20 October 2008

Martin vs. Chambliss: 50% Plus One Still In Effect

Here's a question that was emailed to me this morning:

OK, not a tip but a query on a potentially very newsworthy point: Does Georgia law still require a runoff in a federal election if no candidate exceeds 50% (Fowler/Coverdell 1992) My question is generated by the what-if of a Chambliss/Martin runoff for the 60th Dem Senate seat in the next Congress...

The short answer is yes, it takes 50% plus one to win an election in Georgia. 50% plus one is what led to Cynthia McKinney's defeat at the hands of Hank Johnson two years ago. It also contributed to Public Service Commissioner David Burgess' defeat at the hands of Republican Chuck Eaton. Eaton held Burgess, a Democrat, under 50% in the November 2006 General Election, then defeated him in the run-off.

After Wyche Fowler was defeated by Paul Coverdell in 1992, the Democratic-led Georgia General Assembly changed lowered the threshold for electoral victory to a plurality rather than a majority. In 2005, the Republican-led General Assembly changed it back to a majority, 50% plus one, to win.

If Saxby Chambliss is denied a majority of the vote in a couple weeks (and several polls suggest that he will be), then a run-off election will be held on December 2nd.

Now imagine, for a second, what might happen if the Democrats' filibuster-proof U.S. Senate hinges on Jim Martin winning a December run-off. I suspect that money would begin pouring in from across the nation and you'd see high-profile surrogates such as Max Cleland, Virginia Senator Jim Webb and other moderate-to-conservative Democrats hitting the campaign trail in Georgia.

Of course, the goal is for Jim Martin to win without a run-off. But if Saxby Chambliss is forced into one, he's a dead duck (figuratively speaking of course).