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Georgia: Martin Stuck in Neutral?

Although Jim Martin performed well enough on Election Day to hold incumbent Saxby Chambliss under 50 percent, he still lost by the nontrivial margin of 3 percent. There are basically three ways — taken alone or in combination — that Martin could hope to make that deficit up.

The first way would be to win the lion’s share of votes from the Libertarian candidate, Allen Buckley, who has been kicked off the island for the runoff. Exit polls suggested that a majority of Buckley voters also voted for Obama, although the sample size is probably too small to be meaningful. If this is a help to Martin, it’s probably not by more than a couple of tenths of a point.

The second way would be to have a superior turnout on Runoff Day — something which is always possible since runoffs elicit much lower turnout than elections held in conjunction with a Presidential race. So far, the evidence on that score is not so good for Martin. In contrast to the run-up to November 4th, when African-Americans overperformed in early voting, so far black voters make up only about 23 percent of Georgia’s early vote in the runoff, slightly underperforming their share of the state’s electorate.

The third way would be some sort of game-changing event. We’re only talking about 3 points, so he wouldn’t necessarily need some kind of Macaca moment — but a little something to move the needle. Democrats thought they might have had a little something in the Imperial Sugar case, a February explosion at a Port Wentworth sugar refinery that killed 13 people — Chambliss was subpoenaed in the ongoing trial against Imperial Sugar but has refused to testify. But, the case has yet to really go viral. And if a visit by Barack Obama was supposed to be a game-changer, so far the President-elect has revealed no plans to make a trip down South.

Basically, there is not yet any reason to conclude that the race will turn out all that much differently than it did on November 4th — and not coincidentally, most polls show Saxby Chambliss holding onto about the same 3-point margin that he won by on Election Day.

Fortunately, we’ll have Sean deploying to Georgia within the next 24 hours. Neither Sean nor I have any idea of what we expect to see or hear, but as with many races — and particularly runoffs and special elections — this one may look different from the ground up. From here in chilly Chicago, however, it looks like it’s about time for Martin to get his butt in gear.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.