GOP wins high-stakes House seat in Ge­or­gia

De­spite close race, it’s a blow for Democrats des­per­ate for vic­tory.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Halper, Jenny Jarvie and Mark Z. Barabak

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — Democrats came up short Tues­day night in their costly bid to wrest con­trol of a long­time GOP con­gres­sional seat in the sub­urbs north of At­lanta, los­ing a race the party had hoped would show­case deep Repub­li­can vul­ner­a­bil­ity in the Trump era.

Repub­li­can Karen Han­del, the for­mer secretary of state of Ge­or­gia, de­feated Demo­crat Jon Os­soff, 52% to 48%. The con­test had turned into the costli­est House race in his­tory, as Demo­cratic ac­tivists na­tion­wide sent a surge of do­na­tions to po­lit­i­cal new­comer Os­soff in an at­tempt to turn blue a dis­trict Repub­li­cans have con­trolled since the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The seat was last held by Tom Price, who va­cated it to be­come Pres­i­dent Trump’s Health and Hu­man Ser­vices secretary. While the close elec­tion re­sult is sober­ing for the Repub­li­can Party in a con­ser­va­tive dis­trict it cus­tom­ar­ily wins by dou­ble dig­its, the vic­tory helps the party avert — for now — po­ten­tially much more dam­ag­ing fall­out for the White House and Repub­li­cans in Congress.

“It’s a huge dis­ap­point­ment for Democrats, who re­ally did put all their eggs in this one bas­ket, feel­ing as though it was the kind of dis­trict — up­scale, higher ed­u­ca­tion, higher in­come vot­ers that went only nar­rowly for

Trump — that if there’s any move­ment na­tion­ally, it should show up,” said Stuart Rothen­berg, a veteran non­par­ti­san elec­tions an­a­lyst.

Democrats may also be re­gret­ting that they in­vested so heav­ily in the Ge­or­gia dis­trict but paid lit­tle at­ten­tion to the other con­gres­sional spe­cial elec­tion that took place Tues­day, in the South Carolina dis­trict va­cated by White House Bud­get Di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney.

Repub­li­cans pre­vailed there — but by a sub­stan­tially slim­mer mar­gin than had been an­tic­i­pated. In a dis­trict Demo­cratic lead­ers had largely writ­ten off as un­winnable, Repub­li­can Ralph Nor­man, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, edged out his Demo­cratic ri­val, Archie Par­nell, just 51% to 48%.

But it was the race in Ge­or­gia where most of the at­ten­tion had been fo­cused. Among the most con­cerned about the out­come was Trump him­self, who had been at­tack­ing Os­soff on Twit­ter since Mon­day. Had the seat slipped away from Repub­li­cans, Trump was threat­ened with los­ing his grip on anx­ious GOP law­mak­ers in Congress.

“Don­ald Trump can breathe a lot eas­ier to­mor­row with the knowl­edge that they came af­ter Repub­li­cans hard, with mil­lions of dol­lars, and Repub­li­cans still won,” said Ker­win Swint, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Ken­ne­saw State Univer­sity in Ge­or­gia.

Trump con­grat­u­lated Han­del over Twit­ter, but be­fore he did, he tweeted a thank you to Fox News for declar­ing the spe­cial elec­tion was a “huge win” for him and the GOP.

Han­del’s vic­tory sug­gests that de­spite an ero­sion of sup­port pre­cip­i­tated by the tu­mult in Wash­ing­ton, Repub­li­cans are not see­ing a mass de­fec­tion of their base. Vul­ner­a­ble GOP can­di­dates in mod­er­ate dis­tricts who may be con­tem­plat­ing dis­tanc­ing them­selves from the pres­i­dent were prob­a­bly re­as­sured some­what by the re­sults Tues­day.

It was a tough night for Democrats. They are des­per­ate for a win, and de­spite mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to keep the ex­pec­ta­tions of ac­tivists mea­sured, fail­ure to notch this vic­tory af­ter all the ef­fort and money ex­pended is likely to lead to a fresh round of soul-search­ing and a renewed de­bate over the path the party needs to take to start win­ning again. The Democrats’ abil­ity to recruit top-tier can­di­dates for com­pet­i­tive — and even long­shot — con­gres­sional seats is un­der­mined by the loss.

Bal­lot­ing Tues­day was com­pli­cated by tor­ren­tial rain in the area, cre­at­ing ad­di­tional wor­ries for the can­di­dates as they scram­bled to get out the vote. Strate­gists pon­dered how the weather might hurt one side or the other, but it was im­pos­si­ble to gauge in this off-sea­son spe­cial elec­tion with un­prece­dented spend­ing, in which all the usual turnout as­sump­tions did not nec­es­sar­ily ap­ply.

Democrats saw an open­ing in the re­gion af­ter Trump won the dis­trict by less than 2 per­cent­age points. They were hop­ing the ef­fort would chart a path for Democrats na­tion­wide to re­build their power base in one­time GOP strongholds such as Orange County.

