Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, who has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a fall that hospitalized him in July, and kidney surgery, announced Wednesday that he would resign from the Senate at the end of the year.
Isakson’s decision could have a profound effect on the 2020 Senate map. Under Georgia law, Gov. Brian Kemp will name a replacement for the seat until a special election is held on the next regularly scheduled, statewide general Election Day. That means that in November 2020, Georgia will have two senate elections: One for a full term, in which Sen. David Perdue will run for reelection, and another for the remainder of Isakson’s term, which runs through 2022.
Senate Republicans would prefer not to defend two Senate seats in the same year in a state that has been trending blue. Donald Trump won Georgia by only six percentage points in 2016, and Democrats flipped a suburban Atlanta congressional seat in the 2018 midterms while coming up 419 votes short of picking up an adjacent suburban seat. Democrats also came up just short of winning the governor’s mansion under murky circumstances. The Democrat in that tight race was Stacey Abrams, the former state House minority leader who became a national star during her campaign.
We would guess that Abrams has received approximately 4.7 billion text messages and calls in the brief amount of time since Isakson’s announcement and, as we write, is chopping her phone with an axe. Abrams, who announced in August that she would not run for president in 2020 and would instead focus on protecting voting rights through a new initiative she founded, has not hesitated to express her disinterest in serving in the U.S. Senate in the past.
Abrams turned down Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s pitch to run for Perdue’s seat. And by late Wednesday morning, a spokesman announced that Abrams would not run for the Isakson seat, either.
We suspect that Democratic operatives won’t let up on their persuasion efforts just yet.
If they were to win the presidency, with a vice president able to break any tie, Democrats would need to flip three seats on net to take control of the Senate—and since they’re defending a tough seat in Alabama, they realistically need to flip four while holding all the rest. The best opportunities have presented themselves in Colorado, Maine, and Arizona, with others in Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Kansas considered competitive if much more challenging. A second race in Georgia, against an unelected appointee, could become Democrats’ best opportunity for that fourth seat. Now they just need a candidate.