For members of the Democratic Party, Georgia has not looked this peachy in years. Donald Trump’s margin of victory in the state was lower than both Mitt Romney’s and John McCain’s. And now a special election is suggesting at least one congressional district that has been red for a generation may be turning purple. Whether it will become true blue is now the question. Ready to pit yourself against the experts in the latest edition of The Guesstimator? Read on. The reader with the best guesstimate will receive a free “Democracy Dies in Darkness” T-shirt.
Georgia’s 6th Congressional District spans much of the northern suburbs of Atlanta. The area was staunchly Democratic throughout the 19th century and most of the 20th (when the party was still populated by many “Dixiecrats”). But it went Republican in 1978 with the election of Newt Gingrich. Republican Tom Price represented the district from 2005 until earlier this year, when he was confirmed as President Trump’s secretary of health and human services.
The vacancy has occasioned a special election. Voters will choose from candidates of all parties on April 18, and if none draws 50 percent, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff election in June. Price’s departure for HHS has also brought a degree of national scrutiny that is highly unusual for a local contest — possibly auguring a cleavage in the Reaganite coalition of business, evangelical and libertarian interests that has cohered in many areas of the country for nearly four decades.
The media spotlight is on Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional staffer who has raised a stunning $8 million and is leading the polls in an 18-person field. Ossoff’s position is clear: “Make Trump Furious.” He is counting on a reported surge in Democratic Party registration and a national antipathy to a president whose approval rating hovers near 40 percent. Republicans did prevail in a recent special congressional election in Kansas, but the margin was vastly smaller than Trump’s during the presidential contest.
Meanwhile, neither of the best-polling GOP candidates has been chugging at tea parties. Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who has twice failed in bids for statewide office, is embracing a politics of pragmatism. Bob Gray, a former business executive and city councilman backed by the Club for Growth, calls himself an outsider and played to right of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on health care — but he conceded he would have voted for the reform proposal that failed last month. And neither has embraced the Freedom Caucus.
As for polls, there have been two polls published in the past week. The first, from Opinion Savvy and Fox 5 Atlanta, gives Ossoff nearly 42 percent in the first round and has him beating Handel in the runoff 44 percent to 42 percent, with 14 percent undecided. The second, from RRH Elections and Decision Desk HQ, does not have results for the runoff, but it gives Ossoff 39 percent in the first vote. One way or the other, as we move toward the midterm elections in 2018, the results north of Atlanta will likely affect how both parties feel about the shifting political winds.
David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report
Jon Ossoff’s first round vote share: 48 percent
Runoff: Karen Handel 51 percent, Ossoff 49 percent
“In my 12 years covering House races, I’ve never seen one become a national fixation quite like GA-06. That said, Jon Ossoff could be the most overhyped candidate I’ve ever covered, win or lose. It’s possible ‘Ossoff fatigue’ could set in between now and June if he falls just short of winning the seat outright on Tuesday, and GOP voters could end up sticking with the person they’ve known the longest. But right now, it’s just really close.”
Hanna Hope, chief of staff at the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service
Ossoff’s first round vote share: 44 percent
Runoff: Bob Gray 58 percent, Ossoff 42 percent
“Despite what happened in Kansas this week, I don’t think Ossoff will win outright on April 18. I believe he’ll progress to the runoff on June 20 and lose to whatever Republican candidate he goes up against then. Unlike Governor Brownback in Kansas, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is fairly popular. The energy and enthusiasm that Ossoff has tapped into with voters in the GA-06 is unreal, and his fundraising prowess is incredible, but ultimately I just don’t think it’s enough to turn Georgia blue right now. I think the interesting question right now is whether Bob Gray or Karen Handel moves on to the runoff against Ossoff and ultimately prevails in June. Despite what you may say about Bob Gray and the way he’s run his campaign, I believe voters will respond well to him and send him to compete against Ossoff in June. Karen Handel has yet to find success in a campaign, and I don’t think this election will be any different.”
Matthew Towery, managing partner of Opinion Savvy
Ossoff’s first round vote share: 47 percent
Runoff: Ossoff 52 percent, Handel 48 percent
“My estimation is based on preliminary data from our upcoming poll, though it’s more optimistic for Ossoff than the final poll is likely to indicate. Obviously, there is an abundance of momentum (and funding) behind the Ossoff campaign, which is enough for me to move the needle slightly in his favor from our relatively conservative turnout estimates. Handel is almost guaranteed a spot in the runoff; but in a head-to-head match, her unpopularity outside of Fulton County will be her Achilles’ heel. Only the most die-hard Handel supporters will turn out, potentially leaving the Ossoff campaign in a position to win in an otherwise-unthinkable scenario. (As a 6th district resident myself, I had multiple canvassers at my house yesterday, and I received no less than seven Ossoff mailers today. This campaign is a machine.)”
Tom Davis, former representative (R-Va.), now director of federal government affairs for Deloitte
Ossoff’s first round vote share: 43 percent
Runoff: Handel 54 percent, Ossoff 46 percent
“The element of surprise that generally favors the out party should not be present, with probably 10 million-plus dollars spent by each in the run off. This will be a full-fledged nationalized election in a Red district. Trump is not popular, but neither are National Democrats. Although Democratic voters have greater intensity, the amount of money and the higher number of base Republicans should result in a Republican win, although narrower than normal. The amount of Democratic hype on this could throw cold water on their narrative, though Montana’s special is right around the corner and will be competitive.”
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