A top political forecaster announced Thursday that Democrats now have an even shot of winning a special election this April in a House district that Republicans normally win by more than 20 points.
The Center for Politics said Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District — held by Republicans since 1979 — should now be considered a “toss-up” race. The election, which will be held to fill the seat vacated by Donald Trump’s new health and human services secretary, Tom Price, represents Democrats’ best chance to preview their chances in 2018.
Democrat Jon Ossoff has taken a narrow lead in polling. The former aide to Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) has raised more than $3 million, and more than 7,000 volunteers have worked for his campaign — unprecedented numbers that reflect the grassroots energy coursing through the Democratic base since Trump’s inauguration.
“Democrats don’t have the White House, they’re the ones who are upset about things, and that can be a driver of a vote in these low-turnout special elections. The Democrats may be more excited here to show up,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst with the Center for Politics.
Though the first round of the election is on April 20, Ossoff would need to win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a later runoff on June 20. But given how long the seat has been held by Republicans, that’s still no sure bet.
“It’s a district with a distinctly Republican DNA, and Trump still did win it,” Kondik said. “Then again, strange things can happen in these special elections.”
Republicans are suddenly pouring cash into the race
Up until Thursday, the Center for Politics believed the race was Republicans’ to lose, ranking it as a “leans right” race. Part of the reason that changed was Ossoff’s strong polling numbers, as well as the unexpected fundraising advantage he’s had in the race.
But Kondik said “what pushed it over the edge” was a new report this week that the National Republican Campaign Committee is going to be pouring vast resources into fending off the challenge Ossoff poses.
That indicates Republicans may have internal polling that suggests they could lose the race. As CNN reported on Thursday:
National Republicans are racing into the northern Atlanta suburbs amid fears that an energized anti-Donald Trump resistance and a disengaged conservative electorate could allow Democrat Jon Ossoff to pick off a House seat that has been in GOP hands for decades. ....
The National Republican Congressional Committee -- the House GOP's campaign arm -- is launching cable television, radio and digital ads and is placing five field staffers into the district next week, according to a GOP operative familiar with the efforts.
Whichever way it goes, the Georgia Sixth race will not radically alter the composition of power in Washington. Right now Republicans control 238 seats to Democrats’ 194; a one-seat switch, obviously, won’t do much to loosen that majority.
But the race could transform politicians’ perception of the political headwinds, which in turn really might have serious consequences for legislating and lawmakers’ willingness to buck Trump. It’s like the long-shot Scott Brown victory in 2010, which signaled coming change to terrified, vulnerable congressional Democrats.
That day may be fast approaching for Trump. “There’s been a small amount of early voting that’s very Democratic-slanted and favorable to Ossoff,” Kondik said. “And you just don’t know what kind of drag Trump will have on the district.”