This Special Election Could Spell Trouble for Trump and Republicans in 2018

February 16th 2017

Ethan Simon

Tom Price, President Donald Trump's recently confirmed Department of Health and Human Services secretary, has caused his share of controversy during the nomination process. Now that he's been confirmed, however, he's vacating his Congressional seat — Georgia's 6th district — and the fight to fill the vacancy is being portrayed as one of the first real tests of whether the Democratic party can capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment.

Tom Price Secretary of Health and Human Services

It won't be an easy seat to win for the Democrats.

The 6th district lies in the suburbs of Atlanta, an area that's traditionally gone Republican. In 2016, Price won the district by a massive 23.2 percent spread. But there is some good news for Democrats looking to take back the seat: Donald Trump.
The 6th district did vote for Trump, but only by 1.5 percent, compared to 23.3 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012. That suggests Trump could be a serious liability for Republicans looking to hold the seat.

"We closed the gap significantly in a span of four years," said Michael Smith, communications director for the Georgia Democratic Party, "so we feel confident we can run a competitive race." 

Donald Trump at CPAC 2011

The "jungle primary" provides an avenue for a Democratic challenger. 

While the district is far from a slam dunk for Democrats, one quirk of Georgia state election law may provide an avenue for a Democratic challenger to win. In Georgia, special congressional elections are run as "jungle primaries" in which all the contenders, regardless of affiliation, run on one ballot. If no candidate wins a majority — likely given that there are currently 18 candidates signed up to run — the top two contenders head to a runoff election. 

The fact that Trump barely carried the district raises questions for Republican contenders looking to fill Price's seat. Praise Trump too heavily and one risks alienating more centrist Republicans, while distancing one's self  risks alienating the far right base. The candidates are already divided over how to approach Trump — from the "circumspect," as Bill Barrow described it for the Associated Press, to contender Bob Gray's description of himself as a "willing partner" of Trump's. 

All this presents a golden opportunity for a Democrat to weave in between a fractured Republican field. 

But some critics say the Democrats need to get more serious about the race.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow laid into the Democrats on her show this week, saying: "This looks like an opportunity for Democrats to really, you know, do a 180 — turn things around.... Despite that, the Democratic party has apparently decided, 'eh, can't be bothered.'" According to Maddow, the Democrats haven't sent any full-time staffers to Georgia's 6th District yet, despite having already sent full-time staffers to roughly a third of their "target districts" for 2018. 

MSNBC Rachel Maddow

For now, the Democrats have at least one well-funded candidate.

Jon Ossoff already has at least $550,000 in the bank thanks to a fundraiser on the Daily Kos website. Ossoff also boasts of receiving endorsements from Reps. John Lewis—of "all talk, no action" fame—and Hank Johnson, his former boss from Ossoff's days as a congressional aide.

Rep. John Lewis—Civil Rights Leader

By positioning himself as the only true "anti-Trump" candidate, Ossoff may have a chance at taking Georiga's 6th amid a divided Republican field. If the Democrats can pull off a win in such a red district, it might spell trouble for Republicans in 2018.