Some $60 mil­lion was spent in the Ge­or­gia elec­tion by the can­di­dates and an as­sort­ment of ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal out­side groups. Os­soff was an un­known even in his dis­trict a few months ago, but he surged to na­tional recog­ni­tion af­ter an en­dorse­ment from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of At­lanta moved pro­gres­sives to ac­ti­vate a wildly suc­cess­ful dig­i­tal fundrais­ing ef­fort on his be­half.

Han­del is a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at the Su­san G. Komen for the Cure char­ity for breast cancer. She played a ma­jor role in that or­ga­ni­za­tion’s de­ci­sion to cut fund­ing to Planned Par­ent­hood — and be­came a fa­vorite of the right along the way.

In April, the cash in­fu­sion for Os­soff, the ea­ger­ness of Democrats to con­sol­i­date around him and wide­spread voter anx­i­ety in the dis­trict over Trump con­trib­uted to a sur­pris­ingly strong show­ing in an open pri­mary. Os­soff won 48% of the vote, just 2 points shy of win­ning the race out­right. Han­del split the con­ser­va­tive vote with a few other well-funded Repub­li­cans, win­ning 18%.

But some an­a­lysts say that all the money that flooded into the dis­trict may have ul­ti­mately an­noyed vot­ers and played to Han­del’s fa­vor. “If Democrats put this much en­ergy into the dis­trict, some Repub­li­cans are go­ing to be so turned off that they de­cide to turn out, even if they hadn’t in the first round,” said David Wasser­man, an elec­tions an­a­lyst with the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port.

Par­tic­u­larly in­vested in the race had been Cal­i­for­ni­ans. More Cal­i­for­ni­ans con­trib­uted to it than donors from any other state, in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia. Ref­er­ences to San Fran­cisco played front and cen­ter in GOP cam­paign at­tacks. Lib­eral Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties lent their star power.

Han­del re­peat­edly made an is­sue out of Os­soff ’s Cal­i­for­nia money. The Demo­crat raised nearly $5 for ev­ery $1 Han­del raised, push­ing her to rely heav­ily on mil­lions of dol­lars in spend­ing from out­side con­ser­va­tive groups, which poured money into the race at more than dou­ble the rate of out­side lib­eral groups.

But Os­soff also helped drive the nar­ra­tive that he was an out­sider by choos­ing to live out­side the dis­trict. Though he grew up in the dis­trict, he is now a res­i­dent of At­lanta, where his girl­friend is fin­ish­ing med­i­cal school. Trump has been at­tack­ing the can­di­date as an out­sider.

“Demo­crat Jon Os­soff, who wants to raise your taxes to the high­est level and is weak on crime and se­cu­rity, doesn’t even live in dis­trict,” Trump tweeted Tues­day. He did much the same on Mon­day.

Af­ter her vic­tory, Han­del struck a con­cil­ia­tory note to Democrats. “We may have some dif­fer­ent be­liefs, but we are part of one com­mu­nity. I will work … hard to win your con­fi­dence,” she said.

Os­soff said Democrats had put up an im­pres­sive fight. “We showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even pos­si­ble to fight, we could fight,” he said. “This is not the out­come any of us would hope for. But this is the be­gin­ning of some­thing much big­ger than us.”

GOP op­er­a­tives in Orange Coun­try watched the race ner­vously. The de­mo­graph­ics in that long­time Repub­li­can bas­tion of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in many ways re­sem­ble those of the Ge­or­gia dis­trict. Democrats have even more mo­men­tum in Orange County, which voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton in Novem­ber. The four House Repub­li­cans rep­re­sent­ing the county are among the law­mak­ers most ag­gres­sively tar­geted for de­feat in 2018 by the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. The com­mit­tee has moved its West Coast com­mand cen­ter, long lo­cated in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to Irvine.

Po­lit­i­cal strate­gists are loath to read too much into the re­sults of spe­cial elec­tions, which take place in the off-sea­son and tend to get wrapped up in lo­cal is­sues that don’t nec­es­sar­ily ap­ply to the broader elec­torate.

“Right now we’re grasp­ing at ev­ery straw, ev­ery spe­cial elec­tion, ev­ery poll that comes out,” Rothen­berg said. “That doesn’t mean a year from now the sit­u­a­tion will be iden­ti­cal in this dis­trict or any­where else.”

But amid all the na­tional at­ten­tion the race re­ceived, there is no deny­ing the loss was a dispir­it­ing blow to Democrats.

John Bazemore As­so­ci­ated Press

REPUB­LI­CAN Karen Han­del cel­e­brates her elec­tion tri­umph.

Cur­tis Comp­ton At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion

ALTHOUGH Karen Han­del, Ge­or­gia’s for­mer secretary of state, dis­tanced her­self from Pres­i­dent Trump, her elec­tion vic­tory is a po­lit­i­cal win for him.

Erik S. Lesser Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

“THIS IS not the out­come any of us would hope for,” Demo­crat Jon Os­soff said in de­feat. “But this is the be­gin­ning of some­thing much big­ger than us.”

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