Reprinted with permission from USAtoday.
The real winner in Georgia’s special House election is the Democratic strategy of nationalizing midterm elections in Republican districts to capitalize on President Trump’s historic unpopularity.
Jon Ossoff took in just over 48% of the vote, nearly equaling the top four Republicans in the crowded “jungle primary” to replace Tom Price in the Atlanta-area 6th congressional district. This makes him first Democratic House candidate to break 40% in the district this century.
Democrats across the country poured their hearts and more than $8 million into this race. And it worked. They nearly pushed Ossoff over the 50% he needed to avoid a June 20 runoff against Republican Karen Handel. That’s even though the former House aide and his allies were collectively outspent 61% to 39% by the GOP side.
Trump tweeted about the race several times and took credit for the “big ‘R’ win.” But that bluster is clearly overcompensation for the second straight slap in his face in fights he picked by naming House members from “safe” districts to join his administration. Last week’s special election in Kansas 4th congressional district saw Republican Ron Estes pull out a 7-point win; Trump’s CIA director, Mike Pompeo, had won it six months earlier by over 30 points.
Price, now best known for helping to pilot Trump’s first attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act into a fiery nosedive, held the Georgia 6th district seat until just a few weeks ago. He won last November by a 23-point margin and never took in less than 60% of the vote in his seven consecutive House wins.
Trump, however, only carried the district over Hillary Clinton by 1.5 points — a dramatic acceleration of a trend that saw George W. Bush’s 41-point advantage in 2004 in the district shrink to John McCain’s 25 points in 2008 to Mitt Romney’s 23-point margin in 2012. It was the sixth worst swing from Romney to Trump in the nation.
This is bad news for the president of the United States and all Republican fans of “winning.”
The increasingly diverse Georgia 6th is about as Republican as the Kansas 4th, but it has proven to be particularly repelled by Trump’s gold-plated populism and obvious racial dog-whistling about “illegal immigrants.” Even if Ossoff only matches his primary performance in the runoff, he will have demonstrated the value of putting a Donald Trump mask on his opponent.
Party strategist Geoffrey Garin went even further, crediting Trump for Ossoff’s vote total. “The final polling average for Ossoff was 42.5%. Ossoff actually gained ground after Trump weighed in. So thanks for the help,” he tweeted.
The best news for Democrats?
These two special elections — and a third coming up to replace Montana’s Ryan Zinke, the new Interior secretary — are not the low-hanging seats Democrats need to take back the House. There are 23 House Republicans who currently hold districts where Hillary Clinton got more votes than Trump last November. Democrats only need to win 24 seats to win a majority and with it the power to subpoena things like, say, Trump’s tax returns.
A true wave election, like the 1994, 2006 or 2010 midterms when the minority gained a average of 48 seats, would likely will sweep nearly all of those districts and at least a few more their way. At the very least, the Georgia results are a boon for Democratic recruiting and fundraising. And they suggest a dim outlook for both Trump’s floundering legislative agenda and the GOP’s ability to wrangle strong candidates for 2018.
Nearing his 100th day in office, Trump has demonstrated a consistent inability to pass any legislation that doesn’t require simple majorities. Even a simple majority may remain elusive for marquee issues like health care, tax reform and keeping the government open.
The press may rarely mention it but Republicans actually lost seats in both the House and the Senate last fall. That also happened in 2000, the last time a popular-vote loser went to the White House, but George W. Bush was still able to score substantive legislative wins for tax breaks and education reform with the help of Democratic votes.
An energized and enraged Democratic base makes that prospect far less likely for Trump. And given the potential electoral fruits of liberal fury, Democrats would be fools to give Trump a taste of anything else.