As you've surely heard, there will be a special runoff election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on Tuesday. The candidates are Democrat Jon Ossoff, a young center-left squish, and Republican Karen Handel, a right-wing weirdo most famous for nearly wrecking the Komen breast cancer charity with an attack on Planned Parenthood.
The background for the election is, of course, President Trump and the ongoing Republican attempt to blitz TrumpCare through the Senate — with no debate, no hearings, no markups, and not even a text of the draft bill released. (Apparently they are considering a plan to further shorten the process by introducing a blank "bill" to use up required debate time, and then attach the entire TrumpCare text as an amendment at the last second.)
It will be an interesting test of Republican resolve. Will Congress ram through as much horrendously unpopular policy as possible and go down in flames? Or will Republicans panic and try to keep their jobs?
The Georgia race has already become the most expensive race in House history, for reasons which are somewhat mysterious. The two previous special elections this year, in Montana and in Kansas, got a highly unusual degree of attention and money, but nothing like the tsunami of cash that both sides are deploying here.
What's more, nothing about this election suggests it's more of a bellwether than the other two. In the first round, Ossoff only did slightly better than Hillary Clinton — while in Montana, Rob Quist beat her mark by 14 points, and in Kansas, James Thompson beat her mark by 20 points. They both still lost, of course, but if those margins were repeated nationwide, Democrats would win the House in a gigantic landslide. A very narrow Jon Ossoff win would arguably be worse news for Democrats than those other two.
Weirder still, neither candidate in the race is focusing much at all on the major issues. Ossoff has barely mentioned either Trump or the TrumpCare bill, presenting himself as a bland technocratic manager who wants to cut wasteful spending. Handel, meanwhile, has tried the usual smear campaign, tying him to Nancy Pelosi, left-wing protesters, and Al Jazeera. (One particularly despicable ad basically accused him of being in league with terrorists for producing a few documentaries for the network.)
Yet the election in Georgia is getting the lion's share of money and attention. I would guess that's the natural tendency of parties to focus on close races (a win is a win, after all), and also because both elite Republicans and Democrats trip over themselves to cater to wealthy suburbanites who are culturally similar to themselves.
Still, any election in such a climate can't help being something of a referendum on national politics. But regardless of what happens to Ossoff, it does not change the fact that both Trump and TrumpCare are horrendously unpopular. Our beleaguered president — who incidentally apparently admitted on Twitter that he is under investigation for possible obstruction of justice — just brushed 60 percent disapproval in the Gallup tracking poll.
TrumpCare is even more unpopular, with 62 percent disapproval as of early June — and that is certain to increase sharply in both raw numbers and intensity if it actually passes. It would be quite literally a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and a matter of financial apocalypse for millions more. The reason for passing the bill — to give a big tax cut to rich people, paid for by stealing health insurance from the poor and working class — is maddening almost beyond words.
It's obvious that Republicans know this from the way they are trying to sneak the bill through. Several Vox reporters tried to pin down eight Senate Republicans on why they're trying to pass the bill, and every single one of them dissembled like mad. The reason why is obvious: There is no defending this bill on the merits.
So if Ossoff wins, it might potentially spark panic among Republicans who are up for re-election next year in marginal seats. If he loses, they might be able to keep their heads down long enough to jam this thing through — despite the fact that neither conclusion would be much justified on the political merits, as the race is likely to be very close.
Only one thing is certain: Democrats must make Republicans pay for the very idea of TrumpCare, and use any political success thus gained to pass Medicare for all.