Tomorrow, Republicans and Democrats will turn out to elect current HHS Secretary Tom Price’s successor in Congress. The 6th district of Georgia, which takes in parts of DeKalb, Fulton and Cobb counties, is based in the most affluent suburbs north of Atlanta.
A couple notes need to be considered before we can even guess what will happen tomorrow. Georgia, like Washington State, Louisiana and California, uses a jungle primary in special election primaries where all candidates regardless of party affiliation run on the same ballot. The top two vote getters advance to a general election to occur soon after. Secondly, the muddle nature of the field (18 candidates) makes only one prediction sure to occur.
- That sure prediction is that Democratic candidate and superstar Jon Ossoff will advance to the general. He may even win outright. The real question will be which Republican he will face soon after? The GOP field is bunched between Karen Handel, Dan Moody, Bob Gray and Judson Hill. All have a reasonable chance of advancing against Ossoff.
Early on, all the momentum was on Jon Ossoff’s side. The Democratic establishment and grassroots united behind him and his polling skyrocketed from the mid 20’s to the low 40’s where it has now flattened out.
The GOP field has been a whos, who of big names and has beens running. The biggest name is Handel from her time as Secretary of State and two failed statewide bids for Governor and Senator. She narrowly leads a bunched together pack of Republican hopefuls.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the quality of polls that have come out on the contest has been subpar. Most have been partisan surveys. OpinionSavvy, the most prolific nonpartisan pollster in the contest, has found Ossoff and Handel leading the field by varying margins, However, it has a shoddy track record of accuracy.
This has/is not stopping Republican and conservative groups from fretting an Ossoff outright victory tomorrow night. His fundraising haul of over eight million certainly has them spooked as did the early voting numbers until this week. Now, the early voting numbers show an even number of Republicans and Democrats showed though Ossoff has a large lead among this group (probably due to non-affiliated voters support). Early voting ended Sunday.
It’s possible Ossoff could start off the night above 50 percent, just like Thompson in Kansas, due to the fact he so heavily won unaffiliated and Democratic voters. That lead will be important in telling us what chance he has in hitting 50 percent tomorrow night.
The fractured nature of the GOP field has worried party brass that Ossoff could sneak through in a divided field. Ads targeting Ossoff have ranged from him being unprepared to a die-hard Nancy Pelosi fanboy but the underlying point of each ad has been to remind Republicans, “Get out and vote for a Republican, any Republican.” These ads have paid off and make it less likely Ossoff skirts through without facing a Republican one on one.
Indeed, recent polls have averaged out Ossoff at 42 percent (including those who have already voted). That is well below 50 percent and shows even if Ossoff garnered a majority of the undecided vote he would probably fall shy of 50 percent (though the question then would be by how much).
Where the votes come from could be far more important than just who they are coming from. There will be some Republicans who want to send a message to Trump and others who just feel Ossoff is a moderate Democrat they can support. It is probably the later showing Republicans in early voting and Election Day Republicans that will cast a red ballot.
So, considering this, we should probably look at where the ballots are coming from tomorrow. This might be a no brainer but it must also be combined with looking at Ossoff’s totals periodically.
The early vote has skewed young, diverse and affluent and less DeKalb than past Democratic Congressional candidates. This means DeKalb, the most Democratic county in the district, could turn out big for Ossoff tomorrow. Or, if Ossoff is mired in the mid 40’s with most of DeKalb reporting and redder Fulton and Cobb counties still to report more ballots the excitement will be on which Republican faces him in a few weeks.
On that note, Ossoff’s tally will tell us quite a bit about his prospects for the next few weeks. Most of the surveys have shown Ossoff with a clear lead in the jungle primary but trailing the combined GOP vote. Even if we give Ossoff the one or two percent going to other Democratic candidates he still trials the combined GOP field). This is another part of the GOP ad buys. They want to paint Ossoff as unacceptable to Republican primary voters who show up for the general.
A good rule of thumb is that if Ossoff finishes below 45 percent and Handel or Hill win his climb, even with a huge haul of cash, is uphill. Handel and Hill are the kind of Republicans the district can support. Moody and Gray less so but they might still be acceptable. Despite the growing diversity of the district Democrats simply have a smaller base to draw from and if Republicans can mobilize their base and hold their marginals Ossoff simply cannot compete.
So, let’s recap what we should look for tomorrow.
- How big a lead Ossoff has in the early vote.
- Where votes are left to be counted compared to Ossoff’s lead
- His final vote total.
- The Republican he faces in three weeks.
Even if Ossoff starts off with a huge lead, generates massive turnout in DeKalb, and gets near 50 percent it is no guarantee that he will win in a few weeks. He will have to generate another groundswell of voter turnout and unlike the Republican he will not have a larger base to draw from. He may even lose some primary voters if they lean right and feel one vote was enough to send a message to Trump.
A lot depends on the quality of the GOP candidate he might face. Handel and Hill are generic Republicans he might struggle to tie to Trump. Moody and Gray are more Trump like candidates and that means Ossoff can better portray them as Trump lite candidates.
Of course, it is possible Trump might not be as big a drag in the district as thought. Polls show his approval is about dead even and that voters want to give him a chance. Considering this is after the AHCA’s failure this is saying something. The GOP base might have splintered last November but it seems to have consolidated since in defense of their new President (or so it seems). If Trump is not as big a drag in the district as Democrats and Ossoff are banking on, the district that sent Newt Gingrich and Tom Price will simply send another Republican to DC no matter how much money and effort the Left throws at it.
Last note, voters in Georgia do not register by party affiliation and as such the method used to identify Republicans and Democrats is based on which party’s general election primary they last participated in. It is an imperfect measurement and does not tell us much beyond old voting patterns. This leaves a chance for big surprises tomorrow. Well see.