Democrat Jon Ossoffwon all but a handful of precincts in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in Tuesday’s special election. So what does that make him headed into June’s runoff with Republican Karen Handel?
No, the favorite.
Wrong! It’s a Republican district and will stay that way. #Fakenews! The 6th, like Georgia as a whole, is trending Democrat.
The truth is that data exist from Tuesday’s vote that can bolster or rebut just about anyone’s preferred interpretation of those results and what they mean for the runoff.
Ossoff, the 30-year-old former congressional aide, finished first overall with 48 percent of the vote. Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, finished second, and first among Republicans, with just shy of 20 percent.
Mark Rountree, the president of Landmark Communications, produced a pre-election poll that was within a few percentage points of nailing the final outcome.
Of ballots cast Tuesday, he said 98,000 came from voters with Republican voting histories and 94,000 from historically Democratic voters. That would appear to match the final outcome that saw all the Republicans combining for about 51 percent of the vote to Democrats’ 49 percent.
Rountree, who does polling for Republican candidates, said the GOP still has the advantage in the 6th.
“Because it is a Republican district, if Handel can consolidate that (Republican vote), obviously she wins,” he said.
Jim Coonan, an Atlanta Democratic strategist, said President Donald Trump has brought centrist Republicans back into play. These people were swing voters before President Barack Obama who turned reliably Republican only to turn away from Trump.
“There is something about Trumpworld the 6th just doesn’t like, and it’s not only the Democrats,” Coonan said. “The arithmetic of a 2-to-1 Republican district says that Republicans have been voting against him, too.”
Coonan said Trump and the vitriol from his supporters have put moderate Republicans back into play.
“Beyond hoping that Trump keeps up the creepy, cringe-worthy tweets and keeps leading chants of ‘lock her up’ at his rallies, how does Ossoff reach this newly available swing vote?” Coonan said. “By making clear that Democrats stand for things that will make ordinary voters’ lives materially better always helps.”
National media outlets kept a close eye on Tuesday’s election and their takeaways were equally varied.
The New York Times sensed Handel has the advantage.
“As Mr. Ossoff faces Ms. Handel in a head-to-head race on June 20, it is unclear whether he will be able to sustain the success he enjoyed on Tuesday, in an 18-person field.”
With 11 Republicans on Tuesday’s ballot, and Democrats galvanized behind Ossoff, it was not a surprise that the Democrat finished first and that a handful of the Republicans cannibalized the vote on the right. Ossoff won’t have that advantage in a head-to-head race, the Times’ Jonathan Martin and Richard Fausset wrote.
Plus, they said, Handel will see some added benefits coming her way.
“She will receive the full support of a party that dominates Georgia politics, as well as nearly unlimited resources from Washington Republicans, in the runoff,” they wrote.
The Wall Street Journal, too, said Handel appears to be the favorite in the runoff.
“Mr. Ossoff may have the tougher challenge in June,” Cameron McWhirter and Natalie Andrews wrote. “Ms. Handel will likely consolidate her party’s vote, which had been split on Tuesday among 11 candidates. The Democrat, who had less competition from others in his party, appears to face a difficult challenge in improving on his vote total.”
The Journal even offered a prediction from former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose former congressional seat is at stake. Gingrich said Handel would win by 8 points.
Democrats still in the game
At fivethirtyeight.com, analyst Harry Enten said it’s a “flawed argument” to assume Tuesday’s result was bad for Democrats.
A Democrat in the 6th District, he wrote, “would be expected to lose Georgia 6 by 9.5 percentage points in a neutral national environment (one in which the two parties fought to a tie nationally). Democrats did far better than that on Tuesday, losing by 2 points.”
Looking ahead to June, Enten said anyone who assumes Handel walks away with the win is misguided.
“Combining the lean of Georgia 6 on the presidential level over the last two elections (9.5 percentage points more Republican than the nation), Ossoff’s margin over Handel (28 points) and the aggregate margin of the Republican candidates over the Democratic candidates (2 points), Handel is favored in the runoff by less than a point,” Enten wrote. “With the relatively wide margin of error on this calculation, this is the equivalent of a tossup.”
Not a win, not a loss
RealClearPolitics.com took the middle road.
”This isn’t a win, and it isn’t a loss. It is a ‘to be continued,’” Sean Trende wrote, quoting a Twitter follower.
Trende also gives one of the most honest assessments of what will happen in June: “We can’t really game this one out yet.”
Still, Trende gives Ossoff a “reasonable chance of winning” the runoff. He has more money than Handel, the momentum from the first round, and a floor of 48 percent of the vote.
That is far from predicting a Democratic victory. The runoff, he said, is “probably going to be harder for him, rather than easier.”
Finding yet another hand, Trende also said Handel has reasons for concern.
Republicans, he wrote, “would have preferred that Ossoff wind up in the low 40s or even the 30s, instead of taking them to the wire.”
“As I put it Tuesday, there was a continuum of concern among Republicans from hardly any at all if Ossoff won 40 percent of the vote to panic if he won the district outright, with genuine concern starting in at around 45 percent,” he wrote. “I still think that’s correct, and this outcome was closer to panic than ‘meh.’”
Imagine a different scenario
In The Washington Post, columnist Jennifer Rubin flipped the script.
“Imagine if a Republican won 48 percent of the vote, say, in a New York City congressional district when the Democrats spent a boatload of money and President Barack Obama weighed in. Democrats would not be ‘breathing easy’; they’d be popping antacids. The same should hold true for Republicans in the GA-6.
“In other words, Ossoff — in a district with a 9.5-point Republican advantage — ran 10 points above the 2016 Democratic House contender and ahead of Hillary Clinton (who won less than 47 percent),” Rubin wrote. “That strong showing keeps the district as a tossup in June.”