Anyone’s race: Ossoff leads, but Democratic contest for Perdue’s seat is wide open

Overshadowed by Georgia’s other U.S. Senate race and overwhelmed by coronavirus, the Democratic contest for Republican David Perdue’s seat is wide-open just two months before voters head to the polls.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found that Jon Ossoff leads the field with 31% of support and his two most formidable opponents – Sarah Riggs Amico and Teresa Tomlinson – are essentially deadlocked with about 15% of the vote.

But the most important number in the poll is this one: 39%. That’s the percentage of voters who are still undecided ahead of a May 19 vote that’s expected to draw higher turnout now that the presidential primary was postponed to that date because of the pandemic.

>> Interactive: Complete poll results

>> PDF: Poll crosstabs

The outbreak has transformed campaign strategy. With voters’ attention fixed on escalating efforts to restrain the disease’s spread, the candidates must cope without rallies, door-to-door canvassing and other tried-and-true ways to mobilize likely supporters and sway the unpersuaded.

It could portend well for whichever candidate can blitz the airwaves, blanket voters with mail and clog the digital space with ads ahead of the primary, and the marketing may have an even more profound effect on voting since more Georgians are captive audiences at their homes during the pandemic.

That hasn't happened yet. None of the contenders have launched any TV spots. Nor have they maneuvered for media attention by taking many public shots at one another, aside from Tomlinson, a former Columbus mayor, casting herself as more experienced than her two rivals.

>> More: Biden, Ossoff have leads in Georgia Democratic races

>> More: AJC poll archive

The poll also raises the likelihood that the contest is headed to a July runoff between the two top candidates, which is only necessary if no candidate gets a majority of the vote in May.

The contenders must also battle for the attention of voters, donors and reporters drawn to the other U.S. Senate race, a contest pitting incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler against 20 other candidates in a free-for-all November race that seems assured for a January runoff.

Ossoff, an investigative journalist, has emerged as the early leader thanks partly to his high name recognition in metro Atlanta from his nationally watched U.S. House race in 2017.

The AJC poll shows he leads among men (33%), women (30%), older voters, the wealthiest voters (49%) and white voters (42%). The margins are a bit closer among black voters: Ossoff has 26% support, Tomlinson 17% and Amico 16%.

Here’s where that large group of undecided voters comes in play again: Those still up in the air include roughly 42% of black voters and more than half of older Georgians – the two most loyal blocs of the Democratic electorate in Georgia.