Democrat Jon Ossoff hopes to win over a GOP-leaning 6th Congressional District in suburban Atlanta over Republican Karen Handel in Tuesday’s runoff election, a win that could rattle Washington ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. (June 19)
Political junkies around the United States will be getting their fix Tuesday with a pair of special elections to replace House seats left open by presidential appointments. The nation’s politicians and political pundits will pay particularly close attention to the race for Georgia’s sixth congressional district, where polling shows a very tight race between Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, and Republican Karen Handel, 55, in what many are watching as a referendum on President Trump and his policies.
Why is there a special election in Georgia?
The House seat was left open by Trump’s appointment of former congressman Tom Price as secretary of health and human services. The first round of the special election was held April 18. Ossoff won 48% of the vote, far more than Handel’s 19%, which earned her second place.
Because no one got more than 50% of the vote, a June 20 runoff between Ossoff and Handel was triggered.
Why the election matters
Ossoff’s strong showing in the first round, and in the polls since then, has Democrats optimistic he could represent the first sign of a coming Democratic wave in the wake of Trump’s turbulent first few months in office. With questions swirling around ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and the lack of major legislative accomplishments, many pundits believe an Ossoff win could panic Republicans into thinking their current approach isn’t working. They say that could set off a stampede of GOP lawmakers, hurrying to distance themselves from the president.
A win for Handel, on the other hand, could be interpreted by Republicans as evidence that their support among their base remains strong, leading them to cleave closer to the president and his agenda. (The same has been said for special elections in Kansas and Montana this year.)
With so much on the line, the Georgia race has shattered fundraising records with total spending expected to come in over $50 million. That would make it the most expensive House race in American history.
An Ossoff win would certainly be an upset for a seat that has been in Republican hands since 1979 and was previously held by former House speaker Newt Gingrich. But polling remains tight and the administration has thrown its full support behind Handel, including a fundraiser with Vice President Pence and a tweet from the president urging people to “vote now for Karen H.”
What do the polls show?
The latest Real Clear Politics poll average shows Ossoff narrowly ahead of Handel with 49.3% to her 47.8%.
That’s less than the margin of error and FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver cautions that “Georgia 6 is a tough district to diagnose.” While Mitt Romney won the district, which is comprised of wealthy suburbs of Atlanta, by 23 points over Barack Obama in 2012, Trump only defeated Hillary Clinton by 1.5 points in 2016.
What time are the polls open?
The polls open at 7 a.m. ET and close at 7 p.m. ET. The first results are expected to come in about 7:30 p.m.
More than 140,000 people voted early in the election so far, according to Georgia Secretary of State Biran Kemp.
“Tomorrow will be a pivotal day for voters as they elect new representation to serve in Washington, D.C., and all eyes are on Georgia to see the results of this hotly contested race,” Kemp said in a statement.
Georgia residents can check here to see if they are eligible to vote in the election.
What about South Carolina?
Lost in all the focus on Georgia’s special election is the race for South Carolina’s fifth congressional district between Republican real estate developer Ralph Norman and Democrat Archie Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs business manager.
There has been less national attention on that race because Norman is widely considered a heavy favorite. If Parnell were to pull off an upset, it would be a clear signal that Trump and congressional Republicans have reason to be concerned about 2018.
How have the special elections gone so far this year?
Greg Gianforte showed no signs of an anti-Republican swing, winning Montana’s May 25 special election to fill its own open House seat despite assaulting a reporter on the eve of the election. Gianforte’s win came on the heels of fellow Republican Ron Estes’ April 11 win to fill Kansas’ House seat left open by the appointment of CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
How many seats do Democrats need?
Even if Ossoff and Parnell were to win, the Democrats would still be far short of the seats needed to win control of the House. Going into Tuesday’s elections, the Democrats were 24 seats short of a majority.
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