Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel strongly condemned an attack ad that surfaced Sunday accusing the “unhinged left” of endorsing violence against Republicans days before the nationally-watched race to represent Georgia’s 6th District is decided.
The ad, funded by a little-known group called the Principled PAC, opens with sounds of gunshots and footage of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise being wheeled away on a stretcher after he and other members of the Republican congressional baseball team were ambushed by a lone gunman while practicing in a Washington suburb.
“The man is fighting for his life,” Ossoff said Sunday after a campaign stop. “I think it’s disgraceful to politicize it, and I think Secretary Handel should call for it to come down.”
For reasons that perplex many onlookers, a Handel spokeswoman did not call for the ad to be taken down, and merely called it “disturbing and disgusting.” As a moral and political matter, this seems to be a poor move that underestimates public disgust with vitriol and the politicization of violence. Handel’s refusal to issue a full-throated denunciation and demand for the ad to be taken down comes across as a wink-wink to the far right. In a district filled with upscale, highly educated voters whose rising discontent with President Trump has fueled Ossoff’s rise, Handel’s halfhearted approach may only remind voters that she willingly campaigned with Trump and has refused to repudiate his policies. Moreover, a final tweet from Trump backing her candidacy might do as much harm as good in the race.
It’s not clear whether this final incident will make a difference in Tuesday’s highly anticipated special election, which has already beaten all spending records for a congressional district race and generated a stampede of early voters. Nevertheless, in a close race, as this is expected to be, virtually any event can tip the scales.
Should Ossoff win, Republicans on the ballot in 2018 (or considering retirement) will get a jolt. If a congressional district that Tom Price won by 23 points in 2016 goes to a Democrat in a race with a candidate who failed to distance herself from Trump and his policies and didn’t do her utmost to repudiate egregious rhetoric, you can bet that there will be more congressmen and senators willing to rebuke Trump and distance themselves from his policies. In the GA-6 race, one poll shows more than 80 percent of voters consider health care the top issue; a loss for the GOP in that setting will set off a round of second-guessing about Trumpcare. Watch for the Republicans in competitive seats who decide to retire, a sure sign of flagging optimism about the party’s chances.
Should Handel win, Democrats will try to reassure one another that this is a “9.5-plus” Republican district — far more Republican than tens of districts that could be in play in 2018. Nevertheless, a loss here for Democrats would likely set off a new round of recriminations. Does the party need a stronger, affirmative message? Would it do better with candidates to the left of a centrist like Ossoff?
In sum, the GA-6 won’t necessarily be predictive of 2018. However, in the short run, it’s likely to dominate the political discussion at exactly the same time the Senate is contemplating a secretive, rushed process on health care. If nothing else, it may determine just how many Republicans decide to hang it up before the next election.