New Day, New Race

Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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Posted: Apr 20, 2017 12:01 AM
New Day, New Race
This week, the national media and national Democrats claimed a premature victory in the Georgia sixth congressional district special election, which they saw as a referendum on President Trump.

But they suffered a rude awakening.

When all the votes were counted, Democrat Jon Ossoff found himself in a runoff against Republican Karen Handel rather than the outright win he and his funders had hoped for.

Ossoff finished with 48.1 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent needed for a clean win. He will face Handel, the top Republican vote-getter, with 19.8 percent of the total. Get ready to hear media pundits and Democrats claim that these results will lead to a Democratic win in June.

But it's not over yet. The special election had 18 contenders on the ballot, 11 of them Republicans. Democrats coalesced around Ossoff, who raised more than $8 million, with 95 percent of the money coming from outside of Georgia.

On the Republican side, there was no coalescing of efforts before Tuesday's vote. But that has changed. As soon as the results were available, Republican candidate Bob Gray tweeted, "We are going to rally behind Karen Handel. We wish her Godspeed."

This race claimed national attention. On Monday, President Trump tweeted, "With eleven Republican candidates running in Georgia (on Tuesday) for Congress, a runoff will be a win. Vote 'R' for lower taxes & safety!"

On Election Day, Trump tweeted, "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."

After Tuesday's votes had been counted, Trump congratulated Handel and set the framework of the runoff: "Dems failed in Kansas[1][2] [referring to the special election in the Kansas 4th Congressional district] and are now failing in Georgia. Great job Karen Handel! It is now Hollywood vs. Georgia on June 20th."

The remark about Hollywood refers to the incredible amount of outside money, attention and endorsements in the race to represent the 6th district. Ossoff, who grew up in the district, no longer lives there.

Though Ossoff hopedfor an outright win, he expressed satisfaction with the results: "This is already a remarkable victory," he said in a statement. "We defied the odds, shattered expectations, and now are ready to fight on and win in June."

Winning outright would have been remarkable, but securing a runoff slot as the selected Democrat who was showered with donations and was competing against 11 Republicans is not so remarkable.

While Ossoff's results will allow national Democrats and media to talk about the possibility of overtaking the long-held Republican district, they will fail to mention that his performance was buoyed by millions of dollars from out-of-state donors and a fragmented Republican field.

As Handel celebrated her securing of the runoff spot, she noted that the race is about more than herself. "Tomorrow we start the campaign anew," she said Tuesday night. "Beating Ossoff and holding this seat is something that rises above any one person." Handel has the advantage of having competed effectively against the other Republicans. She has been tempered through what was a hard-fought campaign, while Ossoff has had little head-to-head combat. This difference in experience will make a difference in the final nine weeks.

The sixth district of Georgia has voted overwhelmingly Republican since 1978, when Newt Gingrich became the state's only federally elected Republican representative. At that time, the sixth district was in a different geographic area than it is today. It ran from south Fulton (including the Atlanta Airport, Ford Factory and original Chick Fil A dwarf house), down to Griffin, Barnesville, then west, past Carrollton to the Alabama state line. It was a vast rural district with a largely blue-collar and agricultural population. It was not affluent, but it did have excellent BBQ in Newnan (Sprayberry's).

By chance, the speaker of the Georgia House at the time, Democrat Tom Murphy, was also from the sixth district. He used redistricting in 1991 to cut the district into little bits in an attempt to get rid of Gingrich. His plan backfired. Gingrich moved to the new, heavily suburban and Republican district and ran there in 1992. Two years later he would lead the Republican Revolution, and the Republicans would take over the US House of Representatives.

It's important to remember that elections have consequences, and often ones that are not obvious at the time of the election.