Warning to Trump in Georgia special election
Republicans narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat in the special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District this week, as Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff fell just short of the 50 percent threshold needed to win the race outright—taking the contest to a June 20 runoff. The race in Atlanta’s heavily conservative northern suburbs, which had been represented by Tom Price, now the Health and Human Services secretary, was widely considered a referendum on Trump’s first 100 days in office. Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and first-time candidate, campaigned on a ticket to “Make Trump Furious.” He won 48 percent of the vote. Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, one of Ossoff’s 11 Republican challengers, came in second, with 20 percent—advancing to the one-on-one contest. “We shattered expectations,” said Ossoff after the results were announced, “and now are ready to fight on.”
The election attracted nationwide attention as a potential bellwether for the 2018 midterms. Ossoff raised $8.3 million, mostly from outside the state, and was backed by celebrities such as Chelsea Handler and Samuel L. Jackson. Trump also weighed in, attacking the Democrat as “weak on crime” and saying he’d “raise taxes.” When Ossoff failed to win the first round, Trump tweeted that he was “glad to be of help!” adding, “It is now Hollywood vs. Georgia on June 20.”
What the columnists said
“Reports of the electoral death of the GOP continue to be greatly exaggerated,” said Jeremy Carl in NationalReview.com. Demo crats were desperate for a win in Georgia. Yet despite pouring millions of dollars into the race, and facing a divided field of 11 Republicans, Ossoff and his big-money backers failed to secure the repudiation of Trump they so badly desired. When it’s just Handel vs. Ossoff, the young Democrat will likely crumble.
Republicans “really have no reason to gloat,” said Ed Kilgore in NYMag.com. They just “dodged a bullet” in a district that has been in GOP hands since 1978 and was once represented by Newt Gingrich. A week before, Republicans narrowly survived a 23-point swing in Kansas’ deep-red 4th Congressional District. If you need any more proof that Trump is toxic, consider this: “The 6th District candidate who tried hardest to brand himself as a Trump loyalist, Bob Gray, finished a distant third,” with 11 percent of the vote.
But “special elections rarely predict what will happen next,” said Julian Zelizer in CNN.com. In 2009, “Democrats felt pretty good” when they won congressional races in New York and elsewhere. Then a year later, Republicans rode the Tea Party wave to retake the House. Still, these last two special elections show there’s an energy in the Democratic base “that the party hasn’t seen in a decade,” said Amber Phillips in WashingtonPost.com. Money is flooding into campaigns, and young, talented liberals across the country are signing up to run. In 2018, Republicans will be defending 23 congressional districts that Trump failed to win. Democrats need to net just 24 seats to recapture the House. If they can harness liberals’ hatred for Trump, “the payoff could be huge.” ■