This is it, it all comes down to the returns tonight in a small, suburban, highly educated district in Georgia. Outside spending has poured into the district to the tune of over $50 million (most expensive House race in US history). And after a grueling two month runoff campaign Republican Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff will finally see which one gets to go to DC to represent the ancestrally red district.
Handel has run on her experience and background getting things done while in state government. Ossoff has run as an outsider. While Handel has embraced much of the GOP’s agenda she has not bear hugged Trump. Ossoff has run away from the most liberal aspects of his party on tax issues (I will not vote for new income taxes) but embracing its emphasis on the environment, cultural liberalism and healthcare access.
As with any election, one of the key caveats to note is not just to watch the total numbers but also where those numbers are coming from (see points two and three below). So, with that said, here are five things to look for in GA-6 tonight.
1. Who has turned out: Georgia does not require registration by party affiliation so figuring this out has been a bit of a doozy. But it is expected Ossoff will win the early vote while Handel the Election Day vote. Speaking of that….
2. Ossoff’s early vote margin: When Ossoff was boasting seven point leads in the polls he had a massive edge in the early vote. Now, the latest polls showing the race tied or with Handel enjoying a tiny lead show the early vote margin has tightened. This is partly due to Republicans increasing voter mobilization and running ads pulling moderate Republicans to Handel. Democrats expect to get a boost from thousands of new voters who registered since April while Republicans expect reliable partisans to vote more in mass in the early voting this time. If Ossoff’s lead in early voting is less than five points, he is in trouble. If he boasts a massive lead from the early vote than we are in for a long night.
3. Key Counties: The two key counties in the district are Cobb and Dekalb. While both counties backed Clinton in 2016, the most conservative precincts in Cobb county are located in the district. Likewise, DeKalb is a Democratic stronghold. Ironically, the county with the largest share of voter in the district, Fulton, is considered right leaning but did back Ossoff back in May.
Watch Cobb and DeKalb. If Handle is not winning the Cobb portion of the district by ten or more points she is in trouble. Likewise, Ossoff needs similar margins in DeKalb. While Fulton has almost half the of the district’s voters and Handel is from the county neither candidate has an edge there.
4. The Sympathy Vote: This measure is impossible to gauge but it is possible in the last day or two some Republicans have come home to Handel after a Bernie Sander’s supporter shot up a GOP Congressional baseball practice. Additionally, Handel received a suspicious package on Sunday causing the police to be involved. Along with backing the Ossoff campaign into a corner on defense it will be interesting to see if these events moved some voters into her column.
5. How close the polls were: Polling in special elections has been less than accurate historically. For example, polling in Montana showed a tighter race than the final result. Earlier, the polls underestimated Ossoff’s margins by three to five percent. Now, with the polls showing a race within the margin of error it will be interesting to see if they were correct once we know the final margin.
Last note: There is another special election in SC-5 for Mick Mulvaney’s open seat. Polling in the race has been sparse at best and the district could not be more different than Georgia’s. The district went for Trump by almost 30 points last year but was represented by a Democrat until 2010. Due to the racial polarization of the district it is expected to be an easy hold by 10-20 points but if it is closer the GOP is also probably losing GA-6. And keep an eye on these special elections in South Carolina as well.