Two Democrats in Georgia won the state’s U.S. Senate runoffs this week — a stunning upset after nearly two decades of Republican control that also handed Democrats a narrow majority in the Senate.
But even though both parties ran their candidates as one ticket, nearly 20,000 Georgians so far appear to have split their tickets in the two races, between Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock and Republican Sen. David Perdue.
“It didn’t seem like there was a lot of daylight in terms of policy in terms of their stances on [President] Trump, in terms of what they do for Georgia between David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler,” said Bernard Fraga, a political scientist at Emory University. “So the fact that a relatively small number of Republican voters were willing to vote for David Perdue but not Kelly Loeffler is an interesting phenomenon.”
Nathan Muller is one of these Georgians who saw daylight between the candidates where campaign strategists designed there to be none.
The software engineer from Smyrna, Ga., was raised Republican and believes in conservative principles but has voted split ticket in the past. In this runoff, maintaining divided government in Washington was a priority.
“I was not comfortable with Democrats having 100% control of the policymaking direction of this nation,” he said. However, as someone who is not a fan of Trump, he found both candidates “objectionable” given how they tied their campaigns so closely to the president.
Perdue ultimately stood out as “more of a known quantity,” Muller said.
“He’s more of a politician, meaning that if Trump fell out of power, but [Perdue] didn’t, he would kind of fall back from the Trumpism. I think he was just trying to get elected, so to speak.”
Loeffler, on the other hand, “did not seem that way,” Muller said.
“She did not seem like she was just trying to get elected. She actually seemed like she believed all those things and was in the Marjorie Taylor Greene-wing of the party, which I could not abide.”
Loeffler sought the endorsement of Greene, one of Georgia’s newest congresswomen who has attracted much controversy for her Islamophobic remarks and espousal of conspiracy theories.
Muller thinks there are other voters like him, who have turned against Republicans because of what the president has done to the party.
“There’s got to be a wholesale rejection of Trumpism to get these voters back,” he said. “Otherwise, they’re either going to keep sitting on the sidelines or keep voting for Democrats like I did.”
“[Loeffler’s] messaging was just so, you know, bang, bang, bang the drum for Trump. ‘More conservative than Attila the Hun’ … Like, are you nuts?” Muller said, referring to a series of ads the Loeffler campaign released, which featured an actor dressed up as the barbaric ruler from the 400s.
That ad also cost Loeffler Matthew Mutnick’s vote. He’s another Perdue-Warnock voter, who works in finance in Atlanta.
Mutnick had planned to vote for Loeffler when she was appointed more than a year ago. “I thought that she was going to be moderate,” he said, citing her business background running a company that created the first regulated cryptocurrency exchange.
“And she just went so far to the right that it was unrecognizable to who she was maybe even a year ago.”
He said Warnock, a Black pastor, also felt more “relatable to the average Georgian.”
Loeffler campaigned to the right because of an early challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, pointed out Martha Zoller, a conservative talk show host from Gainesville and prominent Loeffler supporter.
“Because of Doug Collins being in the race initially, she had to go much farther right than I think she probably would have gone had he not been in the race,” she said. “I think we need to look at that going forward on what the impact of that was, and I think we still don’t know.”
While their number wouldn’t have made up the vote margin, Zoller said, these split-ticket voters are important for Republicans to keep in mind going forward.
“It’s a swing state now. You can’t just focus on your base,” she said. “You’ve got to get your base out, no doubt about it. But you’ve got to understand that it’s basically 50/50.”
Wil Stowers, a consultant who grew up in a conservative home in Kennesaw, splits his time between Georgia and California and normally splits his ticket. In 2018, for example, he voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and then Republicans down the ballot.
In this runoff, he said he knew he would be proud to have Warnock represent him in the Senate and felt that he understood Warnock’s vision. “I understood what mattered to him, what he was actually running on,” Stowers said. “That was always clear to me. He wasn’t running to be, you know, an ally of anybody. He was running to be a senator from Georgia.”
But for Loeffler, he said, there was “no indication in a post-President Trump world, what kind of representative she would be. We had two years of Senator Perdue before President Trump. I knew what that was. I knew what that looked like.”
Stowers wasn’t exactly excited about voting for Perdue, but he said Ossoff’s campaign also didn’t resonate with him.
“I wasn’t sure why he wanted to be a senator, why he wanted to represent the state of Georgia,” Stowers said.
“[Ossoff] really did come across as this articulate, 30-something-year-old white guy who wanted to be a senator. And I guess, maybe that was successful political labeling — it worked.”
Koddi Lester Dunn works in marketing in Marietta and ultimately supported both Democrats because she wants to see major policy change in response to the pandemic and voting rights. However, she did consider voting for Perdue because she wasn’t excited about Ossoff’s candidacy either.
She has voted Republican in the past and understands why people would split their votes.
“All politics are local. And then when you go into that little booth, and you are tapping those names, you just want decent people,” she said. “You just want decent people that in times that you need them, to have the courage to stand up for what’s right.”