Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 6th congressional district Jon Ossoff received 48.1 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s special election, and fell just 3, 700 votes short of winning his race without a runoff. In the June 20th runoff election, Ossoff will face former Republican Secretary of State of Georgia Karen Handel, who came in 2nd and topped the GOP field with just 19.8 percent of the vote.
No matter what happens in the runoff, Ossoff has proven to be an effective candidate, who ran an impressive campaign. But the challenge ahead is to build that into a June 20th victory.
There is a lot of national interest in this race, not only because it is being spun as a referendum on Trump. In addition, it provides a test of Democratic ability to win a suburban southern House district, which is demographically-similar to those near a dozen or more other southern cities. If Democrats are competitive in such an emblematic suburban district, the net gain of two dozen seats needed to win a House majority in 2018 doesn’t look like such a long stretch.
As Jonathan Martin and Richard Fausset report at The New York Times:
The contest here effectively represented the first performance review at the ballot box for Mr. Trump and the Republican Congress among the sort of upscale voters who were left without a political home last fall. Mr. Price’s former district is the most highly educated Republican-controlled district in the country. And while the president won here in Atlanta’s booming northern suburbs, he did so by just a single point four years after Mitt Romney romped to a 23-point victory….
Mr. Ossoff’s strong showing will ensure that national Democrats continue to compete here and will increase pressure on the party to contest a special House election next month in Montana that it has so far ignored. Combined with Democrats’ better-than-expected performance in a special House election in Kansas last week, the Georgia result will be an immediate boon to Democratic groups, lifting their fund-raising and bolstering candidate recruitment efforts, while sobering Republicans who are assessing whether to run in Mr. Trump’s first midterm election. Already, Republican candidates and outside groups have had to spend over $7 million against Democrats in a series of deeply conservative districts.
Although the 6th district has been reliably Republican in recent years, demographic trends favor Democrats to some extent. As Tom Baxter recently noted, “There are some interesting aspects to the 6th. Only 13 percent of its voters are black, but Latino and Asian voters comprise 21 percent of the electorate, second only to the neighboring 7th District to the east, where the combined Latino-Asian total is over 29 percent.”
Democrats should be on high alert for voter suppression shenanigans, leading up to the June 20th runoff election. Georgia’s current Secretary of State, Brian P. Kemp has been criticized for conducting “criminal investigations of voter registration drives, especially if they’re run by minority organizations.” As a former Georgia Secretary of State, Handel was also criticized for her efforts to reduce voter eligibility, as noted in her Wikipedia bio:
Soon after taking office as Georgia Secretary of State Handel, began a project to purge voter rolls. By 2008, more than 50,000 registered Georgia voters had been “flagged” by state officials because of computer mismatches in personal identity information, forcing them to prove their eligibility. Some eligible voters were told that they were “non-citizens” although in fact they were citizens. The project raised fears about voter suppression, and was the subject of a federal lawsuit by the ACLU of Georgia and MALDEF, which accused Handel’s office of engaging in a “systematic purging procedure” expressly barred by federal law within 90 days of an elections. In 2009, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division ordered a halt to the state’s “voter verification” effort (denying it approval under the Voting Rights Act of 1965), determining that “thousands of citizens who are in fact eligible to vote under Georgia law have been flagged” and that the “flawed” program “frequently subjects a disproportionate number of African-American, Asian and/or Hispanic voters to additional, and more importantly, erroneous burdens on the right to register to vote.” The marked the first time since the 1990s that the Justice Department had denied approval to a change in Georgia election practice. Handel defended her program, asserting that it was appropriate and necessary.
Handel may be more vulnerable for her virulent opposition to Planned Parenthood, which remains popular with educated women, a large segment of 6th district voters. As Baxter notes, “The 6th is 64 percent white, according to the Almanac of American Politics, and its generally well-educated and affluent voters come from all over the place.”
Republicans are going to bring in bundles of corporate cash and their top spin-doctors to try and stop Ossoff. GA-6 is in for an intense ad war.
Ossoff’s campaign has to navigate a tricky course to win the runoff, deftly exploiting Handel’s extremism on a range of social issues, but emphatically not at the expense of under-selling needed economic reforms, such as infrastructure investment and creative ideas for bringing jobs to the 6th district. He will also have to parry personalized attacks against his age, money and residence, while avoiding gaffes.
Ossoff has to project an image of a dynamic, pro-active and energetic champion of economic uplift for his district. Equally-important, his campaign, message and ad-makers are going to have to bring their A-game in both early voting and June 20th turnout mobilization. It’s a formidable challenge, but Ossoff’s 48.1 showing indicates that he is in a good position to meet it.