Georgia Dem Narrowly Misses Normally Republican House Seat

It might not have been a win, but it’s still a glimmer of hope

By Luis Gòmez
Co-Editor in Chief

Jon Ossoff, the upstart Democratic candidate in Georgia’s 6th District, narrowly missed reaching 50 percent in a recent special election. A runoff between him and Republican candidate Karen Handel will take place June 20th.

The seat in question used to belong to Tom Price, now President Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary. The special election saw eighteen different candidates vying for Price’s former seat, five Democrats, eleven Republicans, and two Independents.

In a traditionally Republican district, Ossoff’s campaign was a unicorn of sorts, drawing upon an energetic and furious Democratic base. Tom Price initially won the seat by over 20 points, and Republicans have held the district firmly since 1979. However, the historic unpopularity of President Trump inspired calls to ‘Flip the 6th.’ Money flowed into his campaign from outside donors, giving Ossoff an $8 million war chest in a race that usually sees a few hundred thousand dollars, and quadruple the amount raised by the next-closest campaign.

Ossoff is a young candidate – he only recently turned 30 – and has spent most of his time as a documentarian, mostly producing films about Africa. His experience in government is limited to his stint as a staffer for Congressman Hank Johnson, who represented Georgia’s 4th district. Republican attack ads largely focused on Ossoff’s lack of experience, and also decided to highlight the fact that he dressed up as Han Solo one time in college and did acapella.

While Ossoff failed to cross the 50 percent threshold that would have given him an outright win, the election still held some promise for Democrats. A recent special election in Kansas’ 4th district came within six points, in a district that many believed was a safe Republican district.

These two recent close elections, while not leading to results for Democrats, are seen as a sign for 2018. If districts in Kansas and Georgia are in contention, then the political landscape for the House is within Democratic reach. The logic goes that if heavily ‘red’ districts in Georgia and Kansas put Democratic candidates within striking distance, then there are potentially dozens of races across the nation where incumbent Republican house members are not as secure as previously thought.

Still, the runoff election is by no means secure for Ossoff. He emerged as a frontrunner in a crowded field, with several more Republican candidates than Democrats. If Republicans can build a coalition around Handel, then Ossoff would likely lose or win by a slim margin. FiveThirtyEight, the pollster news website, projects that Ossoff could win the runoff by four points (based on Ossoff’s previous polling right before the election), well within the margin of error. Another point to note is that Trump and his associates did not campaign any significant amount for Handel or any other candidate. Trump could very easily hold a few joint rallies for Handel and himself, simultaneously bolstering her position and boosting his perception.

In many ways, this election is entirely reliant on Donald Trump. Democrats have a long history of not showing up to midterms and special elections (remember 2010?). If Trump begins to act in a way that his supporters or more generic Republicans agree with, Ossoff may not have the necessary numbers of angry Democrats and dissatisfied moderate/anti-Trump Republicans to swing the election in his favor. Jon Ossoff now has to translate his Trump-fueled success in the first round of the election into a general push to flip the sixth district in his favor. Demographics are on his side, as Georgia has been slowly narrowing the margin between Democrats and Republicans over the past few years. What remains to be seen is whether or not Ossoff has the ability to translate those emerging demographic trends into an electoral victory.

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