Georgia race provides a wake-up call for both Democrats and Republicans – Washington Post

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(Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

For all the money spent and the endless pre-election analysis about the meaning of it all, the special congressional election in Georgia’s 6th District produced a status quo result. Republican Karen Handel held on to a seat long held by the Republicans. For both parties, there are lessons to be learned.

Any House race that generates $50 million in spending — it was the costliest in history — is hardly a generic laboratory, and therefore the results are subject to over interpretation. In the fevered atmosphere that surrounded this contest in suburban Atlanta, it’s easy to lose sight of fundamentals. This was a district that Democrats have rarely won — in congressional races, Senate races or state races.

That meant, when stripped of all the hype, the odds always were, narrowly, in Handel’s direction. She was an almost ideal candidate for the district. Her Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, who did not even live in the district, was not. The late polls showed a tight race but gave Ossoff a slight edge (within the margin of error). Handel did better than the polls showed.

The outcome has been described as a wake-up call for Democrats, which it should be. The road to a congressional majority in 2018 remains challenging, despite hopes by many in the party that President Trump’s unpopularity will generate enough grass-roots energy to sweep aside the GOP majority. Smart Democrats were always wary of the hype surrounding Ossoff’s candidacy and the prospects for victory in Georgia. The results should bring others in the party back down to earth.

Trump won the district in 2016 by a point over Hillary Clinton. Handel’s four-percentage-point margin exceeded Trump’s, but it was significantly smaller than former congressman and current Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price received in recent elections. It was much smaller than other previous GOP occupants of the seat enjoyed before that and smaller by far than Mitt Romney’s in 2012.

So Handel did better than the polls predicted but worse that Republicans generally do in the district. Chalk that up to two things: Open-seat races are often closer than races involving incumbents and the Trump effect on voters. The fundamentals of the district were in her favor, but her advisers always worried about the head winds created by the president. Without the current occupant of the White House, she probably would have won by a bigger margin.

It’s instructive to look at what happened Tuesday in neighboring South Carolina, in a special election to fill the seat of Mick Mulvaney, the Trump administration’s budget chief. Trump won that district handily in 2016, yet Democrat Archie Parnell came within a few points of defeating Republican Ralph Norman. The South Carolina election got almost no national media attention, yet Parnell came a bit closer to winning than did Ossoff.

Viewed from that angle, the results Tuesday underscore the degree to which the political landscape has changed in the age of Trump. Democrats were unduly optimistic about the Georgia race, but what happened there and in South Carolina is consistent with what has happened in other congressional special elections this year. Democrats are winning a greater share of the vote in these districts than they have in the past.

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