Handel Wins Georgia 6th: What Can We Learn From This?

2017 Georgia 6th Special Election US House

In a hotly contested special election yesterday, Karen Handel held the Georgia 6th District for the Republicans.

The polls tightened over the final days of the campaign, but ultimately, Handel won by almost four points. Her defeated Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, saw record spending go to waste.

In fact, Ossoff’s vote share in the jungle primary round was nearly repeated in the runoff. He received 48.12 percent in the first round, and 48.13 percent in the second. Many more people voted in the runoff, but that’s a lot of cash to burn to gain one one-hundredth of a percent.

After an extremely contentious election, what can both sides learn?

Georgia 6th: Lessons for Democrats

The Democrats went all-in to nationalize this election. Their intent was clear: to make it a referendum on Donald Trump and give the Republicans a black eye. The problem is that they went so hard and fast trying to rally their own base that they woke up Republican voters as well. It is a traditionally Republican district, and a lot of those Republicans did not cross over to vote for Ossoff.

Evidently, Democrats got too cocky believing Republicans would support Ossoff or stay home out of Trump shame. It did not happen, or not nearly enough. The Georgia 6th was like a road game for the Democrats, and were caught off-guard that those Republican voters would come out in droves to vote Republican. Making a race “national” is a high-stakes game in that it can backfire. Arguably, South Carolina’s 5th District, which flew under the radar, went much better for them. They lost that one, too.

Democrats must also be careful not to assume that they’ll benefit from large swings based on this election. The 2018 midterm elections are 17 months away. That is a lifetime in electoral politics. No, Donald Trump probably won’t have a 60 percent approval rating then, but they shouldn’t be counting their gains before they happen. The Democrats haven’t closed the deal in 2017’s special elections so far. Nothing is guaranteed for the 2018 elections yet.

Georgia 6th: Lessons for Republicans

Things could have gone better for Republicans in the South Carolina election, and here as well. Republicans won the Georgia 6th going away in previous elections with much bigger majorities. This was a close call that probably has them worried about 2018.

All things considered, however, the GOP has to be pleased considering Handel was down seven in the polls a week ago. Nevertheless, the Republicans must be cautious about learning the wrong lessons from Handel’s win.

This wasn’t necessarily a rubber stamp of approval for Donald Trump or the GOP. The political environment they faced on Monday still exist on Wednesday. Their congressional numbers held, but by no means should they consider this a call to keep doing what they’re doing. Indications are that the Democrats will have a good year in 2018, even though the Democrats shouldn’t take it for granted. If they want to hold Congress, there is a lot of work to be done. They have to get serious about putting together a cohesive message and advancing their legislative agenda.

In fact, the Democrats could heed the same advice. They need to do better than “vote for us because we’re not Trump.” It has not worked yet.

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