Can We Handel a Special Election in Georgia Six?

With the confirmation of Congressman Tom Price last Friday as HHS Secretary, we’ll have a special election to fill in his now-vacant GA-06. The district is located in the north-central Atlanta metro area, and includes localities such as Roswell, Alpharetta, and Sandy Springs. Overall, it’s a geographically compact seat that takes in portions of three counties: Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton:

 

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Long a bastion of the state GOP, it has produced politicians such as ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich and now-Sen. Johnny Isakson. Still, this was one of those suburban #NeverTrump districts. Trump carried the district with just 48% to Clinton’s 47%. This gives Democrats reason take the special election seriously. Clinton’s strength was primarily in DeKalb County (in the east), as well as in Fulton County, more or less following Highway 19:

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The district voted 3% to the left of the state overall, which went to Trump by a more comfortable 50/46. However, in the Senate race, the story was different. Senator Isakson, a relatively anonymous Republican from the area, defeated opponent Jim Barksdale 55/41, and carried GA-06¬†with 57.5% to Barksdale’s 37.4%:

 

Even Tom Price himself won reelection by a comfortable 23%:

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One thing to remember is that, in Georgia, special elections are held using a Louisiana-esque jungle primary system. All candidates, regardless of party, run on the first ballot. If no one clears 50% initially, a runoff is held.

Democrats have three announced candidates. Two former legislators, Sally Harrell and Ron Slotin, are running. However, the Democrat who seems to have generated the most grassroots enthusiasm is Jon Ossoff, a young, first-time candidate. Ossoff has endorsements from party heavyweights such as Rep. John Lewis and State House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams.

On the GOP side, two state legislators are in. Judson Hill, represents the Cobb County part of GA-06 in the State Senate while former Senator Dan Moody hails from Fulton County. Another serious candidate is Johns Creek councilman Bob Gray. Neither of the two legislators running have been in competitive races, largely winning their seats unopposed.

One Republican who knows quite a bit about competitive races is the frontrunner: former Secretary of State Karen Handel.

Handel got her start in politics on the Fulton County Commission in the early 2000’s, then successfully ran for Secretary of State in 2006. Seen as a rising star, she ran for Governor in 2010.

In that race, she placed a clear first in a crowded “clown car” (as we election junkies say) primary. Notice her strength in Fulton County:

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In the runoff, she faced Nathan Deal, who at the time was a Congressman based in Hall County (Gainesville), and represented the state’s northern tier of counties. Handel got support from Sarah Palin and Jan Brewer, while Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee stumped for Deal. Handel lost the runoff by a tantalizingly close 2,500 votes:

 

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In 2014, with the retirement of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), Handel ran statewide again. Like 2010, the primary was competitive. Ultimately, she was squeezed out of the runoff by now-Sen. David Perdue, who performed well across the state, and Congressman Jack Kingston, who had a rock-solid base around Savannah. Perdue took 31% to Kingston’s 26% and Handel’s 22%.

Handel still managed to carry Congressional Districts 6 and 7, and came in second place in all almost all the other Atlanta areas districts:

 

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Looking more closely at GA-06, Handel (red) won it with 38.8%, while Perdue (blue) placed second with 31.4%. Northern Fulton County went heavily for her, while Perdue had some pockets of strength going south:

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Going forward, given her strong local following, and near-universal name recognition, it’s hard not to see Handel starting in a strong position. True, odd things can happen in these type of low-turnout races, and the jungle primary adds a layer of volatility – still, we consider her a nominal favorite.

 

The primary has been set for April 18th, which we look forward to covering!