Opinion: The real problem for Georgia GOP in 2018

A special election — actually, three of them — finally went Democrats’ way in Georgia. After the bonfire of the punditries that was their expensive bust in the 6th Congressional District, these successes are heralded as the omen of a blue restoration in state government.

Republicans are right to be concerned about 2018, but not because of Tuesday’s results.

Special-election upsets are notoriously fleeting. In 2015, a Republican named Janice Van Ness squeaked out a surprise win in a heavily Democratic Senate district covering parts of DeKalb, Newton and Rockdale counties by 84 votes. In the general election last year, she lost to the same opponent by 41 percentage points. The difference? Just 7,646 people voted in the special election; a year later, 71,611 did. The Democratic faithful who’d skipped the off-cycle contest showed up and voted as expected.

We might forecast a similar market correction in the two Athens-area districts Democrats won Tuesday. Turnout there was about 40 percent of the level from last November, with about two-thirds of the drop-off coming in the reliably Republican counties. The results should look different next November.

In Senate District 6, which covers parts of Cobb and Fulton, Republicans won a slim majority of the votes cast. The problem is those votes were divided among five candidates, and a pair of Democrats threaded the needle to lock up both spots in a December runoff. That district is more evenly divided than the Athens districts, but higher turnout next year should bode well for the GOP there, too.

If the special-election results aren’t what should scare Republicans, what should? Try the fairly weak field for next year’s top-of-the-ticket race for governor.

I have lost count of how many times this year I’ve heard two things. The first is a lament by someone who had recently attended a fund-raiser for one of the Republicans and came away uninspired.

Party loyalists are worried. I hear little faith in the two biggest names, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp. There were high hopes for state Sen. Hunter Hill, and it’s not over for him, but nor has there been a surge in his direction. State Sen. Michael Williams is running as Donald Trump, but without the money, fame or charm. A political newcomer, Clay Tippins, doesn’t seem to be catching on (or these panicked conversations would be going differently).

The anxiety is even spreading to ordinary voters I hear from. If Democrats can field a strong candidate (which isn’t a lock) and if the national political tide turns in their favor (which looks more likely), they might break through in a race that still ought to favor the GOP.

That brings me to the second thing I keep hearing: Is it too late for someone else to get in the race?

The 2018 primary is six months away, so the idea someone could jump in now and compete with campaigns that have been months, if not years, in the making would normally be far-fetched. It probably still is.

But that isn’t stopping some seasoned Republicans from asking around. They know it would take someone with an existing base of support, pretty good name ID, money (or the network to raise it), motivation and ambition. Who might fit their profile? How about a member of Congress who represents a deep-red district and has some pull within the party?

Doug Collins, call your office.

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