.

As we approach a second holiday weekend with New Year's celebrations, it is questionable if this gap can be significantly narrowed. There is also a significantly lower number of absentee applications -- 12% percent fewer -- at this point in the campaign, compared to the recent general election. If this trend continues, it could bode poorly for Democrats, whose voters were more likely to vote early and by absentee in the most recent election.

At the present time, however, the early turnout may favor Democrats since among African Americans, historically strong Democratic voters, turnout is a higher percentage of the electorate in early voting than it was in the general election -- 31% compared to 28%, while White voters are a slightly smaller percentage of the electorate than they were in November -- 55% compared to 57%.

The question going forward is whether Republican turnout efforts, including traditionally stronger Republican voting on Election Day, can reverse this present trend, or whether Democrats can continue their present level of supporter turnout.

The bottom line in Georgia is that both sides continue to face challenges in the final week of these runoff campaigns.

If the Democrats merely reproduce their efforts in the November election, they may lose, since Georgia voters, red-leaning, will likely prefer their incumbent Republican senators to Trump himself. The continuing divisions on the Republican side, however, pose an equal challenge for the GOP. In order for them to win, they must finally put aside their disappointment over the presidential race and focus on the two races at hand.