The race for Georgia’s 6th congressional district was the most expensive House race in American history, and now it’s over, and the Republican Karen Handel has won. Beyond that, I want to avoid the temptation to draw greater meaning from this outcome. Early on election day, Nate Silver offered the following warning: “The ‘takes’ you’ll read about the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District on Tuesday night are probably going to be dumb. A close outcome in either direction would be consistent with what we know about the political environment.”
Lest I offer a dumb take, I’ll simply lay out what we actually know. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried this district by 23 points. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the district by 1.5 points. But Tom Price, the incumbent congressman in 2016, won by 23 points. In the run-off election that narrowed the field to two candidates, Ossoff failed to eclipse the 50% threshold, with Republican candidates receiving 51% of the total vote. (With 20%, Handel was the second overall finisher.)
So, it was reasonable to expect that this race would be close, with a slight advantage to the Republican candidate.
Ossoff’s defeat tonight continues a trend of Democratic candidates since November narrowly losing in traditionally red districts. What this means for the Democratic Party moving forward—I’d be a fool to guess.
But the immediate concern for Democrats is to steel themselves for the health care fight ahead.
It has been widely reported that the Republican health care bill, as passed by the House, is catastrophically unpopular. A recent poll found that the bill has just a 21% approval rating. Despite that, Senate Republicans are intent on passing their bill in the coming week. And, to date, they have not shown their Democratic colleagues, nor the public, any of what is actually in the bill—a stunning break with standard legislative process.
It is possible that Handel’s victory will embolden Republicans in their pursuit of this agenda. This, I believe, would be a miscalculation on their part.
Moreover, while the Democrats have failed to capture seats in this Trump era, it is important to remember why this Georgia special election had to happen. President Trump selected Tom Price to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services because his seat was assumed to be safe. It wasn’t. The Republican Party had to fight for every inch in this district, which, if you are looking for a sign of things to come, might spell trouble for Republican candidates around the country in 2018.
These are strange times, and they’re getting stranger still. Your guess is as good as mine.