Welcome to another Tuesday, another special election, and another opportunity for speculation about whether Donald Trump and Republicans are really in trouble this time. Voters in Georgia’s 6th District go to the polls today for the all-in primary that pits 18 candidates against each other to replace Tom Price, now Health and Human Services Secretary for the Trump administration. Democrats have poured over eight million dollars into the race, and have to hope that Jon Ossoff will get to 50% today to avoid the runoff:
After months of increasing national scrutiny, it’s finally time for voters to hit the polls for what’s likely to be just the first of two elections to fill the open seat left behind by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Democrats in the district, though, are hoping that Tuesday’s election will be it, and that Ossoff, the insurgent liberal in the race, will crest 50 percent of the vote, winning the 18-candidate open primary outright and eliminating the need for a June runoff.
“I think I can win,” Ossoff said Monday about his chances of winning outright. “Whether I do is up to turnout and the voters,” he said, adding, “We’re within striking distance.”
It’s a foregone conclusion that Ossoff will win a plurality today. The Republican vote will get split among eleven candidates. Democrats hoped to get a massive turnout from their side in today’s race to get to the 50% mark, which is why so much cash has flowed into a House special election. Unfortunately for them, Ossoff hasn’t polled outside of the low 40s in the R+8 district, so that strategy required Republicans to sit at home — or to have Democrats turn out in massive numbers. In a special election, that could happen, and might catch Republicans napping.
Donald Trump has spent the last few days trying to make sure that didn’t happen:
“Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress. VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO,” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning, adding in a subsequent post that “Republicans must get out today and VOTE in Georgia 6. Force runoff and easy win! Dem Ossoff will raise your taxes-very bad on crime & 2nd A.” …
“With eleven Republican candidates running in Georgia (on Tuesday) for Congress, a runoff will be a win. Vote “R” for lower taxes & safety!” Trump wrote on Twitter Monday night.
That may not be enough to counter the months-long GOTV effort that Democrats — especially the DCCC — have built for this special election primary. Republicans have paid some attention to this race, but got to it very late, and it’s hardly clear that a few presidential tweets will suffice. The problem for the GOP is the large number of Republican candidates, who have split endorsements from key Republicans. Roll Call describes the situation succinctly:
Although the Republican Party can’t pick a candidate, different outside groups and surrogates have rallied around their favorites. The Club for Growth has backed Johns Creek city Councilman Bob Gray, another strong contender to finish second. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who held this seat for 20 years) are behind Hill, while Sen. David Perdue endorsed former state Sen. Dan Moody. Former Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Ending Spending Action Fund, an establishment-friendly Republican super PAC, endorsed Handel.
Democrats see this as an opportunity to plant a flag for 2018:
“The fact that a Democrat in a red district like this will make it into the runoff and likely be the leading vote-getter tells you about the intensity of the energy behind Democrats and progressives,” said Jesse Ferguson, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) staffer.
“The same thing that’s fueling 200 protests around the country on Saturday is fuelling progressive energy around the Atlanta suburbs,” Ferguson added, alluding to weekend protests calling for Trump to release his tax returns.
Actually, it doesn’t do any of that. It’s a special election, an event that defies correlation with regular election cycles. Turnout models become very unique and much more vulnerable to activists and cash. Democrats can’t afford to spend $8.3 million on every House district and to park DCCC staffers in every Congressional election in 2018. Even if Ossoff succeeds today — and that still seems unlikely — he’s almost certain to lose the seat back to the GOP in 2018, when normal turnout will produce the kind of vote one normally sees in R+8 districts, especially with a candidate who doesn’t even live in the district.
All this will actually prove is that it takes an impossible amount of cash and a freak turnout model to turn a red district blue — and that will only be true if they actually pull it off. If Ossoff can’t get to 50% today and loses in a runoff election, Democrats will have wasted $8.3 million and three months of effort to win one seat that will have no impact on the GOP majority anyway. That won’t tell us about the intensity of energy behind the Left, but it will say something about their priorities. Have fun storming the castle.