Before focusing on the results in Georgia, last month’s Congressional special election in Kansas bears another look. Kansas Republican Ron Estes won with an underwhelming eight point margin. In 2016 Republicans dominated the district’s election; President
Trump carried the district by 27 points and former Congressman, now CIA director Mike Pompeo by 31 points. Estes was a less than stellar candidate, stiffer than a cold winter wind through southeast Kansas. Yet the close race in Wichita energized Dems for Georgia’s special election in the affluent Atlanta suburbs.
In the Georgia primary, 30-year old Democratic wunderkind Jon Ossoff led with 48.6% in a district that was last held by a Democrat during the Jimmy Carter administration.
Ossoff was the Dem cause celebre, brandishing the catchy slogan, “Make Trump Furious.” Roll Call reported he raised $8.3 million during the 1Q of 2017, 95% from outside of the district. His donors included; progressive fave Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea Handler who “joked” that Trump might have syphilis. Clever and audacious radio commercial aired for Ossoff with Samuel L. Jackson paraphrasing the classic Pulp Fiction, “We have to channel the great vengeance…into votes at the ballot box.”
Yet does the outpouring of celebrities matter? No candidate had more celebrities than Hillary Clinton--how did that turn out?
While the Georgia Sixth District leans right, times and Georgia have changed. This is not a ruby red seat. The old Newt Gingrich seat was most recently held by Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price, but Trump only carried the District by 1.5%. Due to its urban centers and diversity, if Dems crack the southern bloc of Republican control, Georgia is the most likely location. Ossoff is moderate on same issues, progressive on others, smart Dems realize that a flip of this seat is worth discarding a purity test.
Both Georgia candidates have flaws. The Republican candidate Karen Handel is no rising star; she lost for governor in 2010 and for the Senate in 2014. Inexplicably, Ossoff committed a self-inflicted wound by not living in the Congressional district. The law requires residency to serve, it does not require residency to run. His reason is a rookie mistake---he claims he lives but ten minutes away with his girlfriend while she finishes medical school. He couldn’t have moved a year ago? Ten miles does not equate to a long distance romance.
The residency issue coupled with the mega-donations from outside of Georgia will be issues for Handel to exploit. Her easiest slogan to hit Ossoff will be, “This outsider cannot even vote for himself.”
The greatest fundraising tool for Democrats is raising the specter of President Trump, so expect Ossoff to enjoy to continue his mega-fundraising, but his 4:1 fund raising lead over Handel in the primary will disappear. In June, Republicans will rally around Handel instead of splitting votes between the 11 GOP candidates in the April primary.
Georgia is another political Rorschach test. If Ossoff wins, the Dems have turned their energy into victory and Congressional control of Congress in 2018 is very much in play. If the Republican wins, Speaker Ryan has held the fort; but Trump and the Republicans still remain in need of political and legislative victories. There are only so many bombs one can drop.
Kansas was close, but moral victories will not replace Ryan with Pelosi in the Speaker’s Chair. The June 20th Atlanta special election may be the sweet, Georgia peach that Dems hunger for; but today, the Republican Handel holds a thin edge.