Heavily Funded Democrat Falls Short as Georgia House Seat Stays Republican

Republican Karen Handel was on her way to defeating Democrat Jon Ossoff in Tuesday’s closely watched, historically expensive race for the congressional seat once held by GOP superstar Newt Gingrich. 

Handel, 55, a businesswoman who was Georgia’s secretary of state, had 52 percent of the vote with 75 percent of precincts reporting.

Ossoff, 30, a filmmaker and former congressional aide, had 48 percent. 

Five months into Donald Trump’s presidency, pundits cast the race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District as a referendum on his administration and a bellwether for the balance of power in Congress nearly a year and a half before the midterm elections.

Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the district by under 2 percentage points in November even though the previous incumbent, Republican Tom Price, won re-election to the seat with about 60 percent of the vote.

The race between Ossoff and Handel is the most expensive House race ever, CBS News reported, with fundraising exceeding $50 million.

By the end of May, Handel and Ossoff had spent $3.2 million and $22.5 million, respectively, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, ABC News reported.

The seat opened in February when the Senate confirmed Price as Trump’s secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Handel beat 10 other Republican candidates in the April 18 “jungle primary” with 20 percent of the vote, setting up the Tuesday runoff with top vote-getter Ossoff, who rolled up 48 percent as one of five Democrats in the race.

Republicans have held the seat for nearly 40 years, since Gingrich, later speaker of the House, first won it in 1978.

Ossoff’s platform included Democrat touchstones such as defending health care reform, civil rights, environmental protection, and Planned Parenthood.   

Handel campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare, supporting the pro-life cause, and achieving “a simpler, fairer, tax code that promotes economic growth” as well as “securing our borders.”

Ossoff, who grew up in the area, does not currently reside in the 6th District, The Washington Post reported.

But during an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, Ossoff told Stephanie Ruhle that his living outside the district did not matter to voters, and that he had not considered moving.

“Well, if voters were raising that as a serious concern, Steph, maybe I would,” Ossoff said, adding:

But voters care about how policy and how representation is going to impact their daily lives. They know I grew up in this community, they know I grew up in the 6tth District, they know why I’m a couple of miles south of the line. It’s not a major issue in the race.

Handel was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in the Maryland suburb of Upper Marlboro.

She was deputy chief of staff to Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and chairman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors before running successfully for secretary of state and serving from 2007 to 2010.

Handel came to the attention of conservatives across the country in 2012, when she quit as senior vice president of public policy at the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She did so after the breast cancer charity reversed its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood, a reversal she opposed.

In a special election in South Carolina, voters in South Carolina filled the House seat previously held by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who Trump nominated to the post in December.

Republican Ralph Norman, 64, was on his way to an easy defeat of Democrat Archie Parnell, 66, in the special election in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District.

Norman previously was president of the York County Board of Realtors and served in South Carolina’s House of Representatives for 11 years.  Parnell was a tax attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and for the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee under Democrats’ leadership.

 

Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization, told The Daily Signal in an email that the state’s 6th District race was civil despite what many partisans saw as high stakes.

“The most encouraging part of the 6th District runoff, the most expensive congressional election in U.S. history, is that it managed to stay mostly civil in an increasingly hostile political arena,” Dodd said, adding:

That said, Jon Ossoff’s campaign waged a sophisticated, successful ‘Wag the Dog’ operation: It began with a 30-year-old unknown, a Democrat who had never held office and doesn’t even live in the 6th District.

With funding largely from campaign donations outside the state, he was portrayed as a palatable and viable challenger to Karen Handel, a well-known, respected and successful GOP veteran and resident of the reliably Republican district.

The spending by the campaigns points to what’s to come, Dodd said, adding:  

This costly effort is portentous of the direction of future campaigns. It’s ominous, given the attention span of many voters in a 140-characters-or-less era, that campaign rhetoric can be so easily manipulated. As for the overwhelming cost, it’s an unpleasant downside that early voting ratchets up of the cost of political campaigns.

Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the lobbying affiliate of The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in an email that Handel’s win is good news for the Republican Party.

“Despite tens of millions of dollars flowing into the race — a level of funding that cannot be replicated in every midterm race — Republicans managed to hold on,” Holler said, adding:

It would be a mistake to view this as a sign of confidence in the national party, though. The slow legislative pace and the absence of a bold governing agenda is dampening Republican enthusiasm, and absent conservative policy victories, that may continue heading into 2018.

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