A single congressional race doesn’t tend to receive much national attention – except when that congressional race is a special election. After Rep. Tom Price was appointed HHS Secretary in the Trump administration, his seat in the Atlanta suburbs (Georgia’s 6th) opened up. The voters will pick his replacement two weeks from now; if no candidate receives more than 50%, a runoff will be held in June.
So far, things look ominous for the GOP. Even more concerning, this is really a seat they have no business losing: this has been rock-solid Republican territory for decades. Then, Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and the GOP vote cratered, but he still managed to carry the district by 1%. Most other Republicans did much, much better here – an indication that this is a district full of “Never Trump” Republicans.
Alarmingly, this “Never Trump” attitude might extend to other Republicans as well, now that Trump is the head of the party. But the data that concerns GOP strategists doesn’t point to significant Republican attrition. Instead, results from early voting indicate a very significant enthusiasm gap in favor of Democrats. Democrats in the district appear to be very motivated and are turning out in early voting in large numbers. Republicans, meanwhile, seem to be treating it like a typical sleepy special election.
Democratic enthusiasm is reflected in the fundraising prowess of their candidate, Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide. A former congressional aide, Democrats’ singular focus on the special election has allowed him to rake in gobs of money from progressive groups. Republicans, on the other hand, are divided between a number of candidates.
The knock on Ossoff is that he’s young (he’s 30) and does typical young person things, and that he’s too immature to be a Representative. So far, it doesn’t look like that line of attack has been successful. Republican groups are now maneuvering to depict the Democrat as a Nancy Pelosi rubber stamp, and that seems to be working a bit better.
Still, the early vote totals look quite worrisome for the GOP. Of course, sometimes looking at the early vote is meaningless. Here in North Carolina back in 2014, early voting looked absolutely phenomenal for Kay Hagan – Democrats were turning out in droves and black turnout was through the roof. As it turned out, the Hagan campaign merely “cannibalized” their own voters, and the turnout on Election Day was that much more Republican.
Then again, there are times when early voting is worth paying attention to. The run-up to the 2016 general election here saw anemic black turnout and a motivated rural vote – numbers that should have struck terror in Democrats. But this was ignored in favor of polls that had Hillary Clinton up by 7 points here. In this case, the early voting numbers told the real story.
Republican strategists are hopeful that an increase in Democratic turnout won’t amount to much in what is still a very GOP district, but an enthused Democratic base will have implications for 2018. And if Ossoff wins outright, that should sound alarm bells for Republicans – particularly those who represent suburban, well-educated districts.
What does this mean for North Carolina? Fortunately for NC Republicans, none of their congressional districts are anywhere near as competitive as Georgia’s 6th. But that will be small comfort for incumbent Republicans if there’s a big wave. If I were George Holding, or Robert Pittenger, or Ted Budd, I would be gearing up for a competitive race just in case.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: email@example.com.