With at least $40 million invested in the outcome, all eyes are on the latest Jon Ossoff polls and the Georgia special election results for his race against Karen Handel in the state’s Sixth Congressional District on Tuesday. All told, it will the most expensive House race in U.S. history.
UPDATE: Handel is currently ahead.
— BigKipHiker (@BigKipHiker) June 21, 2017
Even if Ossoff does lose the House race on Tuesday, his battle for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District will still be notable. A Democrat has not held the seat since 1979, a time when the Democratic Party, especially in the South, was more conservative than it is today.
Since then, every single Republican candidate to run for the Georgia Sixth Congressional District House seat has won with at least 60 percent of the vote, occasionally netting upward of 70 percent of the vote against their Democratic competitors. Some of its previous occupants include former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, whose move to the president’s cabinet sparked the special election.
Still, it takes just one look at the results of the 2016 presidential election to see why so many Democrats around the country have faith that Ossoff can beat Karen Handel and flip the Sixth Congressional District. Although Republican presidential candidates typically triumph in the district with a more-than-comfortable 20-percentage point lead in the polls, Trump won by just one percentage point there in 2016. Handel seems to be well-aware of this fact, distancing herself from the White House in an interview with the Reporter newspaper.
“It is not to be an extension of the White House or even the leadership in the House, but of the people here who are across the district, who vote for me or don’t vote for me, that I represent their interests.”
While Jon Ossoff has undoubtedly enjoyed a wave of anti-Trump resistance in the polls, the candidate himself has declined to characterize the race as a vote on Trumpism. Ossoff has made his distaste for the current president clear, but he has also emphasized that “all politics is local” and that the race is about “local economic issues,” he told CNN.
Neither Ossoff nor Handel has held a national seat in Congress, something Handel has criticized repeatedly during the campaign. During his time as a campaign and later congressional staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson, Ossoff has claimed to have had a hand in the legislative process as well as national security clearance, a qualification backed up by Johnson, but accepted tacitly at best in a fact-check from the Washington Post.
— Kimberly Brusk (@peaceforus4ever) June 20, 2017
Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District 2017 Polls
Results in the latest Georgia special election polls are less than decisive about the outcome. While Ossoff comes out ahead in almost all of the major recent polls, his lead is generally not commanding. In a poll released last week by SurveyUSA, the pair was in a dead heat: 47 to 47 percent. It was actually a decline for Ossoff since the pollster’s last survey, but the group explained why that might not be bad news for the Democratic candidate.
“Some of the change in outcome poll-on-poll may reflect sampling vagaries and not reflect actual movement in the contest. Today’s survey has fewer high-school educated respondents and fewer lower-income respondents than did SurveyUSA’s sample three weeks ago. Both high-school educated voters and lower-income voters back Ossoff… But that is just one hypothesis. Equally plausible is a theory that potential voters have been bombarded to the point of irritation by advertisements, direct mail and opinion researchers.”
At least one of the latest polls shows Handel pulling out ahead narrowly. Trafalgar Group calls her winning the election by 2 percentage points in a survey released Monday night. None of the final polls shows a sure victory for either candidate.
In contrast to past contests in the district, this year’s race is likely to come down to just a few thousand votes. While Jon Ossoff did not manage to reach the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off in April, he now leads in the latest Georgia polls, though always within the poll’s margin of error.
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) June 16, 2017
Another recent set of numbers from local station WSB-TV 2 put Ossoff at 49.7 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Handel, a 1.7 percentage point lead well inside the poll’s 3.5 percentage point margin of error. The poll was comprised of 800 likely voters and featured 2.3 percent of respondents who were still undecided.
A Georgian Election?
Karen Handel has repeatedly hounded on the fact that Ossoff has received such large amounts of money for his campaign from outside the state of Georgia, insinuating that his boost is from the liberal elite and Hollywood celebrities rather than constituents.
On Friday, the Mercury News reported that Ossoff has received almost as much money from the San Francisco Bay Area as he as from the entire state of Georgia. Most of his funding has, however, come from grassroots supporters, albeit also from out of state; California residents made nine times more individual donations than Georgians as well.
Breitbart also criticized his links to other major Democratic donors from the past. In one piece, the site alleged that his documentary film company, Insight TWI (The World Investigates), had received money from several major Democratic donors in the past. It’s not the only time his past work has been used against him; his work with the Qatar-owned channel Al Jazeera has also been a target. The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) paid for an ad that accused him of taking $5,000 from the “mouthpiece for terrorists,” running his face alongside a picture of Osama bin Laden.
Questions have even been raised about Ossoff himself being a true member of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. Handel has repeatedly noted, including in a televised debate, that Ossoff will not be able to vote in the special election, as she does not currently live in the district, but about “ten minutes down the road” closer to Emory University, where his wife attends medical school. In response, the Democratic candidate emphasized that Handel herself was born in Washington, D.C., and that the Sixth District was just as much his home as hers.
Centrist or Progressive?
Unlike the other two Democrats who lost their special elections in Kansas and Montana, Ossoff has not rallied around Bernie Sanders and his platform to move the Democratic Party to the left. Even his opponent, Karen Handel, said that Ossoff “talks like a Republican.”
Some Democrats, even those who have supported him financially, agree. Single-payer health care and higher taxes on the wealthy are nowhere to be found in Ossoff’s plans. He has been spoken about a desire to cut down on public spending by trimming duplicate programs.
As one piece in National Journal noted, Jon Ossoff as a candidate has deftly played to the center to his benefit in the polls, even if voters might not be sure how much more or less progressive he may vote as a House representative.
“The key voters in upcoming congressional and gubernatorial contests are suburbanites, many of whom have little affinity for Trump but want to hear a positive agenda from the opposition. They’re also wary of a leftward lurch—tone-deafness on the terrorist threat, openness to single-payer health care, to name a couple of examples—that seems to be gaining traction within the Democratic Party.”
Hammering out U.S. health care policy will be one of the most pressing issues facing any House representative, and because of that, it’s been characterized nationally as the central issue — along with a referendum on Trump — in the Georgia special election polls.
Handel herself has shared her personal story of her monthly premium increasing from $350 to $1,200, with her deductible quadrupling, under Obamacare. Handel says a return to free market principles would best suit the country’s health care system and scoffs at Ossoff’s assertion that she would push for loss of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, reported medical news site STAT.
Some voices in the media, however, have disagreed with the narrative that the race has been about health care. Mother Jones argued that despite all the fanfare, health care has been decidedly absent from the Georgia special election campaign rhetoric.
“Even as Ossoff feeds off the activism and donations of Democrats worried about the legislation [gutting Obamacare], his campaign ads have hardly mentioned it. Mostly, his spots focus on centrist policy planks such as investing in entrepreneurship, cutting wasteful spending, and lowering the deficit. The closest he’s come to a full-on attack on his opponent’s position on health care in his barrage of ads is a spot hitting Handel for cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood while she was director of the Susan G. Komen Foundation — but it didn’t mention that the AHCA bill Handel supports would also defund Planned Parenthood.”
Do you think Jon Ossoff polls will reflect the live Georgia special election results for the historic House race?
[Featured Image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]