WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama released his second and final slate of 2020 election endorsements on Friday, backing a total of 111 Democrats in state legislature and congressional elections across 21 states.
Among his endorsements are seven Democrats running for the U.S. Senate, including several in this year’s most competitive races, and 29 House candidates. Democrats currently hold a comfortable majority in the House, and they have an opportunity this year to retake control of the Senate, which has been in Republican hands since 2014.
“I’m proud to endorse these outstanding Democratic candidates who will work to get the virus under control, rebuild the economy and the middle class, and protect Americans’ health care and pre-existing conditions protections from Republican assault,” Obama said in a statement.
Five Democratic Senate challengers received Obama’s endorsement: Mark Kelly in Arizona, MJ Hegar in Texas, Adrian Perkins in Louisiana and Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Ralph Warnock in the two Georgia Senate races. Obama also endorsed two incumbents: Sens. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Gary Peters of Michigan.
The most notable endorsement was Obama’s backing of Warnock, who is running in a special election in Georgia to fill the Senate seat vacated by former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Warnock is pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Rev. Martin Luther King’s church, and he led the prayer service at Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.
Warnock is also the leading Democrat among four top candidates competing in what’s known as an open or “jungle” primary. In this type of contest, any candidate who pays the filing fees can appear on the ballot in November, but in order to win the election a candidate must win a majority of votes, not merely a plurality. The result is typically a runoff between the top two candidates, and in Georgia this would occur in January.
The top two Republicans in the race are incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat last year, and Rep. Doug Collins, who was reportedly President Donald Trump’s pick for the Senate appointment before Gov. Brian Kemp named Loeffler.
The other Democrat in the top four is businessman Matt Lieberman, son of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 presidential race.
Current polling averages show Loeffler and Collins with 24% and 21% of the vote, respectively, then Warnock with 19.4% and Lieberman with 10.6%. If Lieberman were to drop out and his voters shift to Warnock, the pastor could reasonably expect to make it to the runoff, while Collins and Loeffler split the GOP vote.
But Lieberman could also play spoiler, siphoning support for Warnock so that only the two Republicans, Loeffler and Collins, make it to the runoff.
Former gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams is one of several prominent Democrats in Georgia who are pressuring Lieberman to exit the race. “We need Matt Lieberman to understand he’s not called for this moment,” Abrams said Thursday.
Obama’s endorsement of Warnock appears to contradict the former president’s pledge earlier this year to endorse only Democratic nominees, and avoid wading into intra-party primaries.
Obama released his first list of endorsements in August, and his office said Friday that his second round, like his first, was populated with candidates who advanced one of Obama’s four goals: “Winning control of the U.S. Senate and holding the majority in the U.S. House; electing Democrats who will support fair redistricting in 2021; supporting alumni of his campaigns and Administration; and promoting diverse, emerging leaders for this time.”