Last night, Republican Karen Handel defeated her Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff by nearly four points in the special election runoff for Georgia’s 6th district.
Twitter was awash with arguments about the importance or lack of importance of these results. Republicans were touting the fact that Handel had won in what many in the mainstream media had previously called a referendum election. The Left dismissed the results, explaining away the loss by emphasizing the district’s Republican lean.
A closer look shows just how devastating the election was to the Democrats.
For several months, political pundits and Democratic operatives have salivated over the possibility of taking over the House of Representatives. Their theory was that President Trump would have a downward drag on congressional races, and by attacking Trump relentlessly and destroying his credibility nationally, there would be a strong possibility they could win enough seats to gain the majority.
Georgia’s 6th district was an ideal test case for that theory. Trump had won the district by just 1.5 percent in 2016, and with the national polls showing Trump’s favorability numbers underwater, this was seen as a huge pick-up opportunity. The Left’s ex post facto argument that Georgia 6 was a strong Republican district is totally ridiculous. In order for them to gain the majority in 2018, they will have to win seats currently held by Republicans. This was a suburban district that had gone against its strong Republican roots by giving Clinton a near tie in the 2016 presidential election.
The Democrats had two major advantages in the Georgia 6 special election that they will not have in the majority of 2018 races: 1) it was an open seat, and 2) they could focus their resources on a single challenger, allowing them to outspend Republicans in the district.
The margin of Secretary (and former Rep.) Tom Price’s win in 2016 actually evidences the problem the Democrats will have when all of the House seats are up next November. Price won by 23 points in part because he was a six-term incumbent, and in part because his Democratic opponent spent less than $1,000. In this instance, the Democrats spent $30 million and were not facing an incumbent Congressman, yet they still lost.
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) June 21, 2017
As Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal points out, there are only 27 GOP-held districts in which Trump had a smaller 2016 vote share than in Georgia’s 6th district. For the Democrats to take back the House, they would need to flip 24 of them. That’s going to be very hard to do when they couldn’t even “flip the sixth” when they had the ideal scenario for victory staring them straight in the face.
Let’s not rewrite the narrative now that it’s inconvenient for the Democrats. This was not a deep red district that returned to its roots. This was an attempt to flip a suburban district where Trump was far less popular than in most Republican districts. On paper, it should have worked, but it obviously didn’t.
The inability to win this district is very simply explained: Republicans dislike liberal Democrats much more than they dislike Donald Trump. As long as that continues to be the case, Democrats will have a hard time unseating incumbent Republicans in 2018 who will, in most cases, have a significant cash advantage.
Photo credit: Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0