How Realistic Are Democratic Chances in GA-6?

Democrats, eager for months for send a message to Donald Trump get their shot this month.  Tom Price’s old Congressional District GA-6, is set to hold a special election on April 18th.

Georgia was a fairly competitive state last year.  As rural areas have become suburbs and urban areas have become bluer.  Nowhere did this change seem to occur last year than in GA-6.  The district that elected Newt Gingrich for two decades and Tom Price for six terms swung from a 20 point Romney district to a single point Trump district.  This shift has Democrats giddy even as they acknowledge Price still won the district with 60 percent last November.

Donald Trump has selected a number of elected officials in Congress to join his administration.  But all these elected officials come from deeply red districts that either moved towards Trump last cycle or stayed pretty close to their 2012 margins.  The same cannot be said for GA-6 (as indicated above).

Georgia, like other Southern states, has a fairly quirky electoral system.  Like Louisiana, Alaska and more recent converts such as WA State and CA, the state uses a jungle primary system.  In this system, all elected officials regardless of party run on the same ballot and the top two vote getters advance to the general election.  However, like other Southern states, Georgia also utilizes a majoritarian run-off system where if a candidate tops 50 percent they do not even have to run in a general election against a challenger.

This dynamic has created a free-for-all on the GOP side.  Of course, it does not hurt Georgia is a state still dominated by Republicans.  No fewer than 11 Republicans have declared for the seat.  This is splitting the GOP vote and leaving Democrats an opening they are hoping to exploit.

Democrats have five candidates but the party and progressive grassroots (Daily Kos is going nuts) behind a 29 year old former Hank Lewis aid Jon Ossof.  Ossof has reportedly raised over $4 million thanks to outlets like Daily Kos and polls show he is hitting slightly above 40 percent.  This has led Democrats to speculate that he could even hit 50 percent in a few weeks,

But, just how realistic is that chance?  Well, one way is to gauge the spending on the race by outside groups.  The Congressional Leadership Fund has spent over $2 million attacking Ossoff.  Now, word has come down they are set to spend more attacking Ossoff.  The NRCC has also announced they are set to spend on the race and are increasing their staff from five to fourteen in the district.

If spending was the only barometer we were using here to gauge Democratic chances the party would be looking pretty good.  But, it’s not.  Another major factor looming over the contest is Trumps popularity.  Despite being in the low 40’s nationally and barely winning the district last year he is above 50 percent in the district according to one poll.  Further, almost all the Republicans running are making the race about something other than Trump.

If Ossoff really was threatening to clear 50 percent in April we should see some early voting movement towards him.  We aren’t, perhaps an indication the district is more Republican down-ballot than initially assumed after Trump’s flop here last year.

Early voting is a mainstay of the party nationally and in the district.  Democrats bank a significant advantage among early voters and tend to get crushed on election day (just ask Democrats about North Carolina and Florida).  In 2014, early voting was a fraction of the total vote while in 2016 it was over half of all ballots cast.  However, clouding the certainty heavy early voting favors Democrats is that Tom Price dominated last cycle despite half of all ballots cast being from early voting.

So, perhaps another way to look at this is where the early votes have come from.  The district encompasses parts of three counties; DeKalb, Cobb and Fulton.  DeKalb is the most Democratic county in the district (see map below) while Cobb and Fulton lean more Republican.  A total of 3,372 early votes had been cast by the weekend and of these a meager 532 votes had come from DeKalb.  The majority had come from Fulton and Cobb.


If it needs to be said, the map above shows the district’s results for last year’s Congressional contest.  The southern tip of the district is composed of DeKalb County while Fulton and Cobb’s outer precincts are full of GOP voters.  Obviously, if the 2017 map looks anything close to this Ossoff was a lot of hype and nothing more.

But, this might be comparing apples to oranges.  Ossoff knows his best shot is to win in April amid a divided GOP electorate and not face a one-on-one contest against a Republican in May.  So, maybe an even better way to assess his chances is to break down early voting by racial composition and age as opposed to county results.

Democrats have made up almost half of the total early vote.  Republicans are even behind non-affiliated voters.  But, before Democrats jump up and down they should also consider the age and racial composition of the electorate.  Over 2,500 ballots have been cast by whites and a majority have been over 50.  Blacks and minorities have not eclipsed 20 percent.  Older Democrats, as opposed to younger, minority Democrats are more likely to vote Republican than not.  If Ossoff was building an edge we should be seeing a surge in young, non-white votes.  So far we are not.

Early voting does not tell a story of a Democratic base turning out in massive numbers for Ossoff.  At least not yet.  Rather, it suggests the Kay Hagan effect (my name).  Senator Kay Hagan built up a massive voter ID edge in her reelection bid in North Carolina in 2014.  However, many analysts overlooked the age and racial composition of these voters and assumed Hagan had built a comfortable lead.  She certainly banked an edge but it was not able to overcome the GOP surge in November of that year.

GOP concern not withstanding,  neither spending, early voting or Ossoff’s grassroots support from his party tells us he is likely to hit 50 percent in a few weeks.  Unless favorable Democratic groups turn out in greater numbers over the next week or so (early voting ends on the 13th), he is likely to finish first in the primary but well below 50 percent.

Worse, if GOP candidates total more than 50 percent of the primary vote (as they likely will) it will signal Ossoff will have to peel off some of these voters come May.  Very few of the leading GOP candidates, whether it be former SofS Karen Handel or former state senator Dan Moody, are likely to turn off a significant contingent of traditional GOP voters.  That’s not good news for Ossoff.



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