It’s just about all over but the counting in the most expensive House race in American history. Over $50 million has poured into the Atlanta suburbs in the race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff – much of it from liberal special interests from outside the district. The Democrats have sought to make this special election in Georgia’s 6th District a referendum on Donald Trump.
Former Congressman Tom Price vacated his seat here to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. He won re-election last year by 23 points – the same margin of victory Mitt Romney had over Barack Obama in 2012. Meanwhile Donald Trump only won this district by 1 percentage point. So, it is logical that the Democrats would focus on attacking Trump.
As of June 19, 140,510 votes (a quarter of all registered voters in the district) have been cast. This number is more than double the number of early votes in the April 18 runoff election (58,825) and approaches the number of early voters for the 2016 presidential race last November (195,852).
If the jungle primary on April 18 is any indication, those early votes should favor Ossoff. That’s not much of a surprise. Traditionally, Democrats win early voting while the GOP carries the Election Day vote. That means you should expect Ossoff to jump out to a lead when the polls close at 7:00 PM local time and the early votes are quickly tallied. Handel will have to make up that ground as the Election Day votes roll in. This could make it a late night.
The polling is very tight. Karen Handel has closed the gap that Jon Ossoff enjoyed at the beginning of June. According to the Real Clear Politics aggregation of polling, they are now in a statistical dead heat thanks in part to the publicizing of Ossoff’s liberal out-of-state supporters and his living outside the district. Historically, special House election polling is less accurate than polling for midterm and Presidential year polling though. According to FiveThirtyEight.com,
We collected 54 polls from special House elections that have taken place since 2004 and for each compared the leading candidate’s share in the poll with the final election results, taking into account undecideds. We found the true margin of error to be about +/- 8.5 percentage points. That’s almost double the theoretical margin of error posted for most of the polls conducted for the Georgia 6 special election. Even if we compare the average polling share that the leading candidate received in the 22 races that these 54 polls were taken in, the margin of error is still about +/- 7.5 points.
This is to say – anything could happen. It sounds like a cliché, but it really does come down completely to turnout. The demographics and history should favor Handel, but the Democrats are very energized. The Left is attempting to turn out new voters that sat out the April 18 election. They have had some success there, since the “new” early voters are younger and more minority than normal. Ossoff is also trying to win over some moderate white suburban voters who have shied away from Trump. These moderates have traditionally voted GOP here but are the reason for the difference in the margin of victory between Trump and Rep. Price last year.
Despite this being only one of 435 House seats, much more is at stake than just one vote in Congress. Special elections in off-years are often treated as bellwethers for the current trends of our political environment. With no other concrete proxies available, politicos latch onto these. Victory gives talking points, validates agendas, energizes the base, and assists in candidate recruitment. Whether these off-year elections actually predict future success in midterm or Presidential election years is up for debate, but if Democrats can find success in the Georgia suburbs, they could be a threat in other unexpected places next year as well.