An energized Republican base kept Ossoff from accumulating a significant lead among early voters and doomed the hopes of the anti-Trump activists
Democrats fell short of a special election victory yet again on Tuesday when Jon Ossoff, long the best hope of Democrats to win a special election in the Trump administration, suffered a narrow loss to Republican Karen Handel in the Sixth Congressional District.
The race was the latest in a series of special elections in Republican seats where Democrats managed to deliver moral victories rather than actual victories as they proved unable to notch a major electoral win in the Trump administration.
With 100% of precincts reporting, Handel had 52.7% and Ossoff had 47.3%.
Sporadic downpours and flash flood warnings helped to put a damper on Democratic turnout in base precincts and on the hopes of progressives to thwart Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Combined with an energized Republican base that kept Ossoff from accumulating a significant lead among early voters, it doomed the hopes of the anti-Trump activists who made the first time Democratic candidate a minor political celebrity.
The runoff came after a first round of voting in April where Ossoff won just over 48% of the vote and Handel finished second in a splintered Republican field with just under 20% of the vote. However, Ossoff struggled to match that total as Handel consolidated the Republican vote in a traditionally conservative district in the northern suburbs of Atlanta andended up falling a percentage point short of his much hyped performance in the first round of voting.
Trump took to Twitter to hail the result as a personal victory Thank you @FoxNews Huge win for President Trump and GOP in Georgia Congressional Special Election.
The seat had been vacated by Tom Price when the former congressman joined Trumps cabinet to become secretary of health and human services and previously held by Republican stalwarts like Senator Johnny Isakson and former speaker Newt Gingrich. Although Price won by 23% in 2016, Donald Trump only narrowly won this wealthy, well-educated district by just over 1%.
Trumps narrow win sparked optimism among Democrats that the district, where nearly 60% of residents have a college degree, could flip as part of the political realignment around the presidents upset victory in 2016. Roughly $50m ended up being spent by both parties and allied groups in the race as it became the most expensive congressional campaign in the history of the United States.
However, while Democrats had motivated their base and won over skeptical Republicans, the conservative slant of district proved too much even for the nearly unprecedented resources that Democrats invested in the race, even flying in volunteers for last minute doorknocking as local television stations had been saturated by 30-second advertisements.
The two candidates took different tones in their election night speeches after the race was called. Ossoff, speaking to a distraught crowd in a packed ballroom, cast the race in historical terms. As darkness has crept across this planet you have provided a beacon of hope to people in Georgia and people in around the world, Ossoff told attendees. He cast the race in broader metaphysical terms. The fight goes on, hope is still alive, said Ossoff.
In contrast, Handel gave a far more traditional speech. She mentioned the obligation that came with being the first Republican woman elected to Congress from the great state of Georgia and cast herself an inspirational story, telling attendees anything is possible with hard work, inspiration, grit and people that believe in you. Handel also touched on policy priorities like finishing the drill on health care and lowering taxes including repeal of the estate tax.
Although the race had been cast a referendum on Trump an opinion the President seemed to endorse after the result had been reported both candidates awkwardly danced around his looming presence on the campaign trail. At Handels campaign events, Trumps name went unmentioned by the candidate and introductory speakers. Instead, there was constant refrain of attack on Ossoff for his ties to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and praise for previous holders of the seat like Price and Gingrich. Ossoff was regularly bashed for the amount of money he raised out of state, for having San Francisco values and, particularly, for the fact that he did not actually live in the district.
Handel, who suggested in the first televised debate of the campaign that Trump should use Twitter less often, told the Guardian in an interview on Monday that she didnt pay attention to the presidents use of social media. She said I am focused on my campaign, I have precious little time to be on Twitter. Several hours later, her campaign sent out a fundraising email signed by the former secretary of state with the subject line did you see what Trump just tweeted? after the President used his ubiquitous social media account to tout her campaign.
Ossoff has also been measured in his attacks on Trump in a traditionally Republican district albeit one that the president barely won in 2016. Instead, the lanky and measured political neophyte focused on banal and politically non-controversial issues like government waste and turning Atlanta into the Silicon Valley of the South and let the progressive anti-Trump enthusiasm of the Democratic base carry him.
Instead, he has focused on Handels stint as Georgia secretary of state as well as her brief stint with the Susan Komen Race For The Cure, a charity which combats breast cancer, where she led an effort to cut off the organizations funding for Planned Parenthood. The decision sparked a major controversy and funding was eventually restored and Handel had to resign from the non-profit.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ossoff slammed his opponent. Secretary Handels record as secretary of state is extremely weak perhaps because she was too busy preparing her next run for higher office to do her job. She quit her job early to run for higher office, as so many career politicians do. Her last significant private sector experience, her performance also lacked.
The issue of civility and the growing toxic nature of American political culture became an issue late in the race in the aftermath of the shooting of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Handel pointed to social media and journalism as reasons for the decline of civility in American society in an interview with the Guardian. Journalism is not journalism any more, said Handel. Ossoff stuck to broader themes, telling the Guardian, this is a deep rooted problem in American politics right now which is going to take work and bipartisan commitment to trying to heal wounds and focus on substance instead of fear mongering and slander.
Nationally, Democrats tried to spin the results. In a statement, Ben Ray Lujan, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said insisted there are more than 70 districts more favorable to Democrats than this deep-red district, and Ossoffs close margin demonstrates the potential for us to compete deep into the battlefield.
However, Republicans took a victory lap as Steve Stivers, the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said in a statement Nancy Pelosi threw the kitchen sink at her, yet Karen still came out on top and ready to fight for Georgia in Congress. For all the Democrats bluster and despite pouring over $30 million into this race, I couldnt be more proud to help keep this seat in Republican hands.
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/21/georgia-special-election-republican-karen-handel-beats-jon-ossoff-in-runoff