ATLANTA (AP) – Libertarian Chase Oliver will not win the Georgia Senate race.
But the 37-year-old self-proclaimed former Democrat could command enormous national attention, influencing the outcome of election night and a potential runoff in a highly competitive contest expected to help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate in the president’s final two years. Joe Biden’s mandate.
Oliver is the third name on the ballot in a race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
In most states, that would make Oliver an afterthought. But Georgia law requires an outright majority to win statewide office. With polls pointing to a tight fight between Warnock and Walker, Oliver may not need a significant chunk of the vote to force a runoff. That’s the scenario that played out in Georgia’s two 2020 Senate races, both of which were won by Democrats, giving their party the smallest majority in the Senate — 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris pulling the tie.
The chances of an encore could rise if Oliver’s support levels increase as Walker struggles to navigate his rocky past, including reports that the staunch anti-abortion Republican paid for an abortion for his then-girlfriend, who later gave birth in 2009.
“I think there are a lot of Republicans who don’t think he’s going to be the best person to represent the policies of limited government and holding spending in check and cutting taxes,” Oliver said.
Oliver took center stage in Sunday night’s debate schedule with Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, who won his seat in a 2021 special election and is now seeking a full six-year term. First-round pick Walker, who made a name for himself in college and pro football, declined an invitation to the Atlanta Press Club forum. According to club rules, he will be presented with an empty pedestal.
Walker and Warnock met in their lone one-on-one debate on Friday in Savannah. Oliver was not included because he did not reach the voter census of the organizers.
A runoff, if necessary, will take place on December 6, setting up a four-week blitz after the November 8 general election. That’s half the time of the Georgia runoff two years ago, when Warnock and now-Sen. Jon Ossoff overpowered his Republican rivals for control of the Senate.
Neither the Warnock nor Walker campaigns will publicly discuss a possible runoff.
“We are focused on getting the job done on Nov. 8,” Walker spokesman Will Kiley said.
Whether the Georgia runoff could re-decide the Senate majority will depend on the outcome of competitive races in Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada and elsewhere.
Oliver wants to use the attention to raise awareness that libertarians offer a third choice to voters across the spectrum, whether limited-government conservatives or social liberals who support abortion and LGBTQ rights. He noted that he was once an anti-war Democrat, but that he gravitated toward liberals when he became disillusioned with President Barack Obama’s failure to limit U.S. military interventions.
As of 2014, Libertarians in Georgia won an average of 2% of the vote in the gubernatorial and US senatorial contests.
Even if Walker gives Oliver the best chance of increasing that stake, it’s not necessarily true that Oliver’s candidacy would help Warnock in the long term.
In November 2020, Libertarian Senate candidate Shane Hazel won 2.3% of the vote in a race pitting Ossoff against Republican incumbent David Perdue. Perdue led Ossoff in the general election by about 88,000 votes, but finished with 49.7% of the nearly 5 million votes cast, just thousands short of a majority that would have meant a second term and continued GOP majority in the Senate.
With a second chance, Ossoff topped Perdue by about 55,000 votes to win a full term.
Warnock won his seat over then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, the same night as Ossoff. But Loeffler and Warnock advanced to the runoff from a special 20-candidate field that included candidates from all parties, so neither of them came close to an outright majority in the first round.
If Oliver forces a runoff this time, he said, “It means there were enough voters who felt like they weren’t being listened to. And I hope that whoever ends up winning the race will maybe listen to those voices in the future and understand that they have to represent all of Georgia, not just a partisan interest.”
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