Politics nerds the country over are turning all their attention to a single congressional district in Georgia on Tuesday in an attempt to see into the future of politics in America.
The special election in the Georgia 6th district will find the replacement for former Rep. Tom Price, who now serves as Secretary of Health and Human Services for the Trump administration. But a number of key factors make this race something of a crystal ball for U.S. politics in the age of President Donald Trump—and early signs show this one could be a real nail-biter.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s happening in the Georgia 6th—and what it means for U.S. politics in 2017 and beyond.
Why does the Georgia 6th election matter if I don’t live in Georgia?
In political terms, it matters because it’s one of the first true tests of where America may be headed politically now that Trump is in office. Georgia 6th is historically a solid Republican stronghold—Newt Gingrich held Georgia 6th’s seat for 20 years—but that image waned in the 2016 presidential election, when Trump won the gerrymandered district by just 1.5 percentage points thanks to low support among college-educated white voters. That’s far lower than Mitt Romney’s showing in 2012, when he secured a 23-point win over former President Barack Obama.
If a Democrat wins—or even comes close to winning—it will be seen as a repudiation of Trump and a sign that Americans are poised to push back against Republicans in 2018 (the next big election year for Congress), which would threaten their control of both houses of Congress and thus their entire legislative agenda. And in the twilight of the campaign, it looks like Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff has a solid chance of becoming a congressman.
It’s likely for this reason that Trump himself came out swinging against Ossoff on Monday and Tuesday morning.
The super Liberal Democrat in the Georgia Congressioal race tomorrow wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2017
Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress. VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2017
Republicans must get out today and VOTE in Georgia 6. Force runoff and easy win! Dem Ossoff will raise your taxes-very bad on crime & 2nd A.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2017
Who are the candidates?
There are 18 candidates in the race—11 Republicans, five Democrats, and two independents—but Ossoff is the candidate everyone is talking about. A former congressional aide, 30-year-old Ossoff has never before run for political office. Not that it’s hurting his support: Ossoff has raised more than $8.3 million from over 200,000 donors—almost 18 times the amount raised by his closest Republican rival and more than twice of any other candidate in Georgia 6th’s political history.
Republican Karen Handel, Georgia’s former secretary of state, is the closest rival to Ossoff, polling-wise, with around 18 percent support. A few other Republican candidates, Dan Moody, Judson Hill, and Bob Gray, have polled close to Handel. However, Ossoff is currently at about 42 percent—but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to win.
What does Ossoff need to do to win?
Because there is no primary, Georgia 6th voters can cast a ballot for candidates from either party. But to win, a candidate must receive over 50 percent of the overall vote. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent, there will be a runoff election between the top two candidates, and that’s where things could get tricky for Ossoff.
Right now, Ossoff is riding high off of viral campaign support from progressives, which includes celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson getting involved (he appeared in an ad paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), and Alyssa Milano even drove some voters to the polls. But a runoff election would mean maintaining that momentum—and Republican pollsters don’t think he can pull it off.
As it stands right now, the nature of the special election and the high margins of errors in the polling make this one hard to predict. FiveThirty Eight’s Nate Silver gives Ossoff a chance of winning outright on Tuesday and about a 50-50 chance of winning a runoff.
Wasn’t there another election like this that the media made a big deal about?
That there was. A special election in the Kansas 4th district Democratic candidate James Thompson and Ron Estates, a Republican, had similar dynamics. A solidly Republican district, Kansas 4th ultimately chose Estates over Thompson, but for a district Trump won by 27 points, Estates’ 7-point victory over Thompson was still seen by many observers as evidence of anti-Trump energy driving people to head to the polls.
Georgia 6th gives the Democrats another opportunity to prove that enthusiasm is on their side—and this time, it might come with an actual win.
Is this the end of special elections this year?
Nope. There are three other seats in the House left vacant due to members leaving to serve elsewhere in government: California’s 34th district, South Carolina’s 5th district, and Montana (which only has a single at-large district for the entire state). In other words, no matter what happens in the Georgia 6th results, it’s not the end of the story.
Update 10:30am CT, April 18: Added additional tweets from President Trump.