By Jim Ellis
June 20, 2017 — Voters in Georgia and South Carolina complete their special election processes today, with Republicans protecting both vacant US House seats and Democrats trying to make one of them a major national gain. The GA-6 and SC-5 seats of Trump Administration appointees Tom Price of Georgia and Mick Mulvaney from South Carolina have been vacant for months, but will have new representatives as tonight draws to a close.
This is the big one. More than $40 million will be spent in the aggregate for this campaign, more money than ever expended for a single congressional contest. Democrats went “all in” on this contest at the beginning of the special election cycle, using President Trump’s 1.5 percentage point victory performance as a harbinger of a changing Republican district.
Polling shows the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel as being a dead heat. Ossoff has maintained a slight lead for most of the post-primary period, but the polling sample selections have often over-emphasized the 2016 presidential campaign, which has led to a greater number of Democratic respondents. This, plus the Republicans tending to under-poll in the South could give Handel a better chance than the pure numbers indicate.
Democrats are using this race as proof that they can sweep the mid-term elections, but GA-6 isn’t representative of their coming campaigns. First, they won’t be able to raise and spend $25 million for every congressional race in the 2018 cycle, so the financial aspect skews the outcome. Second, the Democratic spokespeople will make this result, should Ossoff win, a statement suggesting that the voting public is rejecting President Trump. This is only a surface argument because Ossoff’s public positions don’t often mention the chief executive, nor do they espouse liberal economic principles. Therefore, it is likely their post-election victory analysis won’t reflect Ossoff’s actual reasons for winning.
Should Handel win, the Republicans will also try to spin her victory from a national political perspective, saying that the GOP tide remains intact. This argument also won’t hold proverbial water because Handel winning will merely be a Republican candidate holding a Republican district. In addition to then-Rep. Price holding this seat with a 76 percent vote average for seven terms, the previous congressmen here were Sen. Johnny Isakson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Therefore, the Republican tradition in these northern Atlanta suburbs runs rich. Handel certainly hopes such a voting pattern continues tonight.
Turnout was extremely high for the April 18 jungle primary, with 193,981 individuals casting their ballots. Participation is expected to be even greater today, and more than likely even exceeding regular mid-term turnout levels. While just over 55,000 people voted early in the first election, more than 140,000 have already cast their ballots for this special general.
Though the Ossoff campaign is viewed to have the superior turnout operation, such a large number of voters could actually help Handel more because so many more Republican voters than Democrats and Democrat-leaners reside in the 6th District.
Republican former state Rep. Ralph Norman, who won the GOP run-off back in May by a 221-vote margin, is heavily favored to retain the north-central South Carolina 5th District seat.
Turnout will be the key factor in any potential Democratic upset, but there are no realistic scenarios to suggest that candidate Archie Parnell will win. If minority turnout is high, it is possible that Norman’s win percentage will be in the low 50s, but this seat should yield a mid to high 50s GOP win, if not greater.
In comparison to the Georgia turnout, the SC participation factor will be very low. Turnout for the Republican run-off, for example, was under 36,000, so a special general turnout of under 100,000, and probably closer to 60,000 is most likely.
The national Democratic leadership has sent only perfunctory support for Parnell, virtually conceding the campaign from the outset.
Clearly the results from this race will attract little attention, which, from a Republican perspective, is what they want. Only a Democratic upset would attract as much news coverage as the Georgia campaign.