GOP holds seat in high-stakes Georgia election
Democrats suffered a demoralizing setback in Georgia this week as Republican Karen Handel easily defeated novice Jon Ossoff in a special House election widely seen as a referendum on President Trump. A former Georgia secretary of state, Handel scored a 52-48 victory in the 6th Congressional District, a suburban Atlanta seat formerly held by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Republicans have held the district since 1979, but Democrats had high hopes after Trump edged Hillary Clinton by just 1.5 points there in 2016. Ex–congressional aide Ossoff, 30, topped 17 candidates in an April election for Price’s seat, but fell just short of the 50 percent required for outright victory, forcing a runoff with Handel, 55. Their showdown drew national attention and became the most expensive race in House history, with candidates and outside groups spending $55 million. Ossoff ran as a centrist, but Republicans painted him as a liberal puppet who’d be controlled by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Hollywood celebrities who donated to his campaign. Handel, who scarcely mentioned the president during the campaign, focused on replacing the Affordable Care Act in her victory speech. “We need to finish the drill on health care,” she told supporters.
The loss leaves Democrats winless in four special elections since Trump took office—though unknown Archie Parnell this week came within 3 points of taking Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s former House seat in South Carolina. “Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on Healthcare, Tax Cuts, Security,” Trump tweeted. “Obstruction doesn’t work!”
What the editorials said
If the GOP thinks it can now breathe easy, “it would be the height of hubris,” said the Washington Examiner. Republicans normally win this overwhelmingly white, middle-class district by 20-plus points. But the political landscape is shifting. In 2016, Republicans made gains among working-class voters in Northern and Midwestern states, but lost support among wealthier, better-educated whites. Somehow, they must build on blue-collar gains but hang on to the upscale voters. The Democrats only need 24 seats to win back the House in 2018—and 26 Republicans represent districts where Clinton won a larger share of the vote than in Georgia’s 6th.
Calling this anything but an embarrassing loss for Democrats is “completely delusional,” said InvestorsBusinessDaily.com. The party and donors spent more than $25 million in the district, and what did they get? A lower share of the vote than Clinton. Perhaps Democrats will now realize that it’s just not enough to “fan Trump hatred among their base.” To win seats, it also helps to have some actual policies to “create jobs and increase family incomes.”
What the columnists said
Cue the Democratic freak-out, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. Ossoff’s defeat has dented party confidence because it feels like Democrats just can’t win. But the reason they’ve lost four special elections in a row is simply that all those contests were in heavily Republican districts. The good news is that Democrats overperformed by an average of 8 points in those races, enough to make them “solid favorites to win a House majority” in 2018.
Sure, the party’s recent showings are encouraging, said Josh Kraushaar in NationalJournal.com. “But the road to actually winning the House is through Republican-friendly affluent suburbs just like Georgia’s 6th.” To get that majority, Democrats need a “political tsunami” like the one Republicans pulled off in the 2010 midterms. But right now, the party is “looking at a Category 2 storm.”
Georgia has made one thing clear: The GOP is “Trump’s party now,” said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. The president might be swamped in scandals and stuck with a sub-40 percent approval rate, but “a more-or-less standard-issue Republican” still triumphed in the kind of well-heeled district that was supposed to be at risk in the Trump era. The distinctions and tensions between the GOP’s “country club, Tea Party, and Trumpist factions are fading away.” Offered “a safe and limited way to distance themselves from Trump,” the Republicans of Georgia’s 6th rejected it. “He is theirs; they are his.”
Kevin D. Liles/The New York Times/Redux, AP ■