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What Tuesday’s Special Election in Georgia Will (And Won’t) Tell Us About the Future

By  |  April 17, 2017, 08:08am  |  @DaveScharoun

There’s a special election happening in Georgia’s sixth congressional district tomorrow. If you have so much as turned on a television in the past two months anywhere in the greater Atlanta area, you are already well-aware of this due to the barrage of advertisements that have inundated the region’s commercial breaks. If, for whatever reason, you have been enjoying these advertisements, then boy do I have good news: they aren’t stopping! For two more months!

That is, of course, assuming that tomorrow’s jungle primary results necessitate a runoff election in June, which is exceedingly likely. Democratic frontrunner Jon Ossoff would like to be able to win outright, but to do so would require him to eclipse the fifty percent mark. This is easier said than done, as Ossoff has a few Democratic rivals to compete with. While none of them are expected to finish above the low single digits, it would still require Democrats as a whole to finish well above fifty percent in what is thought to be, at the very least, a light red district. So far, no major polls have projected Ossoff to cross the fifty percent line.

Congressional elections are traditionally seen as local affairs, but as one of the first federal elections of the Trump era, this one has garnered national attention as a de facto referendum on the new administration. While Kansas’s fourth district race last week was a contest for one of the country’s most conservative districts, Democrats have sensed opportunity in Georgia’s sixth. Not only have the district’s demographics undergone gradual change in recent years, but sixth district Republicans have been rather lukewarm towards our new president. Trump barely squeaked by with a 51-49 margin in November, heavily outpaced by now Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, the district’s former representative, who ran away with a 62-38 victory.

So if we assume that the sixth is now looking more purple than pink, is it fair to view tomorrow’s results as a barometer for the 2018 midterms? Maybe. If the Democrats have any prayer of regaining the House during the Trump era, they will need to make inroads into districts like the sixth, ones that are filled with just enough independents and moderate Republicans who could be persuaded to defect over their dissatisfaction with the president.

On the other hand, no race in 2018 will be quite like this one. For one, Democrats around the country have bankrolled Ossoff’s campaign to the tune of an astonishing $8.3 million and counting. Virtually from the beginning of the campaign, Ossoff emerged from the Democratic field as the “chosen candidate,” as the endorsements and dollars started pouring in very early on. Republicans have had to slug it out with one-another for contributions and support, and no one candidate has been able to bring in more than a small fraction of what Ossoff has commanded thus far.

Of course, the enthusiasm and interest from national Democrats in this race was to be expected. As we enter the third month of the Trump presidency, they have yet to acquire the “scalp” that they so desperately hoped to obtain during Cabinet confirmations. Replacing a Trump appointee with an unabashed progressive Democrat (in a Southern red state no less) would certainly be the next best thing. Comparatively, it’s safe to assume that many conservatives will be content to rest on their laurels after an astounding upset victory in November, and the lack of interest could result in diminished returns for the Republican side.

All this is to say that observers should be wary of drawing any major conclusions about the present or the future from tomorrow’s results. Certainly an outright win for Ossoff and the Democrats would seem to be a major rebuke to the new ruling establishment, but it would still be impossible to determine how things may have shaken out if the playing field had been a bit more even. With a June runoff election likely on the horizon, we will get a chance to see that more even playing field and thusly a better opportunity to gauge the future of the House.

And if you’re in Atlanta like me, you get to look forward to new ads! Lots and lots of ads.