With Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election coming imminently, Democrats and Republicans alike are panicking around the potential results of this crucial special election in this highly educated Republican-leaning, but anti-Trump region located in the deep South. This special election, although would not influence the control of the House in any ways (as the seat would be up for election again in 2018), is seen by many as a bellwether of the state of the race in 2018.
The district is unique in many ways. The district is one of the first in the Deep South to abandon Democratic party loyalty in favor of Republican ideological purity. It was the district that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich held for 22 years; immediately after Gingrich retired, Johnny Isakson held the district for 6 years, and most recently it was the home district of Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. 4 years ago, the idea that district is competitive is incomprehensible. The district voted 59.0-40.1 for Senator John McCain and 60.8-37.5 for Governor Mitt Romney, making the district have a Cook PVI of R+13 ahead of 2016 presidential and general election. Yet, this district with ample of highly educated voters resoundingly rejects Donald Trump as the Republican party’s standard-bearer, with only 48.3% of the voters voting in favor of the New York businessman, while 46.8—a resounding percentage that no Democrat was able to get in this district ever since Jimmy Carter—opted for Hillary Clinton.
This special election carries many weight and hope from the “bold progressives” nationwide. Winning this district is symbolic—a Democrat sitting in the codifier of 1994’s Contract with America would mean the beginning of a Democratic counterrevolution, and more extensively making inroads in traditional Republican territory such as Georgia, which has been trending Democratic for years but true Democratic support never materialized. Winning this district would also open the door for “sun-belt strategy” for the Democrats, finding a pathway to majority after the rise of Trumpism largely consuming rust belt and other midwestern targets (IA-03, MI-01, WI-06, etc).
The leading candidate in this race is former congressional aide and investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old Democrat who has largely carried the entire Democratic base. He is guaranteed to finish first in the Louisiana-styled primary later today, but his support level would be determinative of whether this district could actually flip Democratic. If Ossoff receives 50% outright, he becomes Congressman-elect, and in the more likely circumstance of him not clearing the mark, a runoff would be needed against the second place.
Many predicts that were Ossoff to not clear 50% in the first round, the district’s Republican leaning and consolidation of his Democratic base (facing virtually no credible other Democratic candidates, other than Ron Slotin whose support never materialized more than 2%), but I have no inclination to hold up such prediction as true. To reach my conclusion, we have to introduce the Republican candidates first.
The leading Republican contender for this seat is former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, the first elected Republican Georgia Secretary of State ever. Handel finished first in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial jungle primary, but was narrowly topped out by Rep. Nathan Deal, who later became Governor and as of today still is, by a 0.4 point margin. In 2014 Handel ran for the Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, but finished third after businessman David Perdue, who won the seat after beating Michelle Nunn in the general election.
Handel always had stellar performance in this district. Per DDHQ’s analysis, Handel carried District 6 in both her 2010 run for governor and 2014 run for Senate, so she should be expected to carry the district again today against other Republican candidates, but this two-time loser might have a hard time winning against other three strong Republican candidates—Bob Gray, Judson Hill, and Dan Moody.
The next prominent candidate is businessman who, like Perdue and Ossoff, never held political offices before. He is running on an unapologetic pro-Trump platform and literally tried to drain a swamp in one of his TV ads. Gray has offered Trump his unreserved support, but reciprocal support from anti-Trump groups do not seem decent.
Attachment 1: Video showing Gray draining a swamp
It’s noteworthy that Gray has run attack ads on Karen Handel and Republican groups also have done the same. A Club for Growth ad was targeting Handel as a “big-spending career politician”, and such remarks will not bode well with the runoff, were there to be one.
Judson Hill and Dan Moody, both former state Senators, have consolidated a support around 9%, behind Hill and Gray, but polling in special elections are not extremely reliable, so don’t be surprised to see both State Senators at the runoff. Judson Hill’s former State Senate seat is also up for election. State Senate district 32, a R+20 district that backed Romney 67-31, is expected to be an easy hold for the Republicans but a special election environment plus in an anti-Trump Cobb County area would open the door for surprises. Another Republican candidate David Abroms has the support of Evan McMullin, and that’s likely to get him a few points, but probably not enough to make the runoff.
After an introduction of the Republican candidates, it is apparent that whoever the Republican candidate is, he or she is unlikely to garner the full Republican support. According to runoff polls, Bob Gray, contrary to public opinion among the liberal circles, is expected to be the candidate with most chances to win the runoff (see Emerson poll, Revily Poll, as well as Opinion Savvy poll–more likely voters have an opinion about Gray (in supporting-opposing him, as opposed to with Handel)). Were Handel to be the final Republican nominee, which is likely, the race would be Leans D at worst given the volume of attack ads on her and Ossoff’s seemingly insurmountable financial advantage. Were the Republican nominee to be Gray, the race would be Tossup/Tilts R, given Gray’s clean record as well as his full-fledged support for Trump, whose approval in this district is still 47-48. However, we cannot exclude the possibility of Handel, instead of endorsing Gray like a normal Republican would, endorses Ossoff or makes no endorsement, like Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle in Louisiana’s 2015 gubernatorial race, given Gray’s hostility towards her and her policy positions.
As a closing remark, money works. Ossoff’s 8.3 million is able to deliver him an universal name recognition in the district, like Donald Trump currently enjoys. It is important to know were Ossoff to not win this outright today, whoever may the Republican nominee be, he or she will not consolidate 100% of the Republican support. Given the race’s nationalized status, in my heart I have been considering Ossoff a favorite, but only time will tell if my internal prediction comes out to be true.