Don’t Panic About the Georgia Special Election
The New York Times, presuming that victory is near for Ossoff, proclaims that the Georgia special election to replace Tom Price is now a “referendum on Trump”:
Following Mr. Price, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor, was even more direct. “I know some of you out there, some Republicans may even be turned off by our president,” said Mr. Perdue, before making the case for his boss.
The two Trump cabinet secretaries, both Georgia Republicans, had unwittingly revealed the twin hurdles standing in Ms. Handel’s path heading into Tuesday’s election: Democratic enthusiasm is soaring across the country while the sort of pastel-and-Polo-clad Republicans who reside in this district are uneasy about what they see in Washington and have decidedly mixed views of President Trump.
Republicans, weighed down by Mr. Trump’s growing unpopularity, must demonstrate they can separate themselves from the president enough to hold suburban districts that only now are becoming battlegrounds.
There’s a few problems with this analysis, even assuming that Ossoff has the election in the bag.
I have been concerned about Karen Handel’s ability to win this election for months now. The first problem with Handel is she’s a terrible candidate:
Whereas Ossoff was ahead by less than 1 point in an average of polls taken in March (before the primary, but after Handel emerged as the leading Republican candidate), he was ahead by an average of 5 points in the two polls with an end date in June.
The problem is that because she finished Round 1 with only 20 percent, and the cumulative Republican vote was barely more than 50 percent, she needs closer to 100 percent of the non-Handel Republican vote to reach a majority in the runoff. That may be a little much to ask of a candidate who has lost two major statewide primaries in the last seven years.
Handel, a former Secretary of State for Georgia, has been trying to get elected, as the above notes, for seven years now and has been unable to do it. The only way she was able to emerge as the front runner was through massive GOP backing and employing a “splitter strategy” similar to what Jeb Bush tried at the opening of the 2016 campaign, with multiple candidates to divide the conservative vote. With GOP resources and backing, she was finally to emerge as the front runner.
In this case the splitter strategy worked, and Handel did indeed become the frontrunner. The problem for the GOP is that they seemed to then expect token Democrat opposition at best. They did not reckon on the Democrats’ billionaire donor base going berserk with rage and pouring tens of millions into Georgia to try to win a seat somewhere so they could repudiate Trump.
Another thing to look at when talking about this race is the campaign donations. This has been repeatedly described as the most expensive House race in history, smashing all previous records. Most of this money has gone to Ossoff, who has received $23 million in campaign contributions, compared to the unpopular Handel, who has gotten only $4.5 million.
To be clear, what I am saying is that the circumstances around Georgia’s special election are not representative of where the country is as a whole. A very weak and unpopular GOP candidate is running against a relatively strong Democrat candidate who has an incredible money advantage over her. The Democrats will not be able to replicate this nationwide, first and foremost because they won’t be able to spend this kind of money on every House race in the nation, and second because recruiting strong candidates is not always easy or possible.
This is a race the Democrats should be running away with, and yet even with every advantage – a strong Democrat candidate, virtually unlimited money, a very weak GOP candidate, and a very engaged party base, they are still neck and neck instead of way ahead, with some pollsters believing that Handel is even picking up momentum:
But just because few voters tell pollsters they haven’t made up their minds doesn’t mean they can’t change their minds. And Cahaly, the Trafalgar Group pollster, says he thinks Handel has been gaining in recent weeks.
“What I saw is momentum on her part. I saw her growing strength,” Cahaly said. “I believe this race was 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 points a few weeks ago.”
But Cahaly cited one other factor that the newest polls might not be picking up: last week’s shootings at congressional Republicans’ baseball practice in Northern Virginia that wounded five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Ossoff struggling should be triggering alarm bells among the Democrats, but it isn’t, because they’re too arrogant and corrupt to consider that structural changes are needed for them to survive as a political party. Even the Democrats’ most reliable ally, GOP ineptitude, seems to be failing them.