Much as Republicans embarrassed Democrats in 2010 by stealing the late “liberal lion” Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Democrats are hoping for the same magic in likely HHS Secretary and current Congressman Tom Price’s suburban Atlanta based district.
Price is incredibly popular in the district. He has never won less than 60 percent of the vote in his suburban district. But, Democrats are hopeful the combination of an open seat and Trump’s weakness in the district (he won 47-46) compared to Romney’s commanding win (60-38) four years ago.
Democrats express optimism with the right candidate they can compete. The district includes many of the Northern suburbs of Atlanta which includes parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties. The demographics of the district are not exactly conducive to an upset but the socio-economic variables of the district are.
It is a highly educated district with a median income well above the national average (and Georgia’s). It’s voters tend to eschew social conservative firebrands and elect more congenial, conservative members. It elected Newt Gingrich for two decades and current Georgia Senator Johnny Issakson. Price might be more socially conservative than the prior representation but he is no Ted Cruz. Democrats note Trump struggled among the educated and hope that tying the GOP nominee to Trump will translate to gaining moderate voters.
Throwing a wrench in Democratic plans is the unique nature of Georgia special elections. Every candidate, regardless of party, runs on the same ballot in a system known as a “Jungle Primary” and if no candidate gets above 50 percent the top two vote getters advance to the general (again, regardless of party).
Democrats have three candidates running with a clear frontrunner in Jon Ossoff, a filmmaker who has gobbled up some serious cash. The other two candidates are a former state rep and a current member of the lower chamber. Neither has serious cash on hand.
On the GOP side a few have declared but the field is largely waiting on former Secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2010 and Senate candidate in 2014 Karen Handel. If she jumps in due to her name ID and moderate nature she should swallow up the competition. Democrats might as well kiss any hopes goodbye if she yes to a run.
But, even if Handel does not run, Democrats need to be careful not to split the small liberal vote in the district in such a way none of the three finishes in the top two. In states with jungle primaries this has happened more times than either party wants to see.
With a Cook PVI of R+12 Democrats would need a significant anti-Trump backlash to form aided by an ineffective GOP Congress. But, right now, there is little evidence this is happening. While Trump’s approval ratings may be anemic they are holding strong among conservatives and Republican leaning voters. The voters Democrats need to win the support of to take the seat.
Democrats really, really, want a symbolic victory and taking a conservative district that once elected Newt Gingrich, current Senator Johnny Issakson and soon to be HHS Secretary would do it. To bad it is unlikely they will even come close